Another day, another death course...
—Ratchet, Ratchet and Clank Up Your Arsenal
The linear version of the Death Trap, the Death Course is a gauntlet through which a hero must pass, using all his acrobatic skills, guile, Le Parkour, and witty bravado. Essentially a sequence of Booby Traps.
These can be found in:
- Ancient temples, where they are driven by very durable Bamboo Technology.
- Supervillain Lairs, either on the approach, intentionally included in the dungeon, or as a side effect of the self-destruct mechanism.
- Factories, if they are damaged and were unsafe to start with.
Any of the pitfalls included under Death Trap may be used in the Death Course, along with a few mobile classics of its own:
- The dart launchers, triggered by the passing of the hero (an automatic machine gun, in modern settings).
- The giant rolling stone ball, always an Indiana Jones Homage.
- Trap Doors
- One-Way Entrances
- Stairs that become slides
- Deadly spikes
- Vents spewing out steam
- The Laser Hallway, in the "burning hot laser" version, or to trigger another trap.
- As an alternative to the Laser Hallway, a succession of blades or circular saws that appear at seemingly random locations.
- Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom
- Advancing Wall of Doom
- The Corridor Cubbyhole Run.
- And, of course, Bottomless Pits and/or Pit Traps.
The Death Course makes a mundane walk in the park into a slightly less sadistic version of football training camp. It's common in video games where hazards are commonplace, and action series. Sometimes, there are Dungeon Bypasses available.
Anime & Manga
- Hanaukyo Maid Tai: La Verité has one hidden under the front lawn of the mansion.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Ed discovers one of these on his way into the Fifth Laboratory. After the first few traps, though, he gets sick of it and transmutes the hallway to have perfectly smooth, unbroken walls and walks straight through.
- The offshore oil rig/cathedral from roughly the middle of Sailor Moon's third season. Complete with flying panels and completely different panels that shoot apparently invisible darts.
- The Dog Race in Deadman Wonderland features swinging pendulum blades, flamethrowers, electrified water, and a disintegrating floor that empties into a pit of spikes. Because DW is a publicly open prison/themepark, the horrific deaths and disfigurations that result from this race explained as "special effects" a la a stunt show.
- A very short over-land one shows up in Sonic the Hedgehog The Movie, consisting mainly of about a half-dozen spike traps and an ambush by a swarm of Buzzbombers.
- One features in the second episode of Angel Beats! in the form of anti-Angel traps on the path to Guild which the heroes must themselves traverse. They don't see it is a big deal because in their world, Death Is Cheap.
- Gintama had one in an episode involving an art museum. It included a Corridor Cubbyhole Run, Spikes of Doom, a treadmill floor and a 100% normal old man, his wife, their son and their grandson riding on said treadmill
- An episode of Amagi Brilliant Park features major characters Kanie Seiya, Sento Isuzu, Moffle, Tirami, and Macaron finding their way into one. When the first huge ball comes rolling down the hallway, Tirami and Macaron scream, "A cliché trap!" Then the spears and sword blades start jabbing or slicing out of the walls, Isuzu and Macaron fall through trap doors....
- This is Arcade's MO - for a fee, he'll capture heroes and put them in a death trap (Murderworld) of his own devising. One wonders why villains don't just pay him to capture and collect their unconscious foes.
- Because that's Arcade's 'thing'. Supposedly he got bored killing people the old-fashioned way; he's gotta put them through the Death Course, that's where the fun is!
- He is also willing to rent his courses out to various villains so that they can train.
- The Don Rosa Scrooge McDuck story "Treasure of the Ten Avatars".
- The X-Men's Danger Room, in its first incarnation, is one of these, although controlled by the participants.
- In an issue of Catwoman, Catwoman had to navigate one of these in order to get into an ancient temple buried beneath the Sahara. She wondered why all of the traps were in such good working order after centuries of disuse, only to realise that her rival Hellhound had got there ahead of her and had repaired and reset all of the traps on his way in to slow her down.
- A hero-villain inversion occurs in Sin City. Marv sets fire to Kevin's house, lures him out with gunshots, tries to trip him up with razor wire, sets up his coat as a decoy, tries to lob his head off with a hatchet, and then just resorts to handcuffing him and punching him in the face.
- The Indiana Jones films, but most notably the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as noted above.
- In Galaxy Quest, the characters are moving through a spaceship based on the one in the TV show they starred in. When there's a Death Course down one corridor, one asks why the heck such a thing would be in a spaceship. The answer is, of course, because it was in the TV show.
"Whoever wrote this episode should DIE!"
- The execrable Dungeons and Dragons movie from 2000 had a Death Course used for training in the Thieves' Guild, which the hero had to run. By purest coincidence, the guildmaster was played by Richard O'Brien, who used his Catch Phrases from The Crystal Maze.
- The opening of the "Weird Al" Yankovic movie UHF is a loving parody of the famous Indiana Jones sequence, right down to the giant rolling stone ball. However, this one can navigate and turn corners.
- Let's not forget the path into Alcatraz in The Rock.
- James Bond movies:
- In the later half of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Anakin and Padme have to survive through what amounts to the unsafe Factory version.
- The titular setting of the film Cube, and its two sequels are essentially a Death Course of bureaucratically ambiguous origin.
- The entrance to Lex Luthor's lair in Superman, particularly in the extended cut of the movie that didn't make it into theaters.
- The tunnel network explored by The Goonies certainly qualifies; while it didn't kill anyone in the movie, its traps had caused the death of Mr. Copperpot some decades before.
- Inverted in the Home Alone series, in that it's the villains who are forced to negotiate a Death Course, designed by the protagonist.
- Shifu's temple from Kung Fu Panda has one of these.
- One appears in the song "One Last Hope" from Hercules.
- In 1972's anthology Tales From The Crypt, the abusive manager of a home for the blind gets his comeuppance when the visually-impaired men he's been mistreating lock him in his office and construct a Death Course through which he must exit, with hundreds of razor blades set into the walls of a very narrow passage. They wait until he's squeezed his painful way through it once, then sic his own attack dog on him and turn out the lights.
- In the Alex Rider book Eagle Strike, Alex is thrown into an exact replica of a Aztec level of a video game by the game's creator. This features darts, slippery surfaces, a robot snake which is a real snake in body armor and two Aztec gods (guards in costume).
- Near the end of Inheritance, (the last book of the Inheritance Cycle') Eragon, Saphira, Elva, Arya, and eleven other elves make their way through a hallway filled with traps to get to The Big Bad.
- In Matthew Reilly's books Seven Deadly Wonders and The Six Sacred Stones almost all the action sequences take place in Death Courses.
- In the Discworld books, it is heavily implied that Lord Vetinari has one of these set up in the passage that leads to Leonard of Quirm's cell. Or maybe that's just what he wants you to think.
- Leonard apologizes earnestly for designing it, so it is far more likely to be true.
- The Lost Jewelled Temple Of Doom Of Offler The Crocodile God (from Reaper Man) contains one of these, successfully traversed (for the first time) by Death. Hearing his progress, the priests note that "a chap with a whip got as far as the big spikes last week."
- Maybe not. Given their reaction when Death arrives, it seems Mrs. Cake might already have been...
- Small Gods features this as a security precaution against visiting dignitaries from hostile lands. They didn't count on the main character's photographic memory.
- In the Young Bond novel Hurricane Gold, El Hurican has La Avenida de la Murete: a death course where all the challenges are based on legends of the Mayan gods.
- The titular castle Malevil is well, a castle. See the Real Life section below.
- Angel runs through one of these to save Darla's life, though it should be noted that this was set up for the explicit purpose of testing the mettle of applicants to a specific and quite powerful supernatural favor.
- British game show The Crystal Maze (hosted by Richard "Riff-Raff" O'Brien of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame) presented a much-toned down version as the central set piece of the program.
- MacGyver features several death courses, some linear, some (implicitly) not, typically they are associated with his arch-nemesis Murdoc. One particularly blatant episode (which has a rather "Man with the Golden Gun" feel) involved a reformed Murdoc enlisting Mac's help to save Murdoc's sister, and being forced to traverse a linear Death Course by Murdoc's former mentor appropriately called "Death Row".
- The game shows Legends of the Hidden Temple, Viking: The Ultimate Warrior and Sasuke (known as Ninja Warrior in North America) have these either as stages or take place within them entirely. (The games in Takeshi's Castle, known in America as MXC, are too separated to count.)
- The obstacles in Knightmare - the only children's game show where you could (virtually) die by being impaled on spikes, sawn in half by giant blades, having your head knocked off by flying bits of masonry, falling into bottomlessness after stepping on the wrong tile of an Indiana Jones-style causeway, and so on and so forth.
- The title character of "The Girl Who Was Death", an episode of The Prisoner played like a '60s spy movie, set up a death course for No.6 in a movie set/ghost town, with appropriate obstacles in the butcher's, baker's, and candlestick-maker's shops, like triggered machine guns, trap doors, deadly electrified spikes, land mines, and poison-laced exploding candles.
- Graeme makes a deathcourse for the sole purpose of committing suicide with in one episode of The Goodies - and ends up walking blindfolded through the whole thing unscathed in order to answer the telephone.
- Stargate SG-1 has a couple of these. Firstly in the Season 2 episode 'Thor's Chariot', and then in the Season 7 episode 'Evolution, Part 1'.
- An episode of The Lucy Show, of all things, has one of these - Lucy's bank built it to protect its vault in order to entice Jack Benny to keep his money there. Naturally, she has to give Benny a "tour".
- For that matter, Jack Benny's never displayed (if you discount the Looney Toons cartoon version) vault.
- The New Avengers uses one of these disguised as a British agent training course. Agents would be shot with harmless little darts to show whether they passed. The villains poisoned the darts.
- The Avengers loved this trope. Another episode had a Death Course in the form of an agent-killing automated factory.
- The episode "Legacy" of Criminal Minds had a villain who would capture and put anyone he deemed useless to society (prostitutes, junkies, vagrants, etc.) in a meat plant he had inherited, which he filled with such pleasant things as vicious dogs, noxious gas spewing vents and a room filled entirely with broken glass. Though he told his captives that he would let them go if they found the exit within a certain amount of time this appeared to just be a means of inspiring false hope and in the end he'd just vivisect them with lots of nasty looking tools.
- Baldur's Gate, most particularly 2, where a Death Course is seen as a training ground for the Shadow Thieves of Amn.
- Tomb Raider, in which most of the tombs are equipped with diabolical anti-raider devices.
- Prince of Persia, since day one, has had these in every castle of the ancient world. There are some paranoid sultans out there, apparently. (In Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, it's slightly more reasonable—the Death Courses aren't activated until partway through, whereupon the Prince helps a guard set them off to deal with the invading menace. Only after the fact does he realize he's just trapped himself behind the security... and it does nothing to the enemies. He actually notes this aloud.)
- Arguably, most parts of the God of War series not concerning killing undead skeletons are Death Courses.
- However, the game has two areas that are intentional Death Courses, rather than being naturally inhospitable or dangerous due to damage: The Temple of Pandora (including the Cliffs of Madness), and Hades. The Temple of Pandora is justified, as it's explicitly designed for the sole purpose of killing anyone unworthy of obtaining Pandora's Box.
- Sly Cooper has had its share, as well.
- The Crash Bandicoot games are mostly a combination of the various types of Death Courses, with most of the pitfalls included.
- And the second and third games actually have special areas that change to more ominous music and (in some cases) turn the Death Course factor up to 11.
- The Ratchet and Clank games have a few, most often arranged as futuristic game-shows like "Annihilation Nation". One of these is literally called "Path of Death", another simply "Death Course."
- Lampshaded in Ratchet and Clank Up Your Arsenal, where, upon being told that the only way to retrieve a mission-critical item is to run through the Annihilation Nation death course, Rachet responds nonchalantly with the quote at the top of this page, much to the surprise of his companions.
- Most Platformer levels, in fact, including the Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog games.
- The first Genesis\Mega Drive Sonic game has the Labyrinth Zone boss in particular, which has spikes and fireball traps, and rising water.
- In the Rick Dangerous series almost all levels are death courses.
- Creating these are the whole point of the Deception trap-simulation games. Extra points for combos! Spring Wall+Giant Flaming Boulder+Floor Spikes+Electric Chair+Lava Wall= 1 very dead pursuer. Clearly these creaky old mansions are not held to OSHA standards, either.
- Two words: Black Mesa.
- But at least it was up to OSHA standards until the catastrophic end of the world.
- Taking a mysterious crystal from an inter-dimensional bureaucrat who comes from nowhere tells you to "prepare for unforeseen consequences" and bombarding said crystal with lasers is safe? I mean, I suppose such a thing is so ridiculous that OSHA hasn't covered it, but still. Come on. Actually OSHA has a catchall regulation just for "You just did something so absolutely and clearly dangerous to your employees you blew our minds. We could never imagine somebody being so stupid. Here's your fine. You're not going to get off on 'well you didn't tell me not to specifically do this'." It's called the General Duty Clause.
- Well, they WERE worried about if something goes wrong. They just thought it was very unlikely. You get lines of dialog of arguing scientist before the test. Unfortunately, the person complaining is right.
- But at least it was up to OSHA standards until the catastrophic end of the world.
- In Portal, the entire Aperture Science Enrichment Center appears expressly designed to murder its test subjects by exposure to vaporizing balls of energy, highly toxic liquids, fatal drops, hyperactive sentry turrets—and that's just the test chambers. And once you escape and go hunting for GLaDOS, the environments become actively murderous.
- In Portal 2, it's turned Up to Eleven. Not only are the tests back, with some new elements like high energy lasers, but there are two sequences where the AI in charge resorts to the Malevolent Architecture of the Enrichment Center in an attempt to kill you directly, and you are forced to run for it through gauntlets of crushing walls and endless drops. Further, in the second act of the game, you descend into the abandoned test facilities beneath the modern ones, which make you contend not only with the tests but also all the broken catwalks and decaying environments between them.
- First two Max Payne games have a level where you have to run through a building as it is burning down around you, escaping by finding the "safe route" out of the fire and generally straight into the arms of the baddies.
- The final level on the path to the fourth ending of Drakengard involves having to fly your dragon in, around, and between legions of eldritch abominations. If you take three hits or so from their homing attacks, you fail.
- Quest for Glory I has two of these, the first played straight, the second played for laughs. In the first, there are brigand archers on either side of the room, a trap door hidden under a rug (with a "Walk here" sign on it, written kinda shakily as if the writer were laughing at the time), two tripwires, and a bridge that dumps you into a pit if you walk on it. The second death course is designed by the brigand warlock (who is actually the old court jester following the cursed daughter of the baron, who leads the brigands), and considering his nature, it almost makes sense that the room completely and totally defies logic. Doors will fall off their hinges and dump you into pits, which causes you to roll through a hole in the wall on the other side of the room and into another pit... which then dumps you out of the same exact hole. It doesn't help that the warlock himself is throwing things at you the entire time, and laughs while you roll along. Additionally, the room has Escher Physics, and walking through a door on one end brings you out on the other side. It actually hangs a lampshade on it with one of messages: "M. C. Escher would love this place."
- The most fun part of the game Evil Genius was creating death courses for the AI heroes to attempt. The more elaborate they were, the more points you got if they tripped them.
- It was less fun when you realized they were killing a lot more of your own minions than of the enemies.
- The K'chekrik Gauntlet in Heretic 2.
- The Gauntlet in Nox, through which prospective Warriors must fight their way to show they've got what it takes.
- Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks has a good number of these.
- This is the entire point of I Wanna Be the Guy. It would be redundant to list the numerous things that will kill The Kid throughout the game, but suffice to say that every single screen is enough to make the proudest Adventure Archaeologist shit bricks.
- Dwarf Fortress lets you build these as a very effective method of keeping your fortress safe from invaders. Interestingly, you can make an auxiliary entrance which invaders are forced to take when your drawbridge is up or your main entrance is sealed off in some other way. This entrance, of course, can be extremely long and extremely deadly.
- The final mission of Thief: The Dark Project.
- Oni Island in Okami is a huge deathtrap... which is apparently entertainment for the local youkai. There are even rules for these areas posted on a small, hard to miss sign right before them. And don't get me started on Tobi, the game master for the largest of these death courses...
- In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the Death Star level consists of a series of Laser Hallways on steroids
- Jack Vambrace, Treasure Hunter, is first introduced to the party in Wild ARMs while he is escaping from one of these in an ancient ruin.
- N in all its incarnations is just a ninja Le Parkouring through Death Courses.
- Games with level editors can allow players to make Death Courses. Such as a Mega Man Powered Up level where the floor and every platform are made from Spikes of Doom, or a Halo3 multiplayer map where all the teleporters and spawn points are placed outside the map's border.
- The world of Jumper is basically this.
- Forgotten FPS/RPG Strife features the Training Facility.
- Fun Orb has "Tomb Racer", a Death Course game set in a Temple of Doom, featuring as many deathtrap tropes as the creators could think of.
- About halfway through Dead Space 2, Tiedemann seals Isaac in a section of the Sprawl meant for processing hazardous waste. This includes several large, sharp, spinning objects that will kill you if you get too close. Which must be navigated in Zero G. Arguably the most fun part of the game.
- Orcs Must Die runs on you creating these, pushing, crushing, smashing piercing, slicing, burning, electricuting, bludgeoning, freezing and impaling hapless orcs.. Then there's the catapult trap which, when placed correctly, can catapult the orcs all the way back to the beginning of said deathcourse.
- Kind of subverted by good old Eight Bit Theater: To become the bearded warriors and therefore told the earth orbs location the light warriors are supposed to go through the four hundred bearded trials of strength which black mage solves (almost) single-handedly by hadokening the whole course.
- In Reality Experiment, one of the main characters has to run a death course to return to life after being killed. The price of failure is eternal torment. However, after being asked by the Grim Reaper('s assistant) to try to avoid the grinding gears at the beginning, since it jams the whole course and takes forever to clear up, the character throws the Grim Reaper into the gears to jam the whole course and run back to life.
- Most of Castle Heterodyne in Girl Genius has turned into one of these by the time Agatha enters it.
- Then again, it was originally one of these by design; it was also alive, and since it was damaged, has gotten crazier.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, the titular Dr. McNinja was hired to infiltrate an ancient temple full of these, blocking a tennis robot which supposedly destroys the world if it's not beaten in tennis.
- Darths and Droids, Pete puts the party through the factory sequence from Attack of the Clones while subbing for the regular GM, all because of something that Jim and the others did in a previous RP. They eventually make it through by SHEER LUCK, as revealed in a review by the original GM, who remarks "Wow...I don't see how anyone could make it through this..."
- This becomes a Hoist by His Own Petard for Pete as, when the regular GM returns, Pete's character is forced to make his way back through his own Death Course, thus missing out on all the action taking place at the same time.
- Kim Possible has faced many, notably an ancient monkey temple in Cambodia in the episode "Monkey Fist Strikes".
- The Raiders deathcourse is parodied at the beginning of The Simpsons episode "Milhouse Falls in Love."
- In The Spectacular Spider-Man, The Green Goblin sets up one of these for Spider-Man and Tombstone in a refinery with No OSHA Compliance, stuffed to the gills with bombs.
- In a episode of Mucha Lucha, Rikochet ends up taking on soccer, and is doing a rather... challenging drill. As exemplified by his coach: "You must run the course like your life depends on it! Because, a matter of fact... it does!"
- In Danny Phantom, Fright Knight's entire castle is a Death Course!
- The Thundercats episode Tower of Traps is, well, exactly as it says. It features a octopus type monster, swinging blades, trick stairs, and more. Fun for everyone involved!
- In the direct to video sequel An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island, Fievel and his friends pass through a Death Course while exploring underground caverns on their way to the hideout of an underground tribe of Native American mice. Later on in the film some corrupt policemen are tricked into going through the death course themselves. There are noticeably fewer of them after they come out the other side.
- Gauntlet Dock!
- In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Read It and Weep", Daring Do faces two sets of these back to back, though we only ever see the first. Said course involves thrown axes, fire pits, crocodiles hanging from the ceiling, arrows, and spikes.
- The Global Guardians PBEM Universe villain Minos is obsessed with ancient Greece. His headquarters is always hidden at the center of a maze-like Death Course.
- Castles, trench lines and other fortifications are typically designed to be a death course, at least for the attacking army. Storming a properly built fortification using a direct assault in practically any time period is an absolute suicide mission—there's a reason generals would often prefer to wait years on end to starve them out instead. Charging under interlocking fields of fire, crossing mine or trap fields (specifically designed to slow you down inside an interlocking field of fire), needing to somehow cross deep trenches or moats under interlocking fields of fire, scaling walls loaded up with murder holes (a little window you could stick a gun or a spear from) while the fellows on the other side try to pour boiling oil or molten lead over your head... Worse still in a modern setting, where interlocking fields of projectile fire are much more capable, and where artillery fire starts raining down ( with interlocking fields of coverage of course).