Just as anyone who has ever played games with children can tell you, the easiest way to get someone to like a game is to let him win. And that does not only apply to kids. Some of the most popular games are admired because they're accessible enough to reach a broad audience, and they tend to be easy enough for most people to win and come out of the experience feeling rewarded.
Many indie game developers seem to buck this trend. In fact, if their product descriptions on Steam are any indication, it appears that more than one indie game developer decided to go into making indie games because they felt that mainstream selections were too “dumbed down” and were designed to be too simple for the purpose of appealing to the masses. These game developers remember a time when games didn't have to be easy to be good; when rewards were earned through overcoming great challenges and harrowing difficulty; when death was not only a certainty but a bosom companion. Here are some of our favorite indie games we love to fail at and keep coming back for more:
A standalone multiplayer version of the hit early access title Don't Starve, Don't Starve Together is a harrowing journey into a dark, demonic wilderness. You, along with your friends, must work together (or against each other) to survive for as long as you can in a twisted world where everything wants to kill you, even the trees – okay, especially the trees.
Forage for berries or fish and trap game for tasty morsels of sustenance to fight back those hunger pangs. Chop wood; gather stone and cut grass to craft the weapons and tools you'll need to survive. Keep an eye on your own sanity, or else experience hallucinations and maddening glimpses of the dark things that lurk in the shadows. And always, always make sure you have a fire going before night falls because the darkness...the darkness is always hungry.
From its quirky Tim Burton-esque art direction to its unremitting gameplay mechanics, I love everything about the original Don't Starve. The addition of multiplayer makes an already-excellent game even more awesome and brings with it a whole slew of new features such as new craftables, the ability to tame and ride beefalo, and of course, new and more hilarious ways to die.
There's nothing quite like huddling around a dying campfire with your friends, shivering as you clutch your spears to your chest, fearful of the darkness closing in all around you.
If ever there were a game that was out to get you, it is Darkest Dungeon. As the heir to a crumbling and forsaken estate, you are tasked with recruiting a party of adventurers foolhardy enough to explore the ruins of your ancestral home in search of treasure and glory. And it's all for the cause of driving back the dark things that have taken root deep in the bowels of your inheritance.
But choose your allies wisely, for every hero is different. Perhaps that dashing Crusader that rode into town has a penchant for kleptomania, randomly stealing loot and pocketing it for himself. Or maybe that raving Hellion, so admired for her ferocity in combat, has an unhealthy fixation with death and does not hesitate to rush headlong into its gaping jaws – even if it means dragging the rest of your party with her.
Your heroes will suffer, not only from the poisoned claws and fangs of their many enemies but also from the stresses and fears inherent to their prolonged forays into the dark corners of your sprawling estate. Inevitably, even the most stout-hearted of heroes will break, slowly developing Quirks that affect their behaviors, until their withered minds lead them to be utterly devoured by the madness of the Darkest Dungeon.
Make no mistake about it, your adventurers will die – the best will do so in a blaze of glory, biding time for their fellow warriors to escape; most will meet simpler ignoble ends. Darkest Dungeon is so difficult that one must keep in mind that fleeing from a losing battle is not a loss; your adventurers might be limping, bleeding out, and driven to the brink of madness, but they will live to fight another day. And in a world as bleak as the one they find themselves in, that is reason enough to live.
One of the most popular fan criticisms of the survival game genre is that once you're able to survive the game's first few days, you typically have accumulated enough food and supplies to set up production structures that generate a surplus of all the things you need for long-term survival. And once that's the case, the game loses all semblance of challenge: surviving is simply no longer a contest.
The Flame in the Flood is the sort of survival game that throws this usual formula out the window. You are a Girl Scout left to fend for yourself after a great flood has swallowed the rest of the world as you know it. Wild-eyed and alone, you are constantly on the move from island to island, as each island contains only the bare minimum of resources. More often than not, they're also populated by starving wolves and territorial wild boars.
Resources are extremely scarce, and the small carrying capacity of your starter backpack means you are always forced to travel light, burdening almost each new item discovery with the choice of leaving it behind or making space for it in your pack. Even more challenging, you have only a makeshift raft with which to travel from island to island, and braving the rushing wild waters strewn with the debris of an entire civilization on a leaky riverboat made from lashed-together planks and water barrels does not a safe trip make.
Just when you think you've got it all figured out, your water canteen runs dry, you realize that you wolfed down your last ash cake several islands ago, and the island you're stuck on is completely devoid of nutritious dandelions and cattails for tinder. What's worse, that tiny little cut on your foot is starting to look (and smell) pretty bad. The sun is setting, and all of a sudden, you hear the baying of wolves in the distance.
When it comes to surviving The Flame in the Flood, well, you probably won't your first half-dozen times, maybe not even your first two dozen times. But somehow, it seems like there's always something to keep you coming back for more. Must be the ash cakes.