Dark Souls: The Board Game – The Dark Souls of board games

Yes, it’s as hard as the video game. Also more complicated.


So Dark Souls then.  Have I mentioned that series before?  The one I really like?  I’m not sure if I have.  Either way, it’s a series I’m a fan of for many reasons, including its precision timing and learning a solid process to get through the challenges presented to you.  So when I saw that Steamforge Games had a Kickstarter campaign for a board game based on it, I had to back it.  I mean, I tried not to, but my hands just took over control of my computer and backed it for me.  They even backed some of the expansions too.  I’d like to say their addiction to Kickstarter has passed, but I think they may need to go into rehab.  Anyway, I wasn’t sure how well Dark Souls would transition into board game form but the team have put together something that captures some of the essence of the video game, and works well as a board game most of the time.

Dark Souls
The minis look great and look a lot like the characters and creatures from the video game.

Opening up the box, you are immediately confronted with a black sheet of paper reading “YOU DIED”, which is lovely.  It’s quite prophetic really as you will die repeatedly in this (much like in the video game) and fail in your quest over and over.  In the box you’ll find a number of board pieces to construct the play area, plenty of tokens and dice.  Oh and the minis.  Mini is not a good name for all of these as some of them are huge by most board game standards.  The component quality is really rather good, with plenty of detail on the minis and boards.  I will say some of the tokens are a little on the small side for my liking though.

Dark Souls
I should have put something here for scale, but the bosses are huge. The ones in the expansions are meant to be bigger still.

Dark Souls is designed to be played with 1 to 4 players cooperatively, with the goal of defeating a mini boss and a final boss.  Players begin at the bonfire with a certain number of “sparks” (the game’s equivalent of lives) and move from room to room confronting groups of enemies and traps.  Each room has a randomly selected card dictating the enemies and items in the environment.  Completing a room will earn a number of “souls” (the game’s currency) that can be spent on leveling up character attributes and purchasing items from the blacksmith.  If a single player should die during an encounter, everyone returns to the bonfire and the number of sparks is reduced by 1.  Run out of sparks and it’s game over.

Dark Souls
The discs with the yellow symbols on them are traps that can further complicate an encounter.

Encounters are hard, which is in keeping with the source material.  Each player can move one space and attack on their turn.  Players can move further by spending stamina, a risky move as your stamina is also tied to your health.  Attacking is based on dice rolls depending on your weapon.  Some weapons allow you to use multiple black dice (fewer successful sides) whilst others use fewer blue or orange dice (higher chance for success and greater damage).  Stamina can be spent here too, allowing for a more powerful attack that may have additional effects.  After a player takes their actions, all enemies take theirs based on their associated card with most of them moving either towards or away from the nearest or most recent player and attacking assuming they are in range.  This means you could be attacked many times before having an opportunity to do anything much it yourself.  You can spend stamina to attempt a dodge roll (depending on your equipment) which will negate all damage or reduce it by blocking, but in most cases you’ll get hit very hard.

Dark Souls
A fairly tough Warrior. That sword and its upgrades proved to be very powerful against the Dancer.

Players have a single use “Estus flask” to restore their health and stamina, as well as a coin to re-roll one die.  These are all restored upon death.  Each character class also as a specific once per life action that can help in a pinch.  There is a fairly large emphasis on having good equipment (weapons, armour, shields, spells, etc.) on your character to survive, as enemies hit hard.  Death can come quickly, even at the hands of basic enemies if you’re under-equipped or if you have an unlucky set of dice rolls.  This is especially the case for bosses who play in a different way to most enemies.  Bosses have a set of cards that dictate their actions and attacks.  These are based on their character from the games, with the Titanite Demon having wide, sweeping attacks whilst the Dancer can attack multiple times.  They only have a few attacks that are not shuffled after they are used, allowing players to learn a pattern.  When they are damaged to a certain level, a new, more powerful card is added to their rotation to mix things up.  I really like this mechanic as it ties into the video game’s idea of learning how to fight a boss in order to take it down.  The bosses are very tough, but learning the path to victory against them feels good and they are definitely the stand out experience.

Dark Souls
Looking to take down a mini boss. The Winged Knight is, in my opinion, one of the easier bosses.

Fighting the bosses is great and works really well but the standard encounters suffer and the game has something of a pacing issue.  Upon death or returning to the bonfire, all enemies respawn (again, just like the game) to allow you to gain more souls for equipment and leveling up.  This means that if you fail at a boss you need to slog through standard enemies again.  Whilst you can set up the boards to have shortcuts (a nice nod to the series again), it still slows down the game considerably.  With lucky rolls you could get through a game in around 90 minutes, but it’s much more likely to take a lot longer.

Dark Souls
Enemies attack based on the most recent person to move or attack.

The luck aspect is the other issue I have with the game.  Whilst the bosses go a long way towards replicating the video game experience, the standard enemies are much more based on luck.  If you have a series of poor dice rolls, you may as well start over.  I get that the feeling of despair and failure is a large part of the video game, but luck really isn’t.  Players learn to skillfully dispatch opponents, not hope for a lucky turn to achieve victory.  This is something I wish they had given more thought to.

Dar Souls
Most weapons have a range of zero, meaning you need to be on the same node as the enemy. Others like bows have a minimum range, meaning you need to keep back.

However, once you get to a boss and manage to take it down through careful positioning (and yes, a touch of luck) is quite satisfying.  If you can put up with the early slog then you can have a lot of fun with this.  There’s a good feeling to be had when you manage to acquire and equip a powerful item and finally get to throw those orange dice for serious damage.  In the coming months there will be additional bosses and sets released (I’m (not) ashamed to say that I’ve ordered a few) to add more to the game.  I’m quite excited to take on Sif when it arrives.  If you’re in the market for a substantial co-op board game then you could do a lot worse than picking this up.  Praise the Sun \o/

A Difficult Conversation

Is that title clickbait-y enough?

A little while back I talked about how using a guide for a game isn’t such a bad thing.  You don’t always have the time to “git gud”, so why not use the resources that are freely available online to help you?  I’ve also recently mentioned that gaming is the only form of entertainment that actively prevents you from accessing more unless you prove you are deserving of it.  There are exceptions of course, with walking simulators allowing pretty much everyone to access the full story regardless of ability level.  Then we have the likes of Star Fox Zero

Star Fox Zero
It’s fine if you don’t like the game because it plays badly. Hell, it’s fine to just plain not like it. But to dislike it because it’s accessible to casual players?!

Now, I haven’t played Star Fox Zero.  Hell, I didn’t even have a Wii U to play it on.  But I am very aware that a lot of people didn’t like it due to it having a poor control scheme.  I’m also aware that a lot of people didn’t like it because it included an invulnerable mode, that made it near impossible for you to fail.  It seems that a lot of gamers weren’t happy that some people would be able to experience the game’s story without the struggle that comes along with it.  This isn’t the only game to do this, in fact a number of recent Mario games have had a similar option in which repeated failure allows you to play through a level whilst invulnerable.  I have seen comments that dislike this feature too.

Mega Man 10 logo
Would an easy mode in Mega Man 10 reduce the feeling of success from those who finish the game as it is?

But why?  Why does it matter if people who find the game challenging have a way of engaging with content later on?  There seems to be this idea that games’ endings, regardless of their supposed target audience, should only be accessed by gamers who have earned it.  To them, I ask this question:  Did you earn the right to see the end of that movie you watched?  Could you skip past the scenes that you didn’t like?  How about that book you read or listened to?  How is gaming such a specialist form of media that you can’t enjoy the story unless you earn it?

DmC: Devil May Cry (2013)
The reboot of Devil May Cry was easier than previous installments, allowing more people to experience it.  It still had super hard difficulty modes to unlock for the hardcore player.

Games tell some genuinely fascinating stories and I don’t see why those stories shouldn’t be enjoyed by everyone.  Anyone can enjoy Firewatch, why can’t everyone enjoy Mass Effect?  I’m not for a second saying that difficulty should be removed from all games, by all means keep Dark Souls difficult, but why couldn’t their be a “casual” mode that removes some of the challenge so a less skilled player can enjoy the world?  Most players would go for the challenge, but some would appreciate a way to explore the world without being brutally struck down at every turn.

Firewatch tower
Walking simulators like Firewatch are something of an exception.  However, the more serious player could take the time to explore more diligently than those who are only here for the story.

A great example of this is in Furi.  This is designed to be a very challenging boss rush game (with a cracking soundtrack I might add) in which you will be defeated over and over.  But if you want to experience the story, then you can select the “Promenade” difficulty, in which the bosses practically lie down for you.  Trophies/achievements won’t unlock in this mode, but you can still discover the plot at a leisurely pace.  If a game that is designed with difficulty in mind can do this, then why can’t others?

Ornstein and Smough
Oh look!  It’s these guys again!  Could you argue there was technically an “easy” mode thanks to the ability to summon?  Does the fact I summoned mean those that didn’t summon enjoyed the game any less?

“Hardcore” gamers!  You can finish your games on the hardest difficulty you like, and well done to you for doing so!  Seriously, beating some of these games on their hardest setting is a huge challenge and overcoming that is one hell of an achievement.  But don’t lock others out of this hobby due to some elitist nonsense.  Embrace the weak players!  Discuss the plot with them!  Tell them about how crazy the game can get!  Maybe they’ll grow to be interested in the challenge side of the hobby.  The great thing about this is that it would actually increase the diversity in games that are released.  Many mock the number of similar games that are released these days, but is that perhaps because some of these games are so accessible?  Would their be more Souls like games if there was a way for more people to enjoy them, thus opening up to a greater number of potential customers?

Down with elitism in gaming!  Up with accessibility options!  Would letting everyone play be such a bad thing really?

5 Bosses That Gave Me a Serious Kicking – Bullied by big bosses.

Not so long ago, I talked about how looking at guides for games is absolutely fine.  I even included Dara O’Briain’s remarks on video games being the only form of media that denies you access to more of it unless you prove you’re good enough.  I mentioned how there really should be ways for anyone to experience the stories that games provide.  But that’s not how games work (well, most of them anyway).  There are bosses.  Those big chaps and chapettes placed in your way to test you on everything you’ve learned so far.  Sure, you’ve eliminated those enemies, mowed down the mooks and bested many baddies, but can you face down this ridiculous robot?  That colossal creature?  Those ferocious fighters?  Alliteration aside (ha!), let’s have a look at some of those end of level guardians that have given me a serious run for my money.

Earthworm Jim
Bob the Goldfish was not one of the toughest.  His level was a pain though.

Some rules as ever.  Only one boss per franchise and only bosses I have faced and defeated.  Oh, and if you’re offended by crude language, this is one of very few posts I write that will contain swearing.  Because, seriously, some of these guys are absolute dicks.

Psycho Mantis – Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid (1998)

Let’s start light.  Because Psycho Mantis isn’t terribly difficult once you know what to do.  In fact, I technically didn’t find him all that difficult when I played this, but I’ll explain that in a moment because I recognise why this clown is so difficult.  You see, you can’t shoot him.  He dodges everything as though he can read your mind (he can because Metal Gear Solid is insane) and react before you fire.  Not only that, he will also attempt to control your companion, Meryl, and attempt to have her kill herself.  The strategy to defeat him, as I’m sure many of you will know, is to swap your controller from port one to port two on your console, thus confusing Psycho Mantis and allowing you to shoot the crap out of him.

Metal Gear Solid
Sadly, the memory card reading trick didn’t work in the PC release.

In terms of boss battles for the era (or indeed any era), this was very inventive.  And if you don’t know how to beat him, I can see how this could be incredibly challenging.  Now, on to how I managed to beat him.  I played this on PC, in which to defeat him you need to play using the keyboard.  I did not have a gamepad for the PC and used the keyboard for the whole game so he proved to be only mildly challenging.  Still, I thought this boss should be included due to the potential challenge.

Ornstein & Smough – Dark Souls

Dark Souls
Dark Souls (2011)

Alright, let’s get this two bastards out of the way.  The Dark Souls original gank boss.  The multi-man brawl that From Software have tried to emulate ever since.  One of the hardest bosses in the series (I know there are others that people consider harder, but this pair whooped me for hours).  Bosses in Dark Souls are no joke, but here we have two hard ones at once.  One (Executioner Smough) is big, powerful, and capable of destroying the pillars that provide cover.  The other (Dragonslayer Ornstein) is quick, powerful and has wide sweeping attacks that are hard to dodge.  Keeping an eye on both of them whilst trying to land even a couple of hits to whittle down their health is extremely challenging.

Ornstein and Smough
Can you guess which is the slow, powerful one?

Oh OH, and once you beat one of them, the other grows to twice the size and becomes even more powerful.  Just to make sure you get no breaks.  Because letting up just isn’t Souls style.  If you defeat Smough first and take on a doubly powerful Ornstein then prepare for the battle of your life because he is an utter arse once powered up.  The gorgeous journey through Anor Londo up to this point simply cannot prepare you for the pummelling you’ll face here.  Victory is unbelievably satisfying, even though it took me summoning two phantoms to help with taking them down.  I love this series, but there’s no way I’m going back to take them on again.

Lou – Guitar Hero 3

Guitar Hero III
Guitar Hero 3 (2007)

This is a weird one to include, but it is a boss battle.  Guitar Hero 3 had a story mode of sorts, with your band being confronted by the devil (Lou) for a final face-off.  Boss battles in this game were in the form of songs in which you and your opponent you play sections against one another, with powerups allowing you to disrupt the other player.  Attacks could make notes become invisible, or one of your strings to break which makes playing a section correctly much harder.  The final song was a rather creative rock cover of the rather excellent The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band, with a ton of notes everywhere.  Playing this in the game was hard enough, but throw in disappearing notes and buttons that temporarily won’t work and you have a recipe for plastic guitar breakage.

Seriously, this is rather good, and the Guitar Hero 3 version is pretty good too.

No meaning to brag, but I was pretty good at games in this series.  I could rattle through most songs on expert mode without too much trouble.  But this.  This song with those stupid attacks was near on impossible.  I eventually beat this, but only by swallowing my pride and dropping down two difficulties to normal.  I know, I still feel the shame burning me now.  I really liked the plastic instrument craze, but this boss battle song crap can piss right off.

Shao Kahn – Mortal Kombat 3

Mortal Kombat 3
Mortal Kombat 3 (1995)

I was torn between Shao Kahn and M. Bison from Street Fighter 2.  I went with Shao Kahn because he’s such a cheap git.  M. Bison can be beaten with careful zoning and good positioning.  Shao Kahn needs Sub-Zero and a shit ton of luck.  Shao Kahn can practically dash right in front of you and send you flying.  Over and over again.  Along the ground or in the air.  The dash attack also breaks your block.  Oh, and he has projectile attacks which he can spam.  Plus a hammer attack that can stun you.  So my experience was something like this: jump attack lands on Kahn, hammer to me, dash attack me into the corner then I die.  This happened many, many times.

Shao Kahn
I’m not sure if this is Shao Kahn or Triple H arriving at Wrestlemania.

I know I finally beat him based entirely on luck.  Sub-Zero could freeze Shao Kahn in place, allowing an upperful (one of the most high damage single attacks).  I used that and resorted to staying crouched and hoping an air dash attack would come my way, allowing another free uppercut.  It went like this for a long, long time until I finally bested him.  A dishonourable victory perhaps, but that’s what he gets for being such a wanker.

Yellow Devil – Mega Man

Mega Man
Mega Man (1987)

Oh this guy can just fuck right off.  Cheap, extremely hard to dodge, takes ages and can pretty much only be beaten by luck, glitching, or having more patience than Jesus.  In fact, I’m pretty sure Jesus would just switch the game off and play something else.  Like Doom.  Anyway, the Yellow Devil is one of the final bosses you face in Mega Man and it is a bastard of one.  He starts by flying in piece by piece from the left, and good luck if you don’t know the pattern by heart.  You’ll almost certainly get hit by one or two pieces (suffering significant damage) before he opens his eye for a split second to fire.   I hope you were paying attention in that one second as that’s the only chance you have to damage it before the pieces fly to the other side of the screen.  Repeat until you die.  And I did.  Repeatedly.

Mega Man
Ah, the Thunder Beam. Yellow Devil’s only weakness. Especially if you glitch it…

To be fair, with enough care and attention Yellow Devil can be taken down.  It’s just the number of times you need to face it before you have the patterns down.  And once you lose all your lives its back to the start of a long and difficult level to get back for another go.  That’s the bit that irritated me the most.  Once I got past that, I managed to wear him down.  But getting to that point was a trial.  This was not the last time this boss appeared in this (or other) series.  The music was pretty exciting for the battle too.  At least, the first few times.

Some (dis?)honourable mentions.  Vicar Amelia from Bloodborne took me a long, long time to get through.  She hits hard, moves quickly and could heal most of her health back mid battle.  If you couldn’t out-damage her heal you didn’t have a hope.  Another boss I had to summon for.  Then there’s Capital B from Yooka-Laylee.  I think I’ve made my feelings on this arsehole clear before.

Yooka Laylee
Don’t look so smug you utter bastard.  I got you in the end.

Who’s kicked your ass repeatedly in games?  Don’t feel the shame, share below and feel better about yourself!  Carrying that defeat around will just bring you down, share it with the group…


Nioh – Sadly not starring Keanu Reeves

It may have been established by now that I quite like Dark Souls.  A lot.  Also Bloodborne, which was like Dark Souls on Gothic meth.  The intricate, connected worlds, the strategic combat, the challenge, the enemies, the bosses.  Everything in those games comes together fantastically to create gaming experiences unlike others.  You know when a series has been successful when there are so many games that clearly take their inspiration from it.  Hyper Light Drifter, Salt and Sanctuary, and Lords of the Fallen all make use of mechanics and style of this young, but venerated series.  And here comes a new challenger: Nioh, otherwise known (perhaps unfairly) as Samurai Souls.

Early areas in the Tower of London are mildly challenging, but nothing on what’s to come.

Nioh follows the supposed exploits of William, an Irishman who travels to 17th century Japan in pursuit of Kelley who has stolen his Guardian Spirit, Saoirse, so he can gain Amrita to release Yokai to ravage the country.  If that makes no sense to you then you’re in the same boat as me.  The plot is there, with plenty of cutscenes introducing you to various historical Japanese figures (if you’ve played the Warriors games you may recognise some), but I didn’t know what was going on at any point.  I suspect if you have some knowledge of Japanese mythology and history then you may follow it closer than I did.  Having said that, the Souls games had very convoluted plots (although they keep it more hidden) and are still very enjoyable.

Pirate Cat is your friend throughout the game. I have no idea what the deal with this is.

They’re enjoyable because the gameplay is so well put together, and that’s very much the case here.  Combat against the humans and demons you face is quick, but requires thought.  You have light and heavy attacks for your weapons (of which there are a good few), but you also have stances.  Low, mid, and high stances give you different attacks that are suited for different opponents.  Mid stance spears are great for poking and keeping enemies at range, whilst high stance swords can destroy enemies rushing towards you if timed well.  There is a lot of depth here that allows you to find a style that suits you but gives you options when you need them.  I often stuck with a low stance sword but switched to high stance axe for enormous damage when needed.  Stamina management appears here too in the form of ki, but with ways to recover it during your combos with well timed button taps, allowing you to press the attack.

The environments look great in most instances, with nice use of lighting and splashes of colour.

The enemies are varied, although there aren’t a huge number of them.  Standard grunts can still destroy you if you’re careless, but the powerful Yokai are the real challenge.  Axe wielding demons, tongue monsters, and bird men are all powerful foes that will take you out until you learn how to handle them effectively, it’s just a shame there aren’t more varieties.  The bosses are tremendous as you may expect, with spider demons and deadly samurai warriors providing a different challenge at the end of each stage.  The difficulty of them does vary rather wildly, with some of the early bosses being brutally difficult, whilst later ones I could defeat on my first attempt.  It may well be the case that I stuck to an approach that worked better for some bosses than others, but it didn feel like the difficulty spiked from time to time.  But the challenge is part of the point here, and just like Dark Souls, players can be summoned to assist you with bosses for some limited co-op action.  PVP is off the table for the time being though, being promised for a later update.

How are you with giant spiders? Because they really want a hug.

Whilst the gameplay is tremendous, and kept me coming back for more side missions and main quests, the world was less engaging.  Characters didn’t really grab me, and the environments were quite bland.  There were only so many times I could fight demons in “Japanese village” or “cave” before the rot sets in.  The world looks lovely, but there was a lack of variety once again.  Further, most levels were fairly linear and lacked opportunities for exploration, although finding shortcuts back to your shrine (Nioh’s bonfire equivalent) was as satisfying as ever.  Another irritation was the amount of loot that enemies drop.  I found myself spending a lot of time rooting through my inventory, deciding what was worth keeping and what wasn’t.  And each item has so many different stats!  It’s hard to be sure if an item is objectively better or not.  Having said that, I did fine just looking at damage/defence and elemental effects, so it may be the case that there is a lot of depth for those looking for it, whilst those who want to play can get by just fine.  An accessible Souls style game!  Who would have imagined?

This boss can sod right off. I mean, the design is fantastic, but I flat out hated this fight.  Because I sucked at it.

Nioh was developed by Team Ninja and published by Sony.  I played the game on PlayStation 4 and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Souls games or challenging action RPGs.  I did every single side mission in this, not for loot or leveling up, but because I wanted more of the gameplay!  I’m normally a main story and some side quests kind of player, but I wanted more of the action in Nioh.  After 40+ hours of gameplay, I’d say I got my money’s worth.

5 Brutally Hard Gaming Challenges – Who would do this to themselves?

Games aren’t as hard as they used to be.  I’m old and allowed to say things like that now!  That and that those damn kids should get off my lawn.  But I do think that games being easier now is true in most cases.  Back in the day, games were often hard to get you to drop a few more coins into the arcade machine or to elongate games that were often much shorter than the experiences we have now.  In some cases they were never ending games, getting to the point where they were so hard that it would be near impossible to carry or (or you hit the legendary kill screens).

Pac Man Kill Screen
The legendary Pac Man kill screen.

Today though, games are designed to be finished.  Much of what we play can be considered as stories that we participate in, and stories are meant to be finished.  I find it unlikely that developers would create an experience with a story that they didn’t want people to see the end of.  But sometimes people need that challenge, and if the core game experience isn’t hard enough then people may well turn to horribly difficult achievements or self appointed challenges.  Here, we look at a few of those challenges that us mere mortals are not meant to manage.  Challenges that only the committed (perhaps to an insane asylum) few will ever see the end of.

Bullet Hell
Absolute madness. But this is the actual game and not an additional challenge so it doesn’t count.

Whilst there are many, many options to choose from, I’ve once again gone for games I have played, but certainly not challenges I’ve completed myself.  I’m not even close to managing some of these, and I don’t have the patience to consider trying them.  I’m also not including games that are deliberately designed to be near impossible, so don’t expect any of those crazy flash games on here.  On with the show!

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter – World Champion

Ghost Recon
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (2006)

This was one of the earlier games I picked up for XBox 360.  I liked the old Ghost Recon games on PC, which were hard as all hell themselves and figured this would be a fun game to pick up.  It was not what I was expecting.  Gone were the slow, methodical crawl across huge environments only to be picked off by an enemy you couldn’t even see from half a mile away.  Instead we had a third person cover based shooter.  It was fine, but not what I was hoping for.  At any rate, the achievement in question was called World Champion.

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
This is not the Ghost Recon that I played back in the day…

This achievement requires you to reach number 1 in the multiplayer rankings.  So to get this, you literally need to be the best in the world at the online multiplayer mode.  This could be achieved by grinding for a huge length of time with a willing group I suppose, but that’s the sort of time commitment few could manage, let alone want to manage.  Then consider the fact that the longer you wait, the more people will have climbed the leaderboards, meaning more work will be needed!  It’s utterly bonkers.  Plus the multiplayer wasn’t even that good to begin with…

Dead Space 2 – Hard to the Core

Dead Space 2 logo
Dead Space 2 (2011)

I love Dead Space 2.  It was unsettling, horrifying, just the right level of challenging, and had sharp controls.  It rarely felt cheap to me either (although that stupid eye poke machine…); I almost always felt I had a chance to survive every encounter.  And the return to the Ishimura was fantastically well done.  Anyway, back to that thing about surviving.  Hard to the Core was an achievement that required you to finish the game on Hardcore difficulty.

Dead Space 2 straight jacket
Isaac in a straight jacket. I suppose you would have to be crazy to try this challenge.

Now, this game was pretty tough.  Playing through on the middle setting was fairly challenging resulting in me screwing up and dying on more than a few occasions.  Hardcore takes that difficulty, then allows you only 3 saves (4 if you’re a smarty pants on the XBox 360 version) to get through the whole game.  This would be something I wouldn’t even dare to try, not wanting to have hours of progress set back because of a careless mistake or that eye poke machine ruining my day.  A friend of mine actually has managed to do this across two 6-hour sessions.  “Mate, there isn’t one thing I didn’t do in that game” were his words when I asked if he ever managed.  After that, I don’t think I’d ever want to go back to it.

Dark Souls – Guitar Controller

Dark Souls
Dark Souls (2011)

This was just bananas.  You know Dark Souls don’t you?  The one that’s really rather difficult.  Punishing even.  A friend at work has recently started playing Dark Souls 3 and has likened it to banging his head against a wall, but not giving up due to seeing that ever growing crack in it (the wall, not his head).  Well timed attacks, dodges and blocks are the order of the day as well as extensive knowledge of enemies and areas.  So doing all this with a Guitar Hero controller is crazy.

Dark Souls guitar
This was their control set up. Tilting the guitar was the only way to turn left and there was no way to block.

The fact that someone even thought of doing it is odd enough.  The fact that other people have gone on to complete it with ever more creative control methods is even more bizarre.  Taking a challenging game and making it even harder is a ridiculous challenge, but well done to those who have managed to pull it off.  Check one guy out beating Ornstein and Smough using an “axe” here.

Mega Man 10 – Mr. Perfect

Mega Man 10 logo
Mega Man 10 (2010)

I saw this on the trophy list for Mega Man 10 and wondered what in the world would possess someone to try and do this.  The Mega Man series is notorious for being a challenging classic.  Capcom brought it back for the ninth and tenth installment on previous generation consoles, with that level of challenge in tact.  I struggled to beat the levels with the lives given so seeing Mr. Perfect amazed me.

Mega Man 10
Is this from Mega Man or Mega Man 10? In spite of it being more than 2 decades later they managed to keep the art style identical.

Beat the whole game without getting hit.  Not just without losing a life.  Beat all the robot masters as well as Wily’s castle without taking a single unit of damage.  This game is damn hard and the idea of finishing even one level without taking damage fills me with dread.  Yes, you can do this on easy mode, but I really don’t think easy is the right word for this.

The Legend of Zelda – No Sword Challenge

The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda (1986)

“It’s dangerous to go alone.  Take this.”  Those words are etched into the mind of a great many gamers of a certain age.  The first person you find in the first cave on the first screen utters this iconic sentence as they offer you a sword to allow you to survive the over and under world of Hyrule.  But what if you didn’t go into that cave…

It's dangerous to go alone take this
Oh the nostalgia!

That’s the whole premise of this challenge.  It’s possible to complete almost the entire first entry in this venerable series without the most basic of weapons.  The only time a sword is genuinely needed is during the final battle with Ganon.  Various (probably psychotic) players have completed this challenge which requires patience by the bucket load and very delicate use of bombs and the boomerang.  Here’s Awesome Games Done Quick doing a speed run of it: HERE! but there are others who have managed to do it whilst limiting themselves to the 3 starting hearts.  How do they do this stuff?!

Whoever came up with this is a genius or a maniac.

A quick mention has to go to the Twitch Plays insanity, in which the Twitch chat room controls a game through typing commands into the chat window.  Managing to finish a game of Pokémon with countless people yelling “UP”  “LEFT” and so forth at any one moment is one thing, but finishing Dark Souls?  Unbelievable.  This is less of a player challenge so I didn’t include it in the list, but it is an amazing thing to see in action.

How about you?  Are there any achievements or challenges that you’re particularly proud of?  I for one am pretty happy about getting all the achievements in Mass Effect, including finishing it on the hardest setting.  That pales in comparison to those above though!

Thumper – Because “Space beetle horror musical” is a genre now.

It has long been established that I like a good rhythm action game; a genre that hasn’t had many good releases recently.  I think most people know that I also like horror games, especially those that delve in the madness tinged Lovecraftian styles of terror.  I never once thought someone would consider making a horror themed rhythm action game though.  But here we are with Thumper, a game in which a space beetle flies through some sort of wormhole towards a giant head thing, whilst terrifyingly intense industrial orchestral music (at least that’s how I’d describe it) pounds in your ears.

I would describe this game as staring into Satan’s kaleidoscope during a bad acid trip whilst listening to a black metal version of Stomp.  Think of that what you will.

Thumper boss fight
One of many colourful explosions that happen during boss fights.

In its simplest form, the game plays like a very basic Amplitude clone.  The is one lane (sometimes more) that you fly along, and you press X when you fly over a note.  There are gates that you pass through by holding X, and corners that must be navigated by holding X and pressing a direction.  The whole game is played with the X button and the analogue stick.  So far, so simple.  But good god does this get difficult.  It wouldn’t be unfair to call this the Dark Souls of rhythm action.  You learn or you die.

Thumper Corner
This is what a power sliding space beetle looks like.

Each level introduces a new layer of gameplay.  Leaping up and slamming down on alternating notes, multiple lanes, and killer snakes.  This game is weird.  Anyway, by the end of the game, you’ll have to make use of all the maneuvers in rapid succession, without missing a single note whilst going absurdly fast.  Mechanically this game is near perfect in that regard.  It teaches you each new skill and than forces you learn how to use it flawlessly before you confront the boss.  And forces is the right word here; you either learn to use your skills perfectly or you will not progress.  This is not a simple undertaking.

Just to give you an idea of just how fast this game can be.  This is a pretty tame level too…

A level is broken up into about 20 sections, each of which taking between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes.  A whole level would probably take about 20 minutes to complete, but spending over an hour on one was closer to my experience.  The stages are extremely difficult, throwing corners, notes, walls and lane changes at you at ludicrous speeds testing first your reactions, and then your memory as you inevitably die.  All this whilst the pounding, intimidating soundtracks assaults your ears.  It’s an incredibly intense experience, made even more so when a boss appears.

Thumper boss
One of the bosses. You need to play a section flawlessly to damage them.

Bosses can only be defeated by playing a section perfectly, allowing you to fire a shot at the target.  Do this 4 times and it’s job done.  That’s easier said than done though, there’s a lot to memorise (and I mean memorise, you will die) coupled with the music and the boss taking up huge swathes of your view to confuse you and throw you off.  It never felt cheap though, as everything is in time to the music, meaning that mistakes are because you weren’t focused enough, or you forgot what was coming next.  The boss designs are interesting too, ranging from tentacle triangles to the recurring Crakhed who becomes more and more deformed and horrifying from level to level.  Oh, and in case it wasn’t hard enough, there’s a Hardcore mode where death is permanent.

Thumper Colourful
It can get pretty colourful at times.

Now, this game can be playing in VR.  In fact I assumed it could only be laying in VR until I did a little research.  I get the feeling that the game was pushed as a VR product to try and sell more units (especially on the PS4), but I don’t see what VR would really add to this.  Considering this is playing in 3rd person, I’d have though VR would be a rather odd experience.  As I understand it, it allows you to look around the environment as you’re traveling, but considering how focused you need to be I would think looking around would be a mistake.  Anyway, it works without VR very well.

That tentacle monster is one of the bosses my space beetle needs to defeat. Yes, that is a real sentence.

Thumper looks gorgeous, with lots of interesting effects around the track and the aforementioned detailed bosses.  You probably won’t have a lot of time to enjoy the graphics as you’ll be concentrating on the rhythm, but it does look great.  It runs excellently as well, with no frame rate drops that I could notice.  The sound is fantastic as well (which makes sense considering the genre), but it isn’t just the music.  The sound effects work very well too.  The clang as you swing around a corner, the blast as you slam down onto a note to attack a boss, and the snakes hissing their was past you all sound great.  And the sound of drums heralding the arrival of one of the enemies constantly filled me with dread.  Seriously, that guy was a jerk.

Thumper Tunnel
Moments of calm like this far few and far between.

Thumper was developed by Drool, a two man team!  I played the game on Playstation 4 and would strongly recommend you at least check this out.  It’s a totally different gaming experience, just be prepared that you may not finish it due to its high difficulty.  An absolute treat!

5 Games That Almost Made Me Rage Quit – Hand me that strategy guide.

I’ve been playing games for a pretty long time.  I remember playing a lot of games on our BBC micro, using the old 5 1/4″ disc drive.  I remember The Philosopher’s Quest (although never getting very far due to being so young when I tried it) and Galaxians being loaded up more than a few times.  I received a NES for my 7th birthday which still works to this day.  I think my point is that I’ve, for better or worse, played a lot of games.  I feel I’m fairly good at them and can pick up the rules and do fairly well in most pretty quickly.  Some though…some are just a little too much.  This week I’m listing 5 games that were I found so difficult that I almost gave up.  I made it through eventually, but it was a slog at times.

Broken Controller
I’ve never quite gone this far, but it’s come pretty close.

Usual rules!  Games I’ve played, one game per series.  I must have had a problem finishing it, wanted to give up but eventually came back to it to finish, even if I had to use a guide to help!  On with the list.  A list of failure and redemption if you will!

Metal Gear Rising

Metal Gear Rising Logo
Metal Gear Rising (2013)

Starting with, to my recollection, the most recent game I wanted to give up on thanks to its difficulty.  The thing is, it wasn’t even that hard really.  At its heart, this is a third person brawler/character action game.  You would use your sword as cyborg Raiden to cut your way through enemies, using your ability to slow down time to slice up enemy robots, stealing taking their energy to restore your health.  There was also, for defence, a parrying system…

Metal Gear Rising Blade Wolf
That’s him! That’s the guy! On the right! Screw that guy.

Good god that parrying.  You could deflect an enemy attack with a well timed move to the analogue stick along with a button press.  There was even a prompt on the screen to hint at the direction you should move the analogue stick.  I reached one of the earliest bosses, Blade Wolf; a robot dog with a chainsaw on its tail (which is pretty cool all things considered).  Put simply, if you couldn’t parry you wouldn’t have a hope.  I tried this boss repeatedly for several hours before giving up and walking away.  A few days later I decided I would give it one more go before retiring it completely.  It took a few more goes, but somehow the timing for parrying came to me.  Maybe it was practice, maybe it was going away and coming back later.  Whatever it was, I’m glad I didn’t give up on this, it turned into a hell of a game, full of thrilling moments and absurd bosses.  That’s Metal Gear for you though.  NANOMACHINES, SON!

UFO: Enemy Unknown

UFO Enemy Unknown
UFO: Enemy Unknown (1994)

Don’t know this one?  You might do, but by a different name being as this was the European title for the game.  Elsewhere it was known as X-COM: UFO Defense and I bet you recognise that name.  The return of the XCOM series is well known in gaming as something of a major success.  I count the remakes among my favourite games, and I regularly return to them for fresh playthroughs.  The original game was a different story though.  It was so hard.  Ridiculously so.  The fact that I hadn’t even reached teenager status when I first played it may suggest that I wasn’t ready for it, but I disagree.  It was just plain difficult.

UFO Enemy Unknown
Mmmm, look at those classic graphics. And that heap of buttons for controlling the game…

This was the first game of its type that I had played, but i had enough of an idea of how to play it.  The turn based missions anyway.  I would normally do reasonably well at those, but on the global level I didn’t know what I was doing, what to research, what to build, where to build bases.  Most of the time it ended up a mess.  But I played games of it over and over for a long time.  I’m pretty sure I gave up and came back time and time again.  Maybe it was through dumb luck, maybe through enough experience but one day I managed to make it to Mars and finish the game…on easy mode.  I never went back to try anything harder than that.  Thankfully I seem to be much better at the remakes.  Either that or they’re easier.

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (1990)

Yes you read that right.  In the UK it was called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.  The TV show too.  There was a time in which anything related to ninjas was considered to be a risk of corrupting the youth of the country.  Anyway, this game was one part side scrolling brawler, one part top down exploration game.  You could travel about the over world, fight enemies, then go into a building or sewer where the screen would switch to side scrolling.  All 4 turtles could be played, each with their own advantages.  These also doubled as your lives, and when a turtle was defeated, you couldn’t play as him again unless you found them in a level and rescued them.  It was a rather good game for its time, with plenty of variety, although the enemies were a bizarre mish mash of different creations that seemed unrelated to the Turtles series as a whole.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Sewer April
One of the earliest levels, featuring Beebop and Rocksteady capturing April.

If you ever played this game, you know where I’m going with this.  That damn dam level (see what I did there?) was near impossible.  The idea was there were 8 bombs underwater, and you had to swim around and disarm them all within a time limit.  A very, very strict time limit.  That time limit, combined with floaty swimming controls and it being very easy to die meant that this was the end of my journey one more than one occasion.  I was fairly young at the time, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t finish this game until well over a year of starting it.  I don’t remember the specific point at which I somehow managed to get through it, but it happened.  I remember the next tricky point being fighting the Technodrome, which wasn’t all that difficult by comparison simply by virtue of the fact that you could take your time.  Underwater levels are regularly some of the worst in any game.  Please don’t stack dime limits and instant deaths on top developers.

Dark Souls

Dark Souls
Dark Souls (2011)

Well obviously at least one of these games would be in here.  This was the first game in the series I played, I had been looking forward to it for a while and was excited to have a go at it thinking “This era of ‘hard’ game won’t be that tough for me”.  How wrong I was.  This was punishing to say the least.  I like a good hack and slash game, which I suppose this technically is, but I wasn’t prepared for just how slow and methodical you had to be.

Ornstein and Smough
No. NO! I’m not doing it again. Absolutely not!

Dragon Slayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough.  If you’ve played this you know exactly what I mean.  Taking on one boss in this series is often tough enough, but two at a time was near impossible.  Couple that with the fact that once one is defeated, the other becomes considerably tougher and you end up with a recipe for rage quit.  I hammered away at these two constantly over the course of several days before vowing to never go back.  That didn’t last though, this game has a way of drawing you back for another suicidal run.  I decided to swallow my pride and summon a player to help me and managed to just eke out the victory about a week after first meeting these two beasts.  By comparison, everything after here was pretty simple!  Although Bloodborne certainly had its moments…


Ikaruga (2001)

This is a bullet hell shooter.  If you aren’t familiar with that term, it means a top down/side scrolling game in which you fly a ship along, shooting down enemy ships.  Think Gradius, R-Type or 1942.  Then add a thousand bullets on the screen all at once.  Ikaruga does something to give you a form of defence other than shooting enemies down.  You can change the colour of your ship between blue and red.  When blue you are immune to blue bullets (in fact, they charge up your super weapon when collected) but vulnerable to red, and vice versa.  An excellent form of protection, but…

Ikaruga Bullet Hell
This is what you have to deal with during a boss fight!

This is absolutely bananas.  There are so many bullets on screen at once!  Just so many!  Look again!  Have another look!  Switching between colours at exactly the right moment, weaving between shots, and managing to hit the target is near impossible at times.  I recall getting through the first 3 stages before getting utterly destroyed on the fourth over and over before giving up.  Months later I came back, wanting to play a shooter of this style.  After a few false starts I managed to make a full run through, from start to finish.  I’m not sure if it was luck, or some sort of moment of Zen, but I managed to make it through.  As it turned out, the bosses will retreat after a while, meaning you didn’t have to actually destroy them.  With that pressure off, this suddenly became a lot more manageable.

Some honourable mentions as ever!  FTL was very difficult, but being short meant having a couple of failures meant that having another couple of games was no huge time commitment.  Still though, after I started seeing the same events crop up I decided to leave it for a while.  I had another go at it one day and managed to get through after a couple of goes.  I feel that having a lucky run of events is a big part of winning this game.  Ninja Gaiden 2 is a bit of a cheat for me, as I technically didn’t finish it.  I put it to one side after finding it just far too hard to manage, but came back to it one day.  I managed to get a fair way through before the game kept crashing at the same point.  I think the disc was damaged and it was far too late to take the game back.  I think I might have been able to beat this if not for that!

And that’s the list!  Do you have any to add that you managed to beat after constant failure?  Let me know about your successes!