We all have our favorite games, titles that we like to play over and over again. The problem is that with familiarity and repetition, these games can become way too easy, even on Insane-Hardcore-You’re-Gonna-Die-Impossible Mode. How does one keep a favorite game from becoming an exercise in rote memorization?

Enter the Self-Imposed Challenge: an extra restriction or goal that players place upon themselves that was not intended by the developer. These can help keep a game fresh or could simply be attempted by gamers who lament the fact that not enough games nowadays are NES-hard. This is the second of two lists about such challenges. The first dealt with general challenges that could be applied to a variety of games, or at least a number of games within a broad genre. This list will deal with specific challenges that can only be applied to a small handful of games (often a single title), possibly in a narrow subgenre.

As you read through the challenges listed below, you may notice that some of them were indeed included by the developers intentionally. Technically, these are no longer strictly “self-imposed” challenges, but they still have two characteristics:
• They are purely optional, and not even mentioned in a normal playthrough.
• They drastically change the way the game is played.
Therefore, I have decided that those challenges are clearly in the spirit of a self-imposed challenge, and are still eligible. Plus, given the reputation of some of these developers, the challenges in question could very well have been invented by playtesters.

The following challenges have been ranked according to several factors, mainly how drastically they change the gameplay, how interesting they are, and how unique they are (a challenge will be ranked higher if there are fewer games to which it can be applied).

You may remember that I mentioned the Nuzlocke Challenge in the list that dealt with general challenges. Specifically I pointed out the parallels between the Nuzlocke Challenge and a Solo Character Run. Despite the similarities, I’m still including it in this list, due to its popularity. Call it the bread and circuses before the meat and potatoes of the list, if you will.

The Nuzlocke Challenge originated, appropriately enough, in a webcomic called Nuzlocke Comics, which featured a Nuzleaf with the face of Lost’s John Locke (who shall be quoted for the remainder of this entry).

If you missed my previous list, here are the rules of the Nuzlocke Challenge:
1 – You may only catch the first Pokémon encountered in each area. If it flees or faints, there are no second chances. (Don’t worry if this means you have to catch a Magikarp; Struggle is nature’s way of strengthening it.)
2 – If one of your Pokémon faints in battle, it is considered “dead” and must be released. Consider it a sacrifice that the island demanded.
3 – (Optional, but strongly recommended) Give each of your Pokémon a nickname. Like “Bentham.”

Sound tough? Well’s it’s never been easy! But the Nuzlocke Challenge is unique among these types of challenges in that increasing difficulty is not the only intent. The challenge is also meant to forge stronger bonds between the player and their Pokémon (emphasizing the “role-playing” aspect of RPGs that often gets overshadowed by the “number-crunching” aspect). Since any defeated ‘mons are “killed off for real,” you take more precautions to keep them alive, as opposed to treating them as expendable conglomerations of statistics. While this increased emotional investment is interesting, the fact that I briefly featured this challenge on the General Challenges list means it’s only getting the #10 spot on this one. Think I can’t do that? Don’t tell me what I can’t do!

It’s no secret that Rock Band and Guitar Hero don’t provide a 100% authentic musical experience. As hard as Through the Fire and Flames may be on a 5-button plastic guitar, everyone knows it’s much harder to play on a real guitar with six (or seven or eight) strings and 20+ frets. Sure, Rock Band 3 moved a bit closer to the real deal with Pro Mode (and much more complex peripherals) and singing a song successfully in Rock Band is comparable to singing it in real life (stage presence notwithstanding), but I can tell you from personal experience that banging away on a plastic drum set in your buddy’s living room, fun as it may be, will not even come close to giving you the same rush as playing a real kit on a real stage in front of real people.

Despite not being exciting as playing in a real rock band, plastic instruments are a lot cheaper than real ones, and Rock Band is still a damn fine party game. If you aren’t terribly musically inclined, it can give you a sense of accomplishment without needing to spend years practicing arpeggios and power chords. However, if you are melodiously- and rhythmically-talented, you can tweak the game a little to move it a step closer to authenticity. For example, you can play the bass guitar like a real bassist. Most people play bass in Rock Band the same way they play the guitar tracks: strumming downward, or alternating between up and down for fast series of notes. This simulates the use of a guitar pick, but only chumps rely on picks when they play bass*. Next time you Flea to a friend’s house to play bass in Rock Band, try strumming upward through an entire song. The three numbered games in the series even give you an Achievement/Trophy for hitting 100% of the bass notes while up-strumming. (If you’re playing The Beatles: Rock Band, you can increase the authenticity further by turning on Lefty Mode and hiking the plastic guitar up to about chest height.)

*If your primary instrument is guitar, playing bass with a pick is acceptable, but it’s still kinda cheating.

Completing certain tasks in Uncharted 2’s single player mode will reward you with in-game cash, which you can use to buy alternate character skins (Skelzor!), concept art or “Tweaks,” such as infinite ammo or slow motion. One such Tweak is called “No Gravity” and it causes ragdolls and other physics objects to drift listlessly through the air, unencumbered by Earth’s pesky gravitational pull, but otherwise obeying Newton’s laws of motion (because what video game can resist showing off that they have the Havok physics engine?). Of course, you and any living enemies will still be stuck to terra firma, along with stationary objects (i.e. tables, wrecked cars), and any piece of the environment that needs to fall a certain way to let you continue will still behave as intended.

Normally, No Gravity is just a novelty, but it can also make the game more difficult. How? When you kill an enemy, their gun (along with your precious ammunition) will in many cases begin floating up into the ionosphere. This means that you will need to get up close and personal with many of the enemies so that you’re able to grab their weapon (and replenish your ammo) before it joins the space program. You won’t be able to grab all of the guns in time, so you will also need to make your shots count to conserve the ammo that you already have. Taking advantage of stealth melee kills when the game lets you is highly recommended.

Needless to say, doing this in conjunction with other Tweaks (like Infinite Ammo) doesn’t count. You also can’t use the in-game cash to arm yourself with whatever weapons you wish. Playing as Doughnut Drake is acceptable.

The first two Super Smash Bros. games reward you with bonus points based on your performance during each match. For example, you get a meager handful of points for each opponent you KO, slightly more points for each opponent you KO in a specific manner (like hitting them with the Home Run Bat), and a whole mess of points if you can use all of your attacks on one opponent before they get KO’d. You can also be penalized points for doing things like spamming one particular ability or getting your shield broken. What are the points used for? Nothing beyond contributing to a possible High Score, which means that they are only slightly more relevant than points on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

One of the bonuses, called Switzerland, requires you to win a match without ever attacking and without taking damage. The real-life Switzerland is known for rigorously maintaining a policy of neutrality (it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815), so the title is rather fitting. The actual difficulty of this challenge will vary dramatically depending on how you set up the match. If you join a team of three with two Level 9 bots (or better yet, two human friends) against a Level 1 bot, getting the Switzerland bonus is fairly easy. A 2-on-2 match will prove to be tricky, and a 1-on-1 match will be a brutal test of your skills and/or luck. If you stack the odds against yourself even more than that, you’re entering the realm of nigh impossibility. Regardless of how you configure your Switzerland challenge, the fact remains that Super Smash Bros. Melee may be the only fighting game in existence that rewards you for not participating.

Okay, so “Crimeless Challenge” may be a bit of a misnomer. As far as we know, it is not actually possible to complete Grand Theft Auto IV with nothing but zeroes in your Crime Statistics page. Think of it as more of a “Crime-Lite Challenge.” According to the “Crimeless Challenge FAQ” on this very site, it is possible to complete GTA4 with stats as low as these:

People Killed: 42
Cars Stolen: 0
Bikes Stolen: 0
Boats Stolen: 4
Helicopters Stolen: 1
Stars Attained: 34
People Run Down: 0
Fires Started: 0
Criminals Killed: 0

Since then, someone has managed to complete the game with no kills, and no change to any of the other stats*. A 100% runthrough is also possible with only one additional Boat Stolen, 6 additional Stars Attained and 153 Criminals Killed, which is still pretty damn impressive when you consider that most of the side missions involve killing people, stealing cars, or doing things that easily attract police attention.

*The author of the FAQ is aware of this, and was actually a participant in the thread chronicling this endeavor.

Of course, some people may say that attempting a Crime-Lite Challenge takes away a lot of the wanton carnage and chaotic destruction that make the series appealing (some may also say that GTAIV does this on its own by aspiring for realism), but a lot of the fun comes from discovering creative workarounds and abusing developer oversights. You can keep your kill count down by incapacitating enemies nonlethally or by channeling the spirit of Agent 47 and killing them indirectly with various “accidents.” There are a number of vehicles that you can take without increasing your Cars Stolen counter if you know where to look, and a programming quirk means you can “requisition” any given car by scaring the driver away, pushing the car into one of your parking spots and then saving/reloading your game. In case you haven’t made the connection yet, this means that it is possible to beat a game called Grand Theft Auto without stealing a single car. The Crime-Lite Challenge practically coasts onto this list on Irony Points alone.

Even though I’m citing Civilization for this challenge, you can attempt Always War in any 4X game (but I still feel that 4X is a narrow enough subgenre that this qualifies for the “Specific” list). 4X (which stands for “explore, expand, exploit, exterminate”) is a subgenre of strategy games in which violent conquest is not the only means to victory. For example, in the Civilization series, you can win by advancing your technology to a point where you can send a spaceship to colonize Alpha Centurai (space race victory), developing your culture through art and monuments until your civilization controls the world through others’ longing to be a part of it (cultural victory) or by earning the unyielding respect of the United Nations (diplomatic victory). Even if you attempt to triumph through military might, you still have options – you can eliminate all other factions (conquest victory) or strive to control a large percentage of the world’s population and land (domination victory).

The rules for an Always War challenge are simple: you are always at war with everyone. (Gary Oldman can explain what I mean by “everyone” if you don’t understand.) Whenever you discover another civilization, declare war on them immediately, Dalek-style. This approach may not seem much different than a typical victory by force, but it is actually much more bloodthirsty. Under normal circumstances, a player striving for a conquest victory or domination victory would be wise to forge temporary alliances (or at least maintain neutrality) with one or two other factions. The Always War challenge ensures that there is constantly a giant target on your back, and everyone is aiming for it.

Note that due to the complex nature of 4X games, Always War is far from the only self-imposed challenge that can be applied. Other popular challenges include Always Peace, the One-City Challenge (or City State Challenge) and No Tech Trading (your faction must research all of its own technologies). Civilization IV even recognizes all four of those challenges with in-game modes.

The Capless, Coinless, Cannonless Challenge (or CCC Challenge for short) has three very simple rules, which you’ve probably figured out by now. Don’t wear any special caps, don’t collect any coins and don’t use any of the cannons. The Cannonless part of the challenge isn’t that big of a deal – you only need 70 Stars to complete the game (16 if you’re familiar with the right glitches), and out of the 120 total stars, only six require use of the cannons. The game would like you to think that more Stars require cannon travel, but you’d be surprised how versatile triple jumps, long jumps, wall kicks, glitches and developer oversights can be when used in conjunction. (Forget Ezio Auditore. Mario is the original Italian video game ninja.) The Capless part of the challenge isn’t cause for alarm either; special caps are only necessary for eight additional Stars. But completing the game without picking up any coins? Ah, therein lies the rub.

Coins aren’t like major upgrades that can be easily avoided. Super Mario 64 is a platformer, which means that coins are everywhere! They are Mario’s version of the standard platformer trinket that the game rewards you for hoarding. To better visualize how avoiding coins can be problematic, imagine that each coin has been replaced by something that you really don’t want to touch, like a ball of flame, or a bunch of spinning blades, or Courtney Love. Suddenly that narrow ledge lined with coins looks a lot more precarious. The other effect of a coinless run is less immediately obvious: you lose your primary means of regaining health. You can heal with one of those spinning hearts, but those are few and far between. You can also abuse the glitch that heals you when you resurface from under water, but only a handful of levels have pools of water deep enough. Water-based levels actually raise a different concern: coins are also your primary means of refilling your air gauge.

As I said in the introduction, challenges will be ranked higher if they are unique to a particular game. The fewer other games they can be applied to, the better. This is why Portal’s Least Steps Challenge – along with the following two challenges – is ranked in the top three.

Upon completing the story mode of Portal, the game offers you a few new options that really help extend the replay value. You can attempt to complete slightly altered (read: more difficult) versions of some of the test chambers, or you can complete the test chambers as is, while trying to attain the Fastest Time, Least Portals or Least Steps. I suppose you can technically do a Least Steps Challenge in any game where your character travels by foot, but Portal is the only game in which that challenge is interesting. In any other title, a Least Steps Challenge would simply involve traveling to each objective in as close to a straight line as possible. (There’s also the fact that very few other games will keep track of the number of footsteps you’ve taken.) In Portal however, you can harness the reality-warping power of the eponymous portals to cross just about any room without a single footfall.

This may seem like a cakewalk (doublepun unintended), but it’s a bit more complex than simply portaling to the end of every level. Some of the test chambers contain sections that you must run through, as they are made entirely from portal-resistant surfaces. Also, the thresholds for earning gold medals are incredibly strict, sometimes dipping as low as 10 steps to complete the level. When you consider the fact that you must take a couple steps to exit the elevator at the beginning of the test chamber*, this leaves very little room for error. The only thing that worries me about this particular challenge is that, should anyone invent an Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device in real life, we will all start doing this and end up like the people in WALL-E.

*There exists a glitch that lets you exit the beginning elevator using only a single step. As such, the record for Test Chambers 13-16 is 1 Step.

The “> Challenge” in Tetris is not only one of gaming’s most unique self-imposed challenges, it also presents one of the most drastic changes in overall gameplay. The object of the “> Challenge” is to fill up the entire screen with falling blocks, leaving exactly one empty square in each row so that they form a greater-than (>) sign. Those of you who are familiar with how Tetris usually works (there’s gotta be at least one or two of you out there) will recognize that this is completely counterintuitive to playing the game normally. In other words, this is the only challenge on the list that requires you to fail at the game. All of the other ones, regardless of their extra goals and restrictions, still contain the basic goal of “complete the game/level successfully.”

The “> Challenge” was developed by high-level players who got bored of dominating the regular game. After a while, maxing out the score or the Lines Cleared became routine so, as creative and talented individuals are wont to do, they invented new ways to challenge themselves. The challenge became so popular that it was included in the Tetris: The Grand Master series (which was designed for expert players), which award you with the Secret Grade if you manage to complete the greater-than sign. However, if some of you still think that the “> Challenge” is too easy, there are a number of variations you can attempt. You can try the 12421 variation: instead of a diagonal line of single empty squares going up and to the right (and then up and to the left), start with a single empty square in the bottom-left corner, followed by a 2x2 empty space, a 4x4 empty space, another 2x2 empty space, and one more single empty square midway up the right edge of the screen. You can also attempt the “negative” or “inverse” variation – it’s the same as the regular “> Challenge” except that the goal is a mostly-empty screen, with a single filled block in each row forming the greater-than sign.

(Note: Minor Half-Life 2: Episode Two spoilers)
If you’ve seen the film Amélie, you may remember the scene in which the eponymous protagonist convinces her father to follow his dream of traveling the world by stealing his garden gnome and having her flight attendant friend take pictures of it in front of various famous landmarks. (Even if you haven’t seen that movie, you’ve probably heard of this prank, which dates back to the 1980’s.) Half-Life 2: Episode Two lets you send a piece of lawn decoration where no roaming gnome has ever gone before: to Mars!

Little Rocket Man is an Achievement that was included in the second episodic installment of Half-Life 2, and it may be the single greatest Achievement/Trophy of all time. All it asks is that you send a garden gnome into space. The delivery method should be obvious enough – you launch a rocket into orbit at the end of the game. So where is the gnome? He’s hidden at the very beginning of the game. Yes, that means you have to carry the guy aaaaaaaallllll the way through the entire game. If you’re clever, you can leave him in any room you know you’ll return to, or you can use the Gravity Gun to shoot him over a wall if you know you’ll loop back to the other side. Otherwise it is essentially a game-long escort quest with the most frustrating parts taken out (a garden gnome has no hit points or suicidal AI to worry about). Left 4 Dead 2 included a similar Achievement called Guardin’ Gnome during the Dark Carnival campaign (you have to win the gnome from a carnival game), where it is revealed that the little guy’s name is Gnome Chompski.

Originally, this was listed as one of the General challenges on my other list (under the name Keep a “Pet”), until I realized that HL2:E2 is just about the only game with the right design choices to allow this challenge. To make something like this work, a game needs to include the following factors:
1) There must be a unique object (hereinafter referred to as “the MacGuffin”) towards the beginning of the game that can be carried (usually preventing you from attacking effectively), but cannot be placed in your inventory. If you can simply tuck the MacGuffin away in your backpack/Bag of Holding/hammerspace, that removes all of the challenge.
2) The level design must be linear in nature. If the game is open-world (like Fallout 3) you could simply grab the MacGuffin, stash it in your house, complete most of the game unimpeded, then grab the thing on the way to the endgame.
3) The game must be continuous. If a cutscene involves your character traveling from London to Tokyo, the MacGuffin will most likely be left behind. Of course, you can circumvent this problem if the player can place the MacGuffin in a specific location at the end of a level, and have it spawn somewhere at the beginning of the next (as in Left 4 Dead 2).

But in the end, all of this talk of spacefaring gnomes raises one very important question: why does he even want to go to Mars? I heard it ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it’s cold as hell.

Honorable Mentions
I’m going to use the Honorable Mentions section to discuss a couple of challenges that were disqualified for very specific reasons.

First is a challenge that didn’t make either list because it exists in a gray area between “general” and “specific.” It can be attempted with just about any game (preferably a platformer or fighting game), but it uses a very specific piece of gaming equipment: the dance mat peripheral from a Dance Dance Revolution game. Basically, you use the dance mat as the controller to play Mario, Sonic, Street Fighter or whatever else catches your fancy. I also have a friend who used to play Mortal Kombat on the PS2 with a Guitar Hero controller.

Also disqualified were user-created variations of multiplayer games, such as Cat and Mouse from Project Gotham Racing, Boomer Escort from Left 4 Dead or Grifball from Halo.

As always, thanks for reading, and further thanks to the members of the Top 10 Lists Message Board for their advice (particularly Reiser99 for suggesting that I split the list into General and Specific challenges).

List by Eesgooshee (08/09/2011)

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