When it comes to difficulty settings in games, the majority have options clearly labelled as some form of Easy, Normal, Hard, and other settings on a scale like that. The differences between them were usually just easier or harder versions of the regular content, vial altering the enemies or the puzzles faced by the player.
There are a few games that take difficulty settings in a slightly different direction than this linear path, and one series that has been implementing this is The Legend of Zelda.
An example of the methods they use to create extra difficulty in Zelda games is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Originally for the Nintendo 64 system, it was rerealeased multiple times over the years, and during it’s GameCube release, added a second version called the Master Quest. Ocarina of time-Master Quest was the equivalent of its Hard mode, something that hadn’t existed at all in the original game.
It flipped the entire in-game world’s map to a mirrored version, and then redesigned all the dungeons to have harder sets of puzzles and tougher enemies. But the most noticeable change was introduced in the final re-release for the Nintendo 3DS. in this version of the Master Quest, all damage taken from enemies is doubled. And when poor Link stars out with only 3 hearts, double damage can kill him in about two hits in the very first dungeon.
This sudden vulnerability really makes the player think during puzzles and combat. There aren’t nearly as many times one can use trial and error when it’s so easy to die. You’re placed on the defensive, using your shield and trying to do damage as efficiently as possible without risking yourself.
Later Zelda games like Skyward Sword and The Wind Waker (HD version) also implement this double damage system in what they call Hero Mode, where naturally occurring healing items are removed at the same time. This form of difficulty feels different to me because it doesn’t quite mess with the AI of enemies, but forces the player to take what was once a simple enemy more seriously by decreasing the mistakes they are allowed to make.
I don’t necessarily think this method is the best form of difficulty I’ve seen, but I do think it’s a slightly fresher application of what Hard Mode should be.