Unlockable difficulty levels

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Hard mode is unlocked in Super Mario Bros.

Unlockable difficulties is a video game term for when a game has alternate difficulty levels that are not available by default and must be unlocked through specific game play, usually by beating the game at normal difficulty. Games with this feature almost always unlock a harder difficulty to give superior players more of a challenge, but occasionally a game will feature an easier difficulty to allow players to better appreciate the game's art and music. Unlockable difficulties should not be confused with a new game plus or unlockable content feature.

The first time I ever saw an unlockable difficulty level was after beating Super Mario Bros. in the late 1980s. I thought it was pretty clever to see the slightly more complex levels, and also realized that the 100-lives trick would be possible all over the game now that the goombas were replaced by buzzy beetles.


This is a list of games that are important to me which have an unlockable difficulties.

Title Released Notes
Borderlands 2009-10-20 The second play through starts all enemies at level 30, but you get to keep your stats and equipment.
Borderlands 2 After beating the game, you can start a new game in "True Vault Hunter Mode" where enemies all start at level 50, but you get to keep your stats and equipment.
Castlevania After you defeat Dracula you can restart the game and there will more enemies and some will move faster.
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse Defeating Dracula lets you restart in hard mode where there are more enemies, some weak enemies are replaced with stronger enemies, and all enemies deal more damage.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow After beating the game, you unlock "hard mode" where you deal less damage to enemies.
Kirby's Dream Land 1992-04-27 After beating the game you get a code for "extra mode" where enemies are more difficult and bosses have more health and use more complex attack patterns.
Mario Kart 64 1996-12-14 Getting 1st place on all tracks on 150cc unlocks "mirror mode" which lets you play the tracks in reverse making some tracks more difficult.
Metroid: Zero Mission After beating the game, you unlock hard mode where enemies deal twice as much damage, there are more and harder enemies, fewer save points, and energy, missile, and bomb pickups give less.
Portal 2007-10-10 Beating the game unlocks more difficult versions of previous levels.
Super Mario Bros. 1985-09-13 Replaying the game after beating it lets you play in hard mode where goombas become buzzy beetles, some platforms are narrower, and random bullet bills occur in the tree levels.
Super Mario Land Restarting the game after beating it lets you play in hard mode.