Dark Souls & Difficult Games - Weekly Recommendations 07/02 – 13/02

Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.

As anyone who has ever hurled a controller across their living room knows, some games are harder than others. Demon’s Souls is a perfect example, a modern classic that tests the abilities and patience of those brave enough to venture into its dark world of knights and demons. Last week, From Software gave Demon’s Souls spiritual successor a name - Dark Souls – and provided a first look at what promises to be another excellent and frustrating adventure, due before the end of the year on the PS3 and 360.

When it comes to degrees of difficulty, one man’s pleasure is another man’s pain. Some of us enjoy a challenge, whereas others prefer gaming to be far less exerting. Needless to say, gaming difficulty is also rather subjective. I struggle mightily with beat-em-ups where others thrive, yet I’ll often wade through an FPS or third person shooter on hardcore difficulty.

Difficult games are championed and vilified, often at the same time. What the following three recommendations have in common is that they are difficult yet thoroughly enjoyable experiences. So grit your teeth, wrap your controller in bubble wrap and give the following three a try.

1. Demon’s Souls – PS3 (2009)

Never before has a game caused me to be so foul mouthed. In the process of playing Demon’s Souls, From Software’s action role-player, I managed to string together swear words that would make a sailor blush, inventing a couple of unique phrases to boot.

Demons Souls, though critically acclaimed, split the gaming community. Some gamers welcomed its unforgiving levels, enemies and steep learning curve, weakening you each time you died and sending you right back to the beginning of its sprawling levels. Others decried its draconian mechanics and avoided it like the plague.

Slowly wading through dreary dungeons on a never ending quest for souls, it’s a punishing, but far from thankless task. Demon’s Souls forces you to learn from each miss-step, being a terrifying game of trial and error, ever refusing to hold your hand and guide you.  Returning from death as a weakened wraith, but empowered with the confidence that you won’t make the same fatal mistake twice, few games offer such a tangible feeling of progress, each cleared staircase and bridge well earned. When you finally claim the soul of a beast which fell you with one terrifying swipe in a previous life, it makes all the back and forth worthwhile.

Demon’s Souls demands dedication and perseverance, a difficult one if you are looking for a game that you can pick up after a long absence and play in short bursts. I retired my tormented knight well short of the finish line, but throughout my time in Boletaria I was astounded by its ability to drag me back into its dark, yet strangely inviting depths, no matter how many times I swore I was finished with it.

2. Prince of Persia – Apple II (1989)

Originally released on the Apple II and subsequently ported to virtually every major platform, Prince of Persia developed from humble beginnings to a highly successful franchise that is still going strong. An unforgiving platformer that pits the player against an ever present countdown, it is perhaps the ultimate “I’m never playing this again…….fuck it, just one more try” game.

Prince of Persia requires a great deal of precision, in both its leaps and duels, and only the most skilled of platformers will escape its spike-pitted dungeons and finally save the princess. Although notable for its simplicity of design, it has its own unmistakable style and the fidelity of the prince’s movements still impresses today.

Picking up a SNES (Super Famicom) a couple of years back, Prince of Persia was one of a handful of games that I bought, partially inspired by its appearance on the Japanese TV show Game Centre CX. Within 15 minutes I was already battling the urge to throw it out of the window, yet I returned time and time again, confident that this would be the time I would finally save the Princess. Like most people, I never saw this daring rescue through to the end, but there is a great deal of fun to be had in the attempt, no matter how vain it may be.

3. Trash Panic – PS3 (2009)

Ever wondered what is the best way to dispose of an unwanted satellite? The answer: drop it into an oversized rubbish bin and smash it with an oil tanker, obviously. This is just one of the many lessons you can expect to learn from Sony Japan’s waste management, Tetris-like puzzler, one of the best and most challenging titles available on PSN.

Like all great puzzle games, the objective is rather simple - compact rubbish into oversized trash cans, smashing, burning and decomposing a varied collection of garbage without it spilling over the sides. However, unlike Tetris puzzlers the “blocks” don’t fit together, arriving in all shapes and sizes from a pair of scissors to an electrical dam, making each level unique.  To succeed you must acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of which items break which, and what can be burnt, decomposed or smashed.

Demon’s Souls is hard, but Trash Panic will make you cry. Try getting more than three trophies, I dare you!


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