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"Imagine if I were to draw a maze on a sheet of paper. I'm asking you to draw a line from the beginning of this maze to the end. You can't run into any dead ends and you can't touch any of the lines. Now while you're trying to do this, I'm moving the maze to the left. It would drive you fucking nuts."

You have an incredibly powerful spaceship capable of killing hundreds of enemies per minute even before it's powered up. After collecting several Power Ups, you have weapons so powerful that you can destroy most enemies before they can fire a single bullet and destroy bosses in a matter of seconds. If you die, you'll be demoted all the way back down to a single direction of fire and will die over and over again, but that's okay. With all the weapons you have right now, most enemies don't stand a chance, and you can easily avoid the occasional Invincible Minor Minion, right?

There's only one problem. The walls are deadly, and even the slightest brush with them will kill you.

This trope is most common with Auto Scrolling games, especially in Space Shooters in which anything kills you in one hit. Even if your ship scrolls along at a relatively slow rate, if a corner of your ship so much as grazes the wall beside you, you will violently explode.

The deadly wall is usually one of a number of things that makes for a Nintendo Hard space shooter. Sadistic developers may fill later levels in the game with tight passages filled with twists and turns, expecting the player to navigate them while the level continues to scroll forward. Sometimes navigating these passages is much more difficult than dealing with hordes of enemy ships, making one wonder why the Big Bad even bothered constructing so many ships when a few maze-like passages (or just one big wall) would have done a better job.

To add insult to injury, most older consoles such as the NES have digital d-pads. The luxury of an analog stick, where tilting the stick slightly moves the ship slowly, does not exist on these consoles. The combination of these touchy controls with an auto scrolling level filled with narrow twisty passages is enough to inspire plenty of controller throwing moments.

Somewhat realistic in some games, especially if the ship has a plane-like design and driving at very high speeds, as grazing a wall with a wing would have catastrophic results. In other games, it feels like the walls must be covered in some sort of weird radioactive substance to have the instantly deadly effect they have.

Not to be confused with The Walls Are Closing In, Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom, Descending Ceiling, or the Advancing Wall of Doom.

Examples of Deadly Walls include:

  • As quoted above, the NES Silver Surfer is an Egregious example of this trope. Like anything, walls will kill him in one hit, but what makes it really bad is the overhead levels, where his surfboard takes up a great deal of space and so much as grazing a wall with the back corner of it will kill him. It should also be noted it's hard to distinguish the walls in the overhead levels making it even more frustrating. And this completely ignores the fact that the Surfer's primary power in the comics is being Nigh Invulnerable.
  • Ikaruga is a more modern example. In this game though, only the very center of the ship can be killed by anything, including walls. In some cases experts can go between a wall and a destructible barrier even when it looks like there is no space between them.
  • R-Type. Partially removed in the last 2 games: only the walls that you'd logically consider to be lethal (such as a large indestructible battleship) kill you when you touch them, but static pieces of scenery only create a shower of sparks when you grind against them.
    • Or, in one of the more awesome touches in R-Type Final, grinding against the glass outer wall of a skyscraper leaves a trail of shattered glass.
    • Averted in the loosely related game Armed Police Unit Gallop.
  • Gradius games follow this faithfully, and include an interesting take on the speed problem. The Vic Viper starts with the speed of a stunned snail, but speed upgrades are the absolute easiest to get and lets a player quickly boost the speed to whatever they're comfortable with. But speed boosts don't have a maximum upgrade level, so players can easily upgrade it to the point where a single tap will send them careening into a wall if they're not paying attention.
    • In some games, like Gradius III and V, there is a way to decrease speed. The former has a "Speed Down" powerup as an available 7th powerup, and collecting enough speedups in the latter will change "Speed Up" to "Initial Speed," which resets your speed back to normal, which isn't very necessary anyway as V's maximum speed is tame compared to max speed in other games in the series.
    • Gradius Gaiden has the Guard shield, which protects you from wall collisions. However, it tends to be Awesome but Impractical because it is a big shield, which means enemy attacks can easily eat through its 3-hit lifespan.
  • Berzerk featured walls that would kill you no matter how lightly you grazed them. The good news is that the walls were equally deadly to most of your enemies - the robots wandering around shooting at you. The bad news is that Evil Otto not only wasn't hurt by the walls, he could pass through them as if they weren't there at all. "The humanoid must not escape," indeed. The sequel, Frenzy, made the walls non-lethal, but gave them other properties instead.
  • The RPG/Side-scrolling shooter fusion game Sigma Star Saga has the killer walls. It has a very annoying example of not thinking things through with the level design/game gimmick cohesion. The gimmick of the game is that the ships are alive and have a symbiotic relationship with the parasitic armor the hero wears, which causes them to teleport the hero into the cockpit whenever they get attacked - there are 4-5 different ships the Hero could find himself piloting. Problem is, sometimes you end up in a ship that is way too big for the tunnel it has wandered into, and you watch helplessly as die.
  • A lot of flash games online that are based on Copter come under this trope, including the original game, the Bullet Bill series and the Paper Plane series of games. Then again, everything in these games is a one hit kill in the same way as many arcade shooting games.
  • A partial aversion in the old Fantasy Zone series. If you got too close to the ground, your ship would just lower some legs and walk.
  • Averted entirely in the Doujinshi shooter Hellsinker; if you bang into a wall or enemy, you bounce off unscathed. The game is by no means easy, though.
  • Walls in Soldner X damage your ship on contact, and the second level is Deadly Walls Hell.
  • A Commodore 64 game called Star Ranger had a whopping six stages that cycled endlessly. The third and sixth were both some sort of tunnel maze with this trope fully active. And in one, if not both, the tunnel involved backward motion while it was scrolling.
  • the first game in the Wipeout series had a lighter version of this : merely scratching a wall would instantly set the player's speed to zero. The following PS 1 games handled it a bit better, but then the collision handling became abusable.
  • Sin and Punishment doesn't have these since you are on foot and can just stop before running into a wall, but one chase scene has them similar to Star Fox's mechanics, making you have to dodge walls, bullets and bottomless pits too.
  • Floors kill you in the Glider games, but walls and ceilings of rooms don't. Cabinets, tables and shelves are effectively Deadly Walls, though, and they can easily appear in maze-like arrangements.
  • One level of Donkey Kong 64 has a version of this. You have to move through walls of brambles in a spiral shape to reach the prize in the center. Hitting the walls at all takes a giant chunk of of your life watermelon things. Sounds simple, except the bramble walls spin back and forth, making it a great feat to get in and out without dying.
    • And before that, Donkey Kong Country 2 had some bramble levels. Then again, since the walls are made of bramble (which has a lot of thorns), it's justified in both games.
    • Donkey Kong Country 3 had a variation in one level. The player must control a rocket down and then back up a chasm while avoiding running out of fuel. In the second half hitting a wall doesn't kill you directly but it does waste enough fuel that you may not make it to the end.
  • Averted in Space Megaforce (aka Super Aleste in Japan), where walls will only kill you if you get squished between one and the bottom of the screen.
  • Likewise, in Bio-Hazard Battle, your Living Ship would only get destroyed if it got squished at the far left of the screen.
  • The NES trainwreck port of Dragon's Lair allows you to have a lifebar, but touching the harmless-looking wooden door at the start of the game results in instant death. No acid poured from above, no electricity from the door, just turning Dirk into a skeleton, as the rest of the enemies usually does.
  • Action 52: In Micro Mike, the screen scrolls so fast and Mike is so sluggish it's nearly impossible to avoid the walls. And Starevil and Atmos Quake have shoddy collision detection that kills you from being a few feet away from the walls. Starevil is particularly evil in that the player has to move instantly to avoid running into a deadly obstacle in the first second of gameplay.
  • Little Big Adventure: LBA was a 3D isometric action/adventure game where the main character would take damage and get stunned every time he touched a wall while running. This could get very annoying because of the large amount of maze-like villages and dungeons in the game. They fixed this in the second game after lots of complaining from fans.
  • The arena/sidescrolling hybrid shmup Omega Five is an another aversion of this trope.
  • There is a Japanese game show where contestants must guide a rod through a maze (of sorts) under a nowhere-near-forgiving time limit, and the rod would give off a burst of smoke if it collided with anything in the maze, which included the walls, a slot-machine type contraption, rods, at least 1 robot, or a pendulum. At least one of the video games spawned off of this concept was localized under the name "Irritating Stick" (and an arcade game, no less!).
  • Averted in the ancient arcade shooter Omega Race, which had one screen, no boundaries (the screen edged wrapped), and the box containing your score and extra life data in the center counted as an object you could bounce off of harmlessly. Of course, with the abundance of other things trying to kill you, it didn't need deadly walls.
  • The Ace Combat series uses them pretty heavily, mostly because aircraft smacking into mountains and buildings don't tend to stay in one piece. Particularly noticeable in the obligatory canyon and tunnel missions.
  • The classic Snake.
  • Parodius actually has the one giant wall. Fortunately, there is a power-up that gives your ship a Wrap Around ability to avoid it.
  • In Einhander, touching a wall will NOT destroy the player's ship instantly, but it will if you continue pushing into it.
    • Border Down does the same.
  • Puggsy had this for the (thankfully) optional level 'Lunar Jet Pug'. It was a horrible combination of Scrappy Level, Unexpected Genre Change, Continuing Is Painful and of course, One-Hit-Point Wonder. The best part? Oh, you died. Instead of respawning in roughly the same spot with a few seconds of invincibility, we're sending you back to the start. Oh by the way, you now have to do it without the gun you just dropped. Have fun.
  • Averted in Death Smiles. Not only is touching walls harmless, but if you get squished by a wall and a screen edge, you'll simply be safely pushed to where there is open space.
  • In the 8-bit game Bubble Ghost, touching any wall would make the bubble pop. The player-controlled ghost however, is invulnerable.
  • In Life Force for the NES, even a force field will not save your jet if it hits a wall. This is most frustrating when the Auto Scrolling picks up speed for a while in Level 4 for no discernible reason.
  • In the original Castle Wolfenstein, bumping into a wall stuns the player for several seconds. Not particularly lethal unless he's being chased by a soldier at the time...
  • Averted in In the Hunt. Your submarine can safely touch the walls.
  • The refueling tunnels in Parsec for the TI 99.
  • The Genesis space shooter Arrow Flash had plenty in the later levels, and is a classic example of a game where they're your biggest threat after you've built up your weaponry (which all goes away if you die). One of the Arrow Flash moves gives temporary invincibility against them; just don't use it too late.
  • Earthworm Jim had a level with an interesting twist where you drove a sort of underwater lunar-lander style vehicle, basically a glass globe with rockets attached, through twisty passages. It was hard to control, but one knock against the wall doesn't kill you; instead it causes cracks in the glass. The glass can get pretty beaten up before finally shattering (and killing you), resulting in some tense and hilarious situations, especially with the time limit.
  • Night Striker has background obstacles that are walls or act like walls. The damage is justified because you just crashed into them!
  • In Scramble and Super Cobra, crashing into buildings and terrain was deadly. The base levels forced players to go through some very narrow passages.
  • Crystal Quest used this in a sneaky way: the only deadly walls in the game are on the exit gate.