Challenge Runs are all the rage these days thanks to the rise of streaming and Let's Plays. But let's face it: Most people will never try them because they just aren't that fun to play. Who really wants to slog through The Legend of Zelda without a sword?
So that got me to thinking about Challenge Runs that everyone should try at least once. They're the challenges that expand the original concept in some way; highlight its best feature, or in the case of the DOOM challenge, subvert the hell out of the original concept. Not all of them are difficult (though most of them are), but they will all give you a greater appreciation for the games that spawned them. Check out the list below, then share of your favorites in the comments. I would love to hear some of your favorite suggestions.
Nuzlocke Challenge (Pokemon)
The rules: Any Pokemon that faints is considered dead and must be released. Additionally, the player may only catch the first Pokemon they encounter in each area. If you blackout, the game is considered over.
Why take the challenge?: The Nuzlocke Challenge is probably the best self-imposed challenge ever devised for a videogame. It not only makes a fairly easy RPG exponentially more difficult, it actually makes the untrained monsters captured over the course of the storyline mean something. This is no mean feat given that most experienced trainers treat the random monsters captured over the course of the storyline as disposable rubbish and focus on building up their own monsters. In a Nuzlocke Challenge, the random monsters are instead trusted allies, and their deaths are deeply mourned (particularly if they are a veteran party member that falls victim to an unlucky critical hit, as sometimes happens in Pokemon). It requires a bit more grinding than usual to be successful, which is typical of RPG-based challenges, but it's worth it for the satisfaction of successfully knocking out the Elite 4 with what amounts to one life. If you want to be a true Pokemon master, the Nuzlocke Challenge is pretty much mandatory.
Gravity Gun Run (Half-Life 2)
The rules: Finish Half-Life 2 using only the gravity gun.
Why take the challenge?: The gravity gun is universally acknowledged as being one of the best things about Half-Life 2 (the other best thing being hopping around and making a mess during exposition). It highlighted Half-Life 2's advanced physics, which were quite the novelty back in 2004, and remain impressive today. Using only the gravity gun requires you to put a great deal of thought how you approach individual enemies. Combine soldiers, for example, are quite sturdy and usually need to be hit with larger objects like safes and radiators to be taken out. Items can be used to defend against enemy fire, though wooden objects will usually break after a few rounds. Using just the gravity gun really gives you an appreciation for just how far ahead of its time Half-Life 2 really was, as well as the intricacy of its physics. And if you actually manage to complete the challenge and finish the game? Well, give yourself a pat on the back. That's no mean feat.
Four Job Fiesta (Final Fantasy V)
The rules: Complete Final Fantasy V using four jobs that are randomly assigned as you acquire each successive crystal.
Why take the challenge?: Because it's for charity, that's why! Specifically, it's an annual challenge invented for the benefit of Child Play's Penny Arcade charity. Among Final Fantasy afficianados, the Four Job Fiesta is practically a national holiday, as it offers an opportunity to flaunt your skills in undertaking a challenge run in a tougher-than-average RPG. It works by tweeting an element (e.g., #wind) as you reach each crystal at @FF5forFutures, after which you are assigned a job. There are a lot of variants, most of which can be found here, some of which ramp up the challenge considerably. If you've already reached the Advanced section of our Gateway Guide to Final Fantasy (shameless plug), then this is a great way to test your skills. This year's Four Job Fiesta is already over, but there's no reason to wait until next year. Generate your own jobs and get started.
Luck Run (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)
The rules: When inputting your name, enter "X-X!V"Q" to raise your Luck to 99 while reducing the rest of your stats to the near minimum.
Why take the challenge?: So you can be like our fearless leader, who is the in the midst of a Luck Run himself over in our Castlevania: Symphony of the Night USgamer Club. Unlike the rest of these challenges, the Luck Run is actually built into Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, making it one of many Symphony of the Night's odd but endearing touches. Though quite tough in the early going, Luck Runs eventually make the game in the cakewalk as Alucard builds up his stats and loads up on rare weapon. Everyone should try it at least once though, as it makes for an odd but entertaining way to play one of the best games ever made, if only because it results in funny moments like the Doppleganger getting obliterated in two shots because of a lucky critical hit. You'll have no shortage of amusing stories if you embark on a Luck Run.
Hawaiian Challenge (XCOM: UFO Defense)
The rules: You may only establish one base, and it must be in Hawaii.
Why take the challenge?: One of the basic pillars of the classic XCOM is being able to intercept enemy UFOs. Successful interceptions not only keep them from wreaking havoc on the ground, but opens up a treasure trove of technology. In an ordinary run, the best approach is to establish a base in Europe to enable the best possible radar coverage. By establishing a base in Hawaii, though, you are effectively isolated. This forces you to make much better use of the tools at your disposal, such as using graphs to keep track of the areas where you have no radar coverage. It also means that you can't afford to skip even a single battle. It's a challenging scenario to be sure, but its appeal is in how it teaches you to learn the game inside and out without necessarily having to be supernaturally skilled. One of the numerous "Scott Jones Scenarios" developed by the creator of XcomUtil. They're all worth checking out here.
Pacifist Run (DOOM)
The rules: Finish a level as fast as possible on Ultra-Violence without directly or indirectly harming a monster.
Why take the challenge?: Pacifist Runs are a common sight in Metal Gear Solid and its ilk, but not so much in first-person shooters, where killing bad guys is kind of... you know... the point. Hence, there's something deeply funny about attempting a Pacifist Run in a game like DOOM, which along with Mortal Kombat spawned numerous debates on the nature of violence in videogames in the '90s. It's even funnier to get the monsters to turn on one another and tear themselves apart while you slip quietly through the shadows and out the exit. Such runs are the natural result of a community playing DOOM for more than 20 years and looking for a new way to enjoy their favorite game, making us all winners as a result.