Don’t Change The Difficulty: Make Games Harder With These 3 Challenges

Ben Stegner 23-06-2014

Have you ever enjoyed a video game so much that you wanted to replay it again as soon as it was over? You probably have a few favorite games that you replay every so often, perhaps from awesome franchises The 5 Best Video Game Franchises Of All Time [MUO Gaming] The video game industry is incredibly sequel driven. Some franchises even talk about their next game before they make the first one. Bioware, for example, decided that Mass Effect was going to be a trilogy... Read More that cemented your love of gaming.


If you’ve played through a game too many times to count and are looking to enjoy all-new ways to play, trying a self-imposed challenge is a great option. Each challenge in this list is a way to make the overall game tougher without using options that are already built into the game, such as raising the difficulty setting or side quests. Let’s look at some unique challenges that will crank up the pain.

Rhythm Heaven (Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Wii) – No Sound Challenge

Rhythm Heaven is a game sort of akin to WarioWare Dumb Ways To Die For Android: Mini Games To Keep You Alive On The Metro Have you ever found a game you just loved, and later found out that it actually began as a Public Service Announcement? Well, me neither... until I found this one. Read More , as it places you in different minigames. However, while both games are quirky and varied, Rhythm Heaven is all about keeping a rhythm. Each scenario differs wildly – from picking garden crops to making two scientists fall in love – but all require you to use the touch screen of the DS to match what’s happening onscreen.

The music in each scenario is key to clearing the stage. It’s more important to follow the music than to rely on what you see. Notice in the following video that each time a lightbulb is tossed, a barrel containing a bomb is next. Each scene has quirks like this that you have to figure out in order to master them.

The challenge, then, is to play Rhythm Heaven without the sound on. It’s much tougher to keep a beat when you have no sound to follow. Obviously, you’ll want to be proficient at the game and know each scene well before attempting this, but if you like rhythm games, this is a great way to challenge yourself.

An alternative to the no-sound challenge is to play the game blindfolded or without watching the screen. This forces you to be tuned into the music, and while not nearly as hard as going without sound, it will still add difficulty if you’re looking to play through this underrated gem again.


Rhythm Heaven is the second game in a three-part series. The first game, Rhythm Tengoku, was only available in Japan, and the third game, Rhythm Heaven Fever, is available on Wii. These challenges could also be applied to the Wii version, as it is similar to its DS counterpart.

The Legend of Zelda (Various Nintendo Platforms) – 3 Heart Challenge

The Legend of Zelda isn’t known for being the most difficult game 4 Games With Steep Learning Curves That Are Worth The Effort Learning competitive games is no easy task. If the act of mastering them was easy, everyone would be playing professionally. However, even if you might never make it to that high level of play, you... Read More , but you can pump up its difficulty with this popular challenge. The Three-Heart Challenge is just as it sounds – instead of collecting Heart Containers, which increase your life energy in the Zelda games, you limit yourself to only the three with which you start.

Zelda Three Hearts

At the beginning of the game, the challenge doesn’t change up gameplay substantially, because you’re expected to have fewer hearts early on. But as you get further into the game, you encounter enemies that can drain half your life in a single hit. Charging through tough situations while taking a ton of damage isn’t an option anymore; you have to carefully plan your actions to stay alive.


Like the Rhythm Heaven challenge (and really any game challenge), it’s recommended that you know the game you’re attempting to challenge inside and out before attempting this. This challenge can be done in nearly any Zelda game, so pick your favorite and give it a shot. The only games that will not work with this challenge are:

  • The Adventure of Link (NES): You start with four life bars and this game does not use Heart Containers.
  • A Link to the Past (SNES): The key items you receive after completing a dungeon only appear after you grab the Heart Container from the boss.
  • Link’s Awakening/DX (GB/C): The door after the boss only opens after you collect the Heart Container, just like in A Link to the Past.
  • Skyward Sword (Wii): You start with six hearts in this title.

You can make this challenge even more difficult if you like by limiting the amount of items you use, such as intentionally burning your shield or never upgrading your quiver to hold more arrows, depending on the game.

Zelda Shield Burning

For the most extreme Zelda challenge available, try the Uber Challenge for Ocarina of Time. The Uber Challenge is like the Three-Heart Challenge, but with additional specific restrictions, even to the point of changing the order of the game. The rules are too numerous to list here, but among the most crazy are:

  • You must buy the Giant’s Knife and break it immediately, and use that at all times as Adult Link.
  • You are not allowed to get the Iron Boots, use any bottles, or get the Lens of Truth.

Because it involves sequence-breaking, this challenge requires the use of many glitches, some of which are extremely difficult to pull off. If you’re not comfortable with glitches or don’t know Ocarina of Time well, stay away from this one. Luckily, there’s a guide to help you along the way. It’s insanely tough, but rewarding if you’re a fan of the game.

Pokémon (Nintendo Handhelds) – Nuzlocke Challenge

Pokémon is another franchise that isn’t known for being particularly difficult, although it is more complex than it might seem 4 Seemingly Simple Video Games That Are Surprisingly Deep It may surprise you that many games exist that can be easily enjoyed by players of any skill level, yet are deep enough to allow for an advanced play style. Read More . If you’re looking for a tougher journey in your favorite generation of Pokémon, check out the Nuzlocke Challenge. It’s adaptable, and perfect for adults who play Pokémon 5 Reasons Why You Should Not Give Up On Pokemon Games Even As An Adult [MUO Gaming] Welcome to another installment of MakeUseOf Gaming. This week I will be talking about Pokemon, and why the Pokemon games are not just child's play. People tend to think of Pokemon as being just for... Read More who aren’t satisfied with the difficulty.

The Nuzlocke Challenge is adaptable, and as such does not have one set of agreed-upon rules like the Uber Challenge.

The base rules are:

  • A Pokémon that faints is considered dead and must be released.
  • The player may only catch the first Pokémon encountered in each route, cave, or new area, and no other Pokémon can be caught in that area.
  • No traded Pokémon or Mystery Gifts.
  • If you black out from all of your Pokémon fainting, it’s game over.
  • You must nickname your Pokémon.

These base rules are tough enough, but if you’d like to make it even harder, there’s plenty of other ways to restrict yourself. Some examples:

  • Use your Trainer ID to pick your starter. If the last number is 1-3, take the Grass type. 4-6 gets you the Fire type, and if it’s 7-9, you get the Water type. If you’re fortunate enough to have 0 as the last number, you pick.
  • After you catch one wild Pokémon, you must release your starter. This is rough, as starters are much more powerful than the Normal-type Pokémon you typically encounter early on.
  • Held items cannot be used.
  • To ease things up a bit, each Gym badge acts as a checkpoint if you get a game over.


These three challenges are gruelingly difficult, but they’ll help you squeeze even more enjoyment out of some already awesome games. You can apply these ideas to other games, too, and come up with your own self-imposed challenges. Anyone can make one up!

If these weren’t enough masochism for you, check out some more rage-inducing titles. 7 Video Games So Hard They Will Make You Want To Throw Your Controller One of the major staples of old school video games is the incredible difficulty. I've talked about the level of challenge in older games before in an article about the things I miss most from... Read More . If you don’t think you’re ready for a tough challenge just yet, Joel has covered ways to get better at video games 5 Ways You Can Get Better At Video Games The journey from noob to pro won't be easy, and it won't be quick. If you want to get better, you must be patient and be willing to put in the effort. Are you ready? Read More ; brush up on those before heading into the gauntlet.

Will you or have you tried any of these challenges? Have you created a different self-imposed challenge you’d like to share? Do you enjoy difficulty in games, or do you prefer it to be easy? It’s not hard to leave a comment!

Image Credits: man with a joystick Via Shutterstock

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  1. Diego Rodriguez
    April 8, 2016 at 12:29 am

    I feel as though a lot of this information could be useful in the area of education. COUGH COUGH

    • Ben Stegner
      April 8, 2016 at 1:05 am

      I'm amazed you found this article after so long!

      Anyway, interesting observation! :)

      • Diego Rodriguez
        April 22, 2016 at 3:23 pm

        Hi! I specifically searched for something like this. I am currently attending University and I am thinking that the setup is much like an arcade game where there are a number of courses that you can take which are much like the types of games that you can play in an arcade except instead of paying 25-50 cents per play you pay 200-1200 depending on what arcade (college) you attend. The goal for the overachievers attending university would be to get a high score at the game that they were trying to play. I really wish that some professors knew how to make their games more creatively. Anyways I really find it interesting how many gaming comparisons can be made to games and education. What do you think about all this?

  2. Jan F
    June 23, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    For me personally the biggest issue is that changing the difficulty doesn't 'change the difficulty', it only alters the play field.

    I think it's called artificial difficulty? or more commonly handicapping. Enemies don't get more intelligent, often they don't even increase in numbers, they just deal more damage, you deal less, you have less health and armor and that sort of stuff.

    Don't get me wrong. That's totally fine for e.g. a free roaming game where you control what and how you approach a challenge. But in a pretty much closed environment like in a lot of shooters this just creates frustrating passages.

    • Ben S
      June 23, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Jan, I understand completely.

      Artificial difficulty means basically what you say it does: enemies are tougher and smarter and you're weaker. It's lame, and not a good way to increase the challenge.

      A great example is Call of Duty: World at War. I beat it on Veteran, which is incredibly tough. But it's not well-made difficulty - the enemies throw backpacks worth of grenades and never stop spawning. It's half luck if you get past a section.

      A lot of shooters have this problem, but as a counter-example, look at a game like TimeSplitters 2. Its gameplay is a lot like that of GoldenEye or Perfect Dark, where raising the difficulty actually meant something. In that game, what was an optional objective on Easy becomes mandatory on Medium, and then on Hard there's more cameras in a certain area, or less body armor to pick up. That's difficulty that increases the challenge without being cheap.

      I dislike artificial difficulty.

    • Jan F
      June 30, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      CoD is indeed a good example as they have better options to increase the difficulty like fortifying a certain area with a stationary defense or sniper in addition to the enemies and add like a tank or something on the veteran difficulty – similar to your example of the additional of cameras.

      But the general rule for many games nowadays seems to be "0.5x damage dealt, 2.0x damage taken".

    • Ben S
      June 30, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      Actually, I was citing Call of Duty as a poor example of how to increase difficulty : )

      I think having extra difficulty levels that are smart - like the more cameras idea - shows effort on the developers' part. It's simple to just increase the damage - if that's all they're going to do, I'd rather just have one difficulty. Which for a lot of games, I think works quite well.