That one level... parts of a game which is otherwise Just Right which stopped you playing

Complementing @TheCastleBuilder 's thread about Games that are Just Right for you: I want to talk about what happens when you find a game/difficulty setting that’s Just Right… except for that one roadblock that you encounter which prevents you from progressing any further. Maybe it’s just a sudden difficulty spike for no discernible reason; maybe it’s a “special level” with entirely different gameplay rules or mechanics; maybe it’s some other reason… but if it wasn’t there, the rest of the game would be perfect.

For me, the best example I can think of was Arkham Asylum’s Killer Croc level. I was mostly happily playing through the game on Easy, and finding that challenging enough; but the Killer Croc level was a special, narratively-required section which I just couldn’t get past. (For those who’ve not played it: most of Arkham Asylum is a semi-free-roaming third-person sort-of-brawler, with contextual inputs, and a bit of detectiving/traversal based problem solving. The Killer Croc section changes this up completely, as you have to (slowly - moving quickly gets Croc to turn up faster) explore a watery area to reach several waypoints, and then escape - but has multiple instant-death triggers (falling in the water at all is one), including rapid-reaction QuickTime Events where you have to target and throw a batarang at Croc’s neck to stop him killing you. I… strongly dislike QTEs at the best of times, but QTEs which need a bit of targetting, and where you often have to turn around first to see where your threat is coming from… no.) I think I spent more than an hour on the Croc section futilely trying to just get it over with, and just quit eventually. It’s a shame, since I would have actually liked to have finished the rest of the thing…


A recent example for me is Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. There’s a certain mission, not too far from the end of the game, where you have to activate (or deactivate?) something like 3 little towers in a set time period. And in between each tower are a bunch of enemies. If you mess up at any point, you have to start from the beginning of the mission again. No checkpoints! Possibly the only mission without any, can’t recall exactly.

I wouldn’t say the game was “just right” for me anyway. I really enjoyed the first game, and I think they made some improvements in some areas with the sequel, but took a few steps back in others. So at this point in playing the game it’s when I’d already picked it up and put it down a few times and just felt I needed to finish it. But when I got to THIS mission, it was just super frustrating. I was no longer invested in it enough to get good at the fighting or precise jumps again, and after four or five times of getting almost to the end and then failing, I gave up.

After that I just watched a playthrough.


I super get this with JRPG final bosses (though I don’t play many JRPGs at all, lately). This is particularly the case in games that don’t demand a lot of grinding during the main thrust of the game. Then they place an insurmountable challenge at the very end that insists you either grind a bunch or crack a guide and use some elaborate strategy. This particularly irks me when we’re talking about horrendously long final battles.

Some games where I had this experience: Xenosaga, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, and Final Fantasy XIII (for this one, I ended up looking up a strat).

I’m generally pretty averse to super grindy RPGs as a personal preference, so when a game is manageable without grinding until the VERY END it annoys the heck outta me. Luckily, at that point you can usually just hit up YouTube for those last cutscenes and mark the game as “Completed?” and call it a day.

Jaguar Javier in Guacamelee. I was incapable of beating him. Which honestly came as somewhat of a relief I guess since that game’s humor was really wearing on me.

The boss of the second tutorial area in Nioh. Just can’t do it. No matter what I try, I can’t even do more than 1/4 of his health before i’m out of healing items and then i’ll get flattened pretty quickly after that. I guess I didn’t need to see the rest of the game, it’s fine.


I’ve said this elsewhere, but I had to stop playing Thief: Gold because of the Thieves’ Guild. I got so lost I literally became motion sick.

A few months ago, I picked it back up and used a guide to get through it. I played the next few levels and had fun, but… then I got to The Haunted Cathedral and immediately put it back down. It was another one of these levels where you spent a lot of time wandering around these open, garish, confusing mazes, and they’re just not fun. Movement just feels bad, and the only reason this game can work is because the stealth mechanics are so strong.

Your issues with the game sound deeper/more fundamental than mine (I mostly just really hated levels with creatures) but one advantage the original Thief has over many titles is that there’s a built-in level skip key combo. Which is a workaround, if not actually a solution, to the That One Level problem in general. As a result I haven’t properly “beaten” Thief but (a) I don’t care and (b) I’ve experienced enough of the whole to say with confidence that I prefer the sequel.


Yeah, but I’ll also clarify I think the game feel works fine when you’re sneaking around, but just feels bad when you’re bashing a spider in the face.

I had no idea about the level skip; this actually might bring me back to it so I can knock it off my list! Thank you!


If “I stopped for several weeks/months and then elected to pick it back up again because I was determined not to let the game beat me” counts, the Fade in Dragon Age:Origins.

It’s not necessarily a difficult section, but it is long, tedious, and requires a frankly ludicrous amount of backtracking (with absolutely no party members to distract enemies/soak up damage). This section of the game is so universally despised that one of the most popular mods on the Nexus is the one designed to allow you to skip it entirely.

More recently, I got up to the boss battle of Week 2 of TWEWY and had to call it quits. Even on easy mode, with auto-partner enabled, Joshua bites it way too quickly, and I don’t have the reflexes or field of vision required to control both of them simultaneously. Which I’m pretty bummed about, because I was invested in seeing Neku learn to be less of a misanthropic punk!

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This happens to me a lot with final bosses. In Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light it scales to your level, so you can’t even just grind to win. In fact it’s not advisable to do so because the boss only gets bulkier. I never beat it and it frustrates me to this day.

The final boss in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game is another one. My brother and I are currently playing through it and we are like constantly owned by this guy. Also, I overcame this but to officially finish Retro Game Challenge you need to beat ALL of the games in it. Granted you can abuse the cheat codes but it’s still a terribly unexpected hassle just to see the credits.

As an example of a non-final boss, that mission in Metal Gear Solid V where you pursue a truck in Africa and the scary supersoldiers pop out and murder you is the worst. I really wish I could skip it.


One of the last citadel boss fights in Shadow of War. I spent ages running around that room, trying to fend off the unlimited spawning orcs, trying to hit the boss who has a dozen immunities to my abilities, and then he just has a ‘second wave’ and get’s 2/3 of his health back. Got so mad after 50 hours or so of playing the game and having quite a lot of fun with it, I gave up.

The last level in Guacamelee 2. It is quite a platforming gauntlet, and I was already kind of souring on the game as I was growing to loath the feeling of the game (coming off Dead Cells it feels so so stiff) that one night I just said “I cannot be bothered to see the end of this” and just stopped.

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Ooh also, I recently played Ashen with a buddy of mine and it sure does have a couple baffling difficulty spikes. If I hadn’t been playing with a pal, I might have fallen off.


I occasionally got frustrated with moments in Mario Odyssey—really, isn’t that how platformers work?—but then out of nowhere there’s this bouncing walrus race that you must place first in to continue. Mechanically, it’s a near-total break from everything that came before, and I could not for the life of me place better than sixth. So that was where my play-through has to end: a walrus-mario disconsolately bouncing off the track and into the snow.

for some reason Ive never been able to beat Metal Gear REX at the end of Metal Gear Solid. There was just an intersection of having a bad save with not enough items and never really mastering the controls, I think, so I just stopped.

Any two staged boss battle that makes you do the whole first stage again, actually. Theres a Dark Souls 3 boss. Abyss Watchers or something? Never finished that fight because I could never reliably learn the second stage.

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That’s a co-sign from me on this sentiment!

I… don’t really get this feeling a lot, unfortunately. I don’t like a lot of ‘and here for something totally different’ mechanics in the moment, but they tend to even out for me in time (since I do know why games do it – break up the pacing). Iconoclasts came close to having these moments, but it never quite got the point where it overrode my buy-in with the game.


I love the Metal Gear Rex fight. Not for being a good boss fight, because it isn’t, but because you have to accept a giant walking tank was intentionally designed to have an audible dinosaur roar that includes bouncing the pilot around in the jaws for effect.

“Emmerich, why are we spending $25 million on jaw actuators and dope ass speakers for this thing?”

“…uh… you know… psychological warfare…?”

“Very well, carry on.”


Wolfenstein 1 & 2 both had some maddening difficulty spikes, even on easy. I really appreciated both games so I powered through, but they were frustrating for no reason.

Hollow Knight was a big one for me. Absolutely adored the art and sound design, but couldn’t get past some of the early bosses and have completely fallen off.


The Phazon Mines in Metroid Prime. Two times I stopped playing the game when I’ve reached the mines. Several years later I picked up the save and finished the game but that region is just a real bummer.

The final boss in Hollow Knight’s “true” ending was incredibly hard for me, and honestly kinda tarnished my opinion of the game (I still love it though). Like I don’t have anything against super difficult bosses or platforming sections, but Hollow Knight is frankly quite bad at preparing the player for what are massive and sudden spikes in difficulty in its late game sections, some of which, to be fair, are optional. I think almost that entire game is a good level of difficulty, nothing too wild but still challenging enough to feel rewarding, but I gave that last fight a few tries, realized I was having no fun whatsoever, and haven’t played it since.

I still look back on it fondly and would like to hit up the DLC at some point, I was just sort of turned off by the whole thing for some reason. Celeste was my game of the year and I quite like very difficult platforming, but something about a game suddenly introducing masochistic sections out of nowhere instead of building up to them really turned me off.

This literally happened last night as I was replaying Resident Evil 4 for like the 20th time and I hit the wall that I always hit… I can’t do that damn sliding block puzzle. I tried for about 15 minutes last night but eventually just gave up and looked up a guide.
Two dozen cultists in a room? - Bring it on.
Moving 8 tiles around to form a certain shape? - Practically impossible.

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