We’ve all encountered the dreaded difficulty spike. When a game decides you’ve been having too much fun, you’ll ram into a tough boss or agonizingly difficult platforming section and be forced to try try again until you succeed. Ideally games will gradually ramp up the difficulty to keep you engaged as your skills grow — but the games on this list don’t do that. The 10 examples here slap you in the face with difficulty, and don’t feature anything as hard before or after these moments. There’s an unexpected brutal challenge, and it’s all downhill from there.
There are countless games with difficulty spikes. Basically every game has one, but we’re focusing on the most memorably frustrating. These are the moments that made us want to tear our hair out and light it on fire. Only the most absurdly steep curves belong on this list — these aren’t speed bumps, these are speed walls you’ll crash into at 100 gamer miles an hour.
And ridiculous difficulty spikes are still common. We’ve got more than a few very recent examples in the line-up today.
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The Courthouse [Wolfenstein 2]
Wolfenstein 2 kicks your butt and laughs at you. It’s kind of like Doom: Eternal, except you’re a barely-mobile chunk of coal, constantly soaking up bullets like a magnetic sponge. Before earning your upgraded body, you’re stuck with B.J.’s crippled current state. For about half the game, he can’t survive much damage. A stiff wind will knock this guy over. And the Nazis will riddle you with bullets like you’re made of tissue paper. Staying hidden and moving carefully are the best ways to survive — or just killing them before they see you.
That all works great for awhile. That is, until you reach the courthouse level. There’s nowhere to hide here. Enemies pour into the giant arena from every angle. There’s not enough health to keep you alive on harder difficulties, and scrambling behind the benches won’t save you. The turret is just a cruel joke in the center of the area. Instead of helping, that thing is a guaranteed death trap. I don’t know exactly why Wolfenstein 2 is so much harder than the original, but this part is surely the most difficult section of an otherwise fairly challenging game.
The Wiegraf Gauntlet [Final Fantasy Tactics]
The raid on Riovannes Castle is easily the hardest series of battles in Final Fantasy Tactics and this section can very easily ruin your entire playthrough. This infamous series of battles isn’t just annoying for forcing us to grind out XP for hours. Oh no, there’s something far more insidious going on here.
There are four battles in a row. The first battle is normal, but you’ll quickly encounter the real deal — the Knight Wiegraf in the second fight. It isn’t enough that this boss enemy can 1-Hit KO most of your party, you’ll also have to fight a beefed-up monster right after taking this guy down. Then you’ll have to defend another NPC from assassins trying to kill him. This is a gauntlet of painfully difficult fights that you will not be prepared for on your first attempt — full stop. The rooftop battle is especially annoying, because if your party isn’t built for speed, you will absolutely get outrun by the assassins and your VIP will die in two turns. Every. Single. Time.
And the worst part? If you save over your file between any of the battles, there’s no way to back out to the world map and level up. You’re perpetually trapped in an endless deathloop. My skin crawls when I think about these levels.
Relive the toughest parts of some classic games. Find them on the next page.