5 Cruel Difficulty Curves That Gave us PTSD

Nathan Hilditch

‘Rage-Quit’ is when a player abandons a game midway through due to intense frustration. A common side-effect of online gameplay, ‘rage-quits’ can also be induced when a player encounters a cruel difficulty spike within their favorite games.

Difficulty curves are designed to moderate gameplay and ease the player into new experiences. As you progress through levels, the game gradually gets harder keeping it’s challenge and appeal. Some levels like to turn the dial all the way from nought to a hundred just to keep us on our toes, causing accelerated difficulty curves.

These accelerated difficulty curves are responsible for countless broken consoles and TV’s. To avoid such instances it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge of the levels that will ask the most of you. Here are six examples of horrifyingly cruel difficulty curves that drove us to insanity and still haunt our dreams.

Rainbow Road – Mario Kart Series

The first time you play Mario Kart, you’d be forgiven for becoming lost in the colourful characters and tracks on show. ‘What fun’ you might think; and what’s this? A road paved with rainbows, that’s sure to be the most magical track yet! Wrong.

Rainbow Road is a staple of the Mario Kart series and they all demand the most from you – so much so, that’s it’s hard to single one out. You spend the rest of the karting series coasting around various raceways featuring few obstacles up to now. Your main concern was your fellow racers hurling shells at you, and that immediately goes out the window here.

Rainbow Road consists of a narrow raceway with little to no sides around the entire track. Expect harsh turns, sheer drops, disorientating environments and don’t forget the awkwardly positioned boost pads. Like anybody ever wanted to go faster on this track. You’ll soon find yourself less concerned about your rivals as you use all your focus just to stay on the track. And if you do manage to stay out in front, there is sure be a blue shell to ruin your day.

The Road to Shambhala – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

After the Descendants from Drake’s Fortune we were prepared for our first encounter with The Guardians. But the smug sense of self-satisfaction was wiped from our faces during a second encounter in ‘The Road to Shambhala’ level. Here we meet The Guardians in their human-esque blue form and it turns out, there’s a lot of them.

There are three separate encounters in particular between this and the next level where Drake must face off against multiple Guardians. They are fast and have the ability to climb meaning they can gain the high ground and position themselves in hard to reach places.

They are also almost impervious to bullets, so you’re going to have to pump a lot into them to take one down. If that’s not enough, their range weapons are incredibly powerful, resulting in a game over screen much quicker than usual. And forget about those cover mechanics that you used so successfully throughout every other gunfight in the game; Guardians will pursue you around the map so there is nowhere to hide.

Aztec Level – Goldeneye N64

In the good old days of gaming, developers weren’t so concerned with difficulty curves or players ever actually completing the game. We could easily fill another list of old school games so hard no one will ever complete them. Goldeneye came at the tail end of this era, meaning it was actually possible to play and complete. Anyone who did this would receive a stern reminder of how cruel gaming used to be, in the optional Aztec level.

Loosely based off the plot of Moonraker, Aztec ramped up the difficulty tenfold. All henchmen received upgraded laser guns capable of killing Bond in just two hits. They were more alert and more responsive than any of the previous henchmen you had encountered in the game. And the near indestructible Jaws was added; Duel-wielding machine guns for probably the hardest boss battle in the game. Win the boss battle and all the hyper-intelligent henchmen are immediately alerted to your position. Oh, and if you die, you’ll have to start the whole level over again.

Artorias of the Abyss – Dark Souls

Dark Souls is a notoriously difficult game so when we say there’s a sharp difficulty curve, it’s pretty sharp. Released as part of the ‘Prepare to Die’ DLC, players can’t say they weren’t warned of what was to come. There’s another stern warning in the form of a giant Hydra, which has to be beaten right at the start of the campaign.

There are four additional bosses to be slain starting with one of the most difficult the Sanctuary Guardian. The winged-lion monster covers ground very quickly and has a wide range of attacks that will take some memorising. And that’s just a warm-up for the incredibly powerful Manus, Black Dragon and of course the titular Knight Artorias. Artorias’ deadly greatsword attacks belied the fact that he had only one effective hand – a menace throughout, he remains a testament to the series’ brutal difficulty.

Road to Nowhere – Crash N’Sane Trilogy

A re-release of the popular Crash Bandicoot series which suffered from updated software capabilities. The levels were re-rendered clones of the originals, only problem was, as the series had advanced, gameplay had sped up. When players returned to the original game Crash now moved a little faster which made things a little trickier. Crash now jumped and fell quicker, which threw the accuracy for some of the more precise platforming levels. Add to that players have little control of Crash in the air – unlike Mario – and you have a recipe for disaster.

Road to Nowhere is the first ‘bridge’ level in the game and players arrive at it fairly early on. Crash is required to cross a rickety bridge with most of the wooden slats missing. Also, most of the slats that remain will break if Crash stands on them for too long or at all. Add some icy sections and an immortal hog that runs up and down a specific area and you are going to need some very precise platforming. See where we’re going with this?

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