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Waiting on Dark Souls 2? This hard-as-nails indie game will hold you over

February is shaping up to be a promising month for both next- and current-gen systems, but many a gamer is still directing their attention toward March. And for good reason: in addition to the release of Infamous: Second Son, Dark Souls 2 will finally hit PS3 and Xbox 360 come March 11, with the PC release coming at the end of the month. However, the abstract lore and crushing difficulty of the Dark Souls universe is still looming devilishly in the distance, leaving Souls addicts with little more to do than polish their skills with Demon’s and Dark Souls in anticipation.

Or play Risk of Rain.

Though the indie scene of gaming has yielded a smorgasbord of colorful titles since its resurgence four years ago, a truly difficult experience is often absent, with many of the more popular (and wholly enjoyable) titles focusing on exploration or unrestrained player creativity. Fortunately, games like La-Mulana and Humans Must Answer prove that challenge hasn’t left the genre entirely. But few games capture the Dark Souls motto of “do it again but do it right this time” better than Hopoo Games’ breakout title Risk of Rain.

Risk of Rain

Choose your survivor and get started.

This 2D side-scroller is sitting menacingly between time-trials and randomly generated worlds. Regardless of what default difficulty you select, as you progress in the game and your timer runs up, the in-game difficulty ramps up in predetermined increments. Each difficulty level gained raises the strength and quantity of enemies spawned.

Risk of Rain

Loot chest, random item, more random item, boss fight ... oh, the decisions you'll make.

Due to this uphill climb, as you face each random level, you have to split your attention between exploring the world to accumulate gear powerful enough to keep you alive, earning the money necessary to buy that gear, and finding the level boss quickly enough that you’re able to reach the next level within a viable difficulty frame. Trust me, if you fall behind the 1-1.5 curb (1 level to 1.5 tiers of difficulty) without some downright stellar items backing you, you will not last.

Risk of Rain

It may be worth exploring a level even after beating the boss to find items, but watch your clock.

This should sound familiar to Souls players. Your performance directly impacting the strength of NPCs? Sounds a lot like the Character and Player Tendency system from Demon’s Souls, doesn’t it? Finding a balance between exploration and area completion? Bears a striking resemblance to conserving Estus and Spells as you explore Lordran, as well as choosing between upgrading your character and improving your gear.

Risk of Rain is even packing Souls-flavored canon, at least in delivery. Survivor backstories and enemy intentions become clearer as you explore the game and unlock various character logs. Vicious indigenous creatures suddenly prove to be parents protecting the young you haven’t slaughtered yet or hermits defending their territory from you, a foreign invader. Don’t expect it bring a tear to your eye, but the lore of Risk of Rain is plenty deep enough to keep you interested as you progress through an otherwise linear game. All of this is to say nothing of the game’s superb soundtrack which, impressively, was composed by one artist.

Though it’s a distinct change of scenery—from the Gothic Revival architecture of Souls to the well-realized pixel art of Risk of Rain—this little indie title encompasses many of the elements that make FromSoftware’s all-but-openly-sadistic IP so enjoyable as well, as plenty of design decisions that distinguish it from its crowded genre. So if you’re dying for a challenge but would rather not fight (read: be swatted around by) the Bed of Chaos for the umpteenth time, hop on Steam and nab a copy of Risk of Rain, a game that managed to kill me, a seasoned Souls veteran, 37 times before I finally secured a victory. 

Make sure to check out our new This Is... series, which we kicked off with This Is... Risk of Rain.

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Austin Wood
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Tags: Indie

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