You're trucking along in a game just fine and then, IT happens. What is IT, you ask? Why, it's the level that trips you up over and over again and makes you wanna crack your controller in two. The level may not be awful. Sometimes it's just a few enemies types or hurdles that make it a chore to play. Other times, the level may just be poorly designed or highly unbalanced. TV Tropes likes to call these areas That One Level because despite all the colors these levels may or may not have, the stage has you seeing only one color: red.
Aztec Complex - GoldenEye 007 (N64)
I have so many fond memories of Playing GoldenEye 007 both with friends and solo. This was the first FPS I really sank my teeth into. The single player mode had a hefty amount of missions and even thew in some bonus stages for anyone who's itchy trigger finger required more scratching. Why, oh WHY did the first extra mission, the Aztec Complex, have to be such a ball buster?
The Aztec Complex mission can only be completed by launching the shuttle. Huh. Well that doesn't sound so hard, now does it? The term "Easier said than done" has never been applied to anything more greatly than it does this mission. Aztec Complex is crawling with guards and unlike so many of the jobbers you've encountered in the previous missions, these guys did not attend the same gun school of Storm Troopers. Not only do they have exceptionally good marksmanship, they also pack heavy duty fire power. If you're lucky, most of the guards you go up against will be packing body armor draining AR33 Assault Rifles with zoom capabilities that are great for picking you off from a distance or Moonraker Lasers that have god-like accuracy, an insanely high rate of fire and unlimited ammo. If you're unlucky, you'll run into a guard armed with two of these Moonraker Lasers with you in his cross hairs. Don't even think about retreating to the vents because the Moonraker Laser can punch right through them. Are things feeling hopeless yet? Survive long enough against these gun bruisers and you'll get some new toys to play around with, increasing your odds of meeting your mission objective. But not by much.
So how do you go about completing the mission objective that is launching the shuttle? Why, simply kill Jaws, of course! Jaws is a effing tank, taking far more hits to bring down than any other normal enemy in the game. He also packs two Assault Riffles and he's quite skilled with them. Jaws really knows how to take a hit and while you may be thinking that a head shot will bring him down quickly, think again because he's well protected upstairs too, taking an insane amount of head shots to kill him.
On the very off chance that you kill jaws? Hold off on the huzzahs, fist pumps and victory dances because you aren't done yet, son. But you beat Jaws, ergo you've won, right? In a mission that had any type of balance associated with it, this would be the case but Aztec Complex kicked balance to the curve the second you set foot inside the joint. Your reward for killing Jaws is a blaring alarm that alerts the guards to your current location. You do remember the guards in this level, don't you? They carry those oh so wonderful OP Assault Rifles and Moonraker Lasers that you love being shot with so much. And since you probably won't have much health left after your shootout with Jaws, you will more than likely be turned into Swiss cheese in seconds. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, the Aztec Complex is bull bull.
Blood Stained Sanctuary - Cave Story (Multi)
Cave Story is, for the most part, an easy game. There are a few locations that might trouble you here and there, but even the occasional tough boss, tricky area is manageable. At least until you go for the game's best ending, which requires you conquer the Blood Stained Sanctuary or the Sacred Grounds as it is known in some translations. I've been playing video games for most of my life. I've played games that gradually raised the challenge level, games that started off hard as well as being easy and then turning tough at the final hour. That being said, Cave Story's final area has one of the most obnoxious difficulty spikes in a video game that I have ever seen.
Blood Stained Sanctuary is divided into three rooms, each more massive than the previous one. In all three rooms you are bombarded with non stop threats. You've got insta-kill spikes, Butes that can attack on the ground or in the air with swords or arrows, Mesa's large angel-like creatures that hurl blocks at you and falling blocks to contend with while the aforementioned enemies swarm you. Health power ups are not plentiful in the Sacred Grounds so you need to take care to sustain as little damage as you possibly can. On top of all the never ending enemies, you have to face five, count 'em, five bosses, with no check points. Fending off the Butes and Mesas is feat in and off itself but having to deal with them and boss after boss after boss with no check points? Final missions are supposed to be hard, yeah, but this is just overkill.
There's actually a sign at the beginning of the Blood Stained Sanctuary that reads "Welcome to Hell!" That sign is not blowing smoke. The Sacred Grounds is Hell both literally and figuratively.
Tubular - Super Mario World (SNES, GBA)
The tradition of painfully hard bonus Mario levels was introduced as early as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, a game that was already packing an astronomically high difficulty. So if you wanted to see how much curler that game could get, there were 5 bonus worlds waiting on you if you beat the game eight times. Super Mario World saw a return of bonus stages and while you didn't have to do anything crazy to unearth these levels, the game's surfer slang named stages are among the game's most punishing and they don't get any worse than Tubular.
Tubular is the second Special World stage of Super Mario World and the length of it is thankfully brief, which is the only good thing to be said about this level. You can forget about using the Cape Feather exploit you've grown so fond of because Tubular is full of bottomless pits. This is one stage that, outside of the beginning, gives you nowhere to stand.
There are only two ways to get through Tubular. One is using the P-Balloons to keep yourself a afloat, evading the gauntlet of enemies, which includes Volcano Lotuses, Koopa Para Troopas and those freaking Chargin' Chucks. You flirt with death throughout the entire stage and you have to put yourself at even greater risk when going for the second P-Balloon, because one isn't enough to carry you through the whole level. If Mario takes a hit as Balloon Mario, he deflates and you fall to your death. Sure, you can come into Tubular with some power-ups to give you an extra hit or two but coming in here as Super Mario just paints a bigger target on Mario's head.
Your second option to pass Tubular is bringing a Blue Yoshi and having him eat one of the Koopa Para Troopas to fly through the level. This is arguably the harder method since you're a much bigger target and one hit sends Yoshi and Mario too their doom. Tubular is often considered the hardest level of Super Mario World. During my first run through the Special World levels of this game as a kid, I spent more time trying to clear Tubular than any other level in the game. Oh and FYI, all of the Special World levels have no check points.
Chapter 6: Black Shadow's Trap - F-ZERO GX (GCN)
F-ZERO games are a lot like Mega Man games. Despite being different genres, its pretty much a given that both are going to kick you in the butt pretty hard. F-ZERO GX, developed by the now defunct Amusement Vision is no exception. While all the previous F-ZERO games may have cranked things up to eleven, GX raises the number far beyond that.
In addition to the always standard Gran Prix mode, GX introduces Story mode, which takes you through the trials and tribulations of the blue clad Captain Falcon. Story mode is broken up into chapters and these can range from the it's-so-easy-you-can't fail Chapter 1 to the 180 Chapter 2 that is racing rival Samurai Goroh through the rock tumbling Red Canyon, a chapter so difficult that some players have never even cleared it. Someone on the development team had to be thinking "Yeah, Chapter 2 will make players cry, but we reaaaaalllly gotta make them suffer." If by the grace of God you managed to clear Chapter 5, the has a very unpleasant surprise in store for you.
In Chapter 6, Captain Falcon is taken by surprise by the sinister duo of Blood Falcon and Black Shadow. Bound and tossed into his Blue Falcon racing machine, Blood Falcon straps a speed sensitive bomb on Captain Falcon's ride. If it dips under 700 kph, everyone's favorite Falcon Punch thrower will go down in a fiery blaze of not glory. "So," you're probably thinking "It's like the movie Speed, right?" Yeah, the premise of this trap mirrors the plot of Speed, but take a look at the map in the right hand corner of the screen shot above. The bus in Speed never had to floor it on roads that looked like that. Oh, but it isn't just the sharp turns and curves that'll make you sweat. There's also dirt patches that slow you down and other cars on the road that drive at a snail's pace that you have to avoid collisions with. For anyone that hasn't perfected F-ZERO GX's controls (which is more than half the people that have played this game) it is very easy to bang the Blue Falcon up against those sharp turns, play pinball with you as the ball and blow yourself up.
Mecha No Mistake - Rayman Origins (Multi)
Ah, Rayman Origins, such a splendid platformer with a cartoonish, yet gorgeous art style. With Michel Ancel back at the helm, the Rayman platform series was brought back with a vengeance. I've been a fan of the Rayman series since the original game but Rayman Origins was the first game in the franchise that I actually finished. I don't say that because Origins was easy. Quite the opposite really.
Rayman Origins has no lives, giving you unlimited attempts at any stage. That may seem like the game is being merciful but the game is only doing this because its going to show you unfathomable amounts of cruelty.You know a game isn't going to fool around when it tells the lives system that most platform games adhere to that it can go screw itself. Rayman Origins' brutality doesn't just come from the bonus Land of of Livid Dead or Tricky Treasure stages. Some of the stages that make you rock back and forth in a fetal position in a corner are mandatory, like the late game Mecha No Mistake.
Mecha No Mistake is an industrial level, but it doesn't just have crushers, buzz saws and spinning gears for the sake of having metal cosmetics. In this level, you are constantly in the thick of these obstacles and it seems like the stages is always coming up with new ways to throw this stuff at you. You'll have to run under crushers, dash past spinning buzz saws, wall jump on crushers while trying not to get cut up by the buzz saws. There's also the platforms that can only be jumped on when they light up and in some instances, you'll have to wall jump off of these. One of the biggest hurdles of Mecha No Mistake is the numerous crushers, coming in all sorts of sides. You're probably thinking it best to just floor it past these things but if you go too fast, you can accidentally get caught behind a crusher and when it pushes back into the wall, you'll die instantly. Mecha No Mistake is an industrial nightmare for solo players and just a tiny bit less stressful with friends but since Rayman Origins thrives on New Super Mario Bros. multiplayer shenanigans, there will be plenty of death and frustration to go around.