Impressions: Hyper Light Drifter

Right, so I messed up below. I could have gone in other directions and played more of the game. I’ve done that now, and my mea culpa and further thoughts are here.

I’m so furious. I’ve ranted about boss fights SO many times, and argh, it’s happened again. A game I was absolutely adoring is now a game I can’t play at all, because of a wildly difficult boss fight. Hyper Light Drifter [official site] is absolutely wonderful. Ridiculously lovely pixel graphics that are constantly breathtaking, a clever world that evokes classic 8- and 16-bit classics, elements of Zelda, but with a hefty focus on Nuclear Throne-like combat. And it’s tough. The fighting is surprisingly tricky, waves of enemies in small locations, early on when your arsenal is limited and your skills unhoned. Exploration is key, discovery is splendid, and it’s all a really rather superb time. I’ve been playing since yesterday, having such a brilliant time – then the first boss fight happened, and now it seems I’ll never get to play most of the game.

This might not be the case for you. You might be much better at games like Throne and Teleglitch, or the sort that revels in twitch controls and bullet-hellish waves of extra enemy attacks while trying to chip away at a big enemy who is able to attack you from any distance at any time. I’m the sort who enjoys the rest of the game, the bits where the challenging enemies take three or four hits to take down, not thirty or forty while I’m still being attacked by the other challenging enemies at the same time. I don’t understand why it’s a part of gaming, why it’s always been a part of gaming, and I don’t understand who its obligatory nature is for.

Hyper Light Drifter tells a wordless story about a cloaked figure who wanders through an abandoned civilisation, surrounded by the ruins of ancient technology, searching for a cure for a crippling terminal disease. It’s a game born of a phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaign and the small team have created a huge world, packed with secrets, where you must find various runic triangle pieces to open doors, gather the very rare currency to purchase upgrades (weapons, skills, bombs, health), and fight your way through chambers of furious foes.

It is immediately great, so impressively crafted, and doesn’t hold your hand at all. Even the basic controls are yours to discover (the game states that it needs to be played on a controller, which is certainly preferable, although there are keyboard/mouse controls in there), and what you must do is discerned from blinking icons on the map and an understanding of the genre. I was gripped, impressed by how tough the fights were compared to the classic games HLD apes (Graham talks in some detail about the combat here), and thoroughly enjoying the process of digging deeper into its world.

It’s viewed from a straight-on floating camera, which occasionally makes distinguishing pathways from walls a little confusing, but allows the pixel design to really flourish. Your caped character begins with a sword, quickly gains a gun, and has the ability to make rapid dashes forward. Those dashes allow the most interesting movement in the game, allowing him to dart over gaps from path to path, or dodge out of the way of enemy attacks. It’s an ability that can be improved by collecting yellow money-like objects, which are sparingly hidden around the world – but it’ll be at the cost of upgrading something else that feels equally important, like extra health in a dangerous land, or more ammo slots for the very limited guns. The enormous map shows off a huge world, to be explored in chunks as you gain new abilities and are able to open new doors. Doors I was having such a good time opening.

And now I’m not. But you might be. Inevitably whenever anyone in my position admits to not being able to do something in a game, a vocal few will burst forth to unpleasantly declare how EASY it is, and how dreadful I must be at everything. And I will respond as I always do:

“That’s brilliant for you. But you’re not everyone. You’re the person ‘Hard’ difficulty levels are built for, while the vast majority play on ‘Normal’. Your desire that games be so punishingly difficulty that only people of your skill can enjoy them is ultimately deeply selfish. Further, it makes no sense that such encounters aren’t optional. Those who adore them get them, those who hate them can carry on playing the game they were loving rather than have to stop and never play the game again.”

So I’m rather stuck. I’ve watched myself die so many sodding times now. And it’s not just the death – it’s how agonisingly slowly I get back up just outside the boss room, the completely unnecessary lack of controls while the boss waves a staff around, and then the next failure, before I’m even halfway through his health (at which point the attacks step up, naturally).

And I know, I know very well, that others will breeze through it and be snarky and entirely without empathy for others who aren’t them. But there goes my time with Hyper Light Drifter, a completely gorgeous game I was utterly loving. It apparently doesn’t want me to play it any more.

Fuccccccck yoooooouuuuuuu

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291 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    I do throughly admire John for taking this stance. I’m normally a ‘hard’ mode kinda guy so I hope it doesn’t ruin the game for me too.

    • trjp says:

      Any game which assumes the player will bend to it’s design rather than accomodating their level of skill/time available is poorly designed imo.

      He also basically said ‘long death animation/unskippable cut scene every retry’ which is instant ‘no buy’ from me – it also falls into that “wasting the player’s time” category.

      Signs of a developer who “thinks they know best” and I generally don’t reward that (also – Teleglitch is fucking spiky in the difficulty dept so if this is harder it’s a definite ‘no thanks’)

      • John Walker says:

        This definitely isn’t harder than Teleglitch, just to be clear.

        • trjp says:

          Thank Gord for that – Teleglitch basically just shows me an interesting game for a short-while and then snatches it away entirely at random!!

      • Caiman says:

        If you leveled the same comment at Dark Souls, which meets your criteria exactly, people would rightly take the piss. So how come Dark Souls get a pass and something like this, which demands a similar learning curve to understand the nuances of its difficulty, does not?

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          I do indeed find it kind of strange how Dark Souls is universally praised. I suppose that game wears what it is on its sleeve more – nobody goes into the game with the perspective that its difficulty is an obstacle between them and what they really want out of the experience. You either go in for the challenge, or you don’t play or care at all.

          For all people have said about HLD being set up always as a challenge-game, that was never that clear to me. Its primary draw seems instead to be its visuals. The caption is after all: “explore a beautiful, vast and ruined world.”

          • Viral Frog says:

            It’s because Dark Souls really isn’t hard. Now, don’t take me for one of those ultra hardcore gamers that maxes difficulty every chance I get. I’m not one of those. I used to actually think Dark Souls IS hard.

            The truth about Dark Souls is that it’s an exercise in patience. That’s where the difficulty comes from. I’ve not yet encountered a situation in the game that I couldn’t get through by hanging back, being patient, and studying my enemies.

            The difficulty in Dark Souls comes from our desire for instant gratification, and our unwillingness to stop and take a look at the situation at hand. Something that other video games have given us for years and years.

          • Premium User Badge

            FhnuZoag says:

            Enh, I find a bigger issue is that I have work in the morning and thus no time to spend getting good.

          • Suits says:

            If you look close enough, the designers of Dark Souls very frequently hide helpful hints and items near hard sections. Most of the time you can just bypass stuff entirely if you want and the other times it’s just pattern recognition.

          • Cronstintein says:

            I agree with Viral Frog. Also, the boss fights in Dark Souls allow you to bring in a helper or two which DRAMATICALLY lowers the difficulty if there’s a particular section you’re stuck on.

            In Dark Souls 2 there’s a boss fight that takes place in a pool of poison that was SUPER hard. I eventually beat it with a companion, later finding out you can remove the acid pool if you explore the level a bit more thoroughly. So yeah. Dark Souls is tough but fair.

        • Flatley says:

          It’s because Dark Souls is actually not that hard – mechanically, at least. I’m not saying that to be super-macho-hardcore gamer, I’m saying that because the difficulty of Souls comes from your lack of knowledge, rather than from needing extremely precise timing or perfect attack patterns or anything. The game is just too slow for any of that. Instead, you die because you don’t know things, but then you learn them, and once you learn them, the key challenge is just sticking to the plan and not getting greedy.

          I haven’t played HLD yet (obviously) but from the trailers it looks like a very fast-paced game, much like Nuclear Throne. I don’t last 5 seconds in Nuclear Throne. Too fast, too much going on. I’m sure that the boss fight discussed here is much, much more mechanically difficult than what Souls has to offer.

          (For the record, my personal gold standard for “difficult game” is Ninja Gaiden on Xbox. I made three concerted, determined, legitimate efforts to beat it but never succeeded, and the thing with that game is that if you leave off partway through you can forget about picking back up from that point; if you don’t start over from the beginning then your skills will have deteriorated too much to continue).

          • kidlickurmom420 says:

            I played HLD and I’ve gotten to the bird its almost unbeatable its like the fucker knows where you’ll teleport and spawns purple shit there

          • bill says:

            Not played Dark Souls, but it does seem to have usurped Ninja Gaiden’s crown for “damn hard game”.
            As you said for Dark Souls though, Ninja Gaiden isn’t actually unfair or incredibly hard*. It’s fair and it’s about learning and improving.
            I almost rage quit a number of times during THE TUTORIAL(!) which seemed almost impossible. Then once you finish the game it drops you back into the tutorial and I discovered I could breeze through it without taking a single hit.
            Again sounding similar to dark souls, it’s mainly about learning self control and patience.. take it slow and you’ll be ok.. get cocky or carried away and you’re likely to fall flat on your face.

            *except for that bastard hard Alma(?) boss battle somewhere in the middle. I imagine present day me wouldn’t have the time or patience to get past that.

          • Egypt Urnash says:

            > I don’t last 5 seconds in Nuclear Throne. Too fast, too much going on

            Hang back, take it slow. It punishes the usual twin-stick shooter strategy of diving straight towards a crowd of enemies pretty harshly.

            Try playing as Crystal and leaning towards melee weapons.

            Or just move on to another game that’s more your speed, we’re all drowning in video games nowadays.

        • wengart says:

          Dark Souls is an odd duck. Its difficulty at this point as become a meme. Right now the top post in r/gaming is of someone being thrown off a bridge by a large skeleton in Dark Souls 3.

        • Ragnar says:

          I think Dark Souls gets a pass because it is immediately difficult and punishing – there’s no difficulty spikes so much as a wall you must climb immediately after character generation – and because it is universally praised – there are people who find it too hard but don’t speak out because they’re the minority.

          Though I think Dark Souls is more of a frustrating game than a purely hard one. It relies more on learning and memorizing attack patterns than twitch skills, so in theory anyone could play it, but the lethality of every monster and the loss of souls / reset on death make it punishing and frustrating since one careless mistake can set you back a good chunk of time. It demands time and patience more so than pure skill.

        • HotSoapyBeard says:

          Dark Souls is hard but if you’re struggling in an area you can always go to another and come back later a bit more experienced. It’s only frustrating if you can’t swallow your pride and admit you’re not ready to face a boss yet and the game totally allows you to play with flexibility like that.

      • Arkayjiya says:

        “Any game which assumes the player will bend to it’s design rather than accomodating their level of skill/time available is poorly designed imo.”

        Wrong. Sometimes the level of difficulty is part of the experience, sometimes only such a minimum level can bring you in the mood that the developer is trying to share. Media, whether they’re work of art or craft, are about making you feel something, sometimes it’s simply fun and short term enjoyement, sometimes it’s a mood or a specific feeling. And Video games specifically should use every tool at their disposal which includes gameplay which is also affected by difficulty (or rather because difficulty are quite subjective elements, by the elements that make difficulty themselves).

        That doesn’t mean that there should never be difficulty modes, not all games needs emphasis on the same aspect of gameplay to reach their goals, but it does mean that having a tight control on what the difficulty is can definitely be a major point for certain games and it’s definitely the case for Dark Souls. Now I don’t know if that’s the case for HLD, I’ve just finished downloading it, and I’m probably going to be mad at my screen very soon, but don’t make it a generality.

        • mathw says:

          I think you’re hinting at something I believe, that a well-designed game needs to be honest up front with you on what kind of thing it’s going to expect you to do. If I play through the first level or two thinking “wow this is a bit tough but it’s so satisfying and I’m learning” and then it hits me with a giant boss monster and I get killed ninety times in a row and never figure out what’s going on – that’s not good design.

          And if I do manage to get it down to half health, it’ll completely change its attack patterns just because. Because difficulty comes from the world changing its rules without warning, not from good design.

      • trilogique says:

        I don’t buy that. Games have different artistic and creative qualities. Take Dark Souls for example. The vision of that game entailed the player struggling through its world. It’s purposely difficult because it acts as a way of immersing you into the game. It’s purposely difficult because it provides the player with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when you win. There is no payoff without some sort of adversity. The entire experience of that game is because of that design choice. If Dark Souls included difficulty sliders it would be an entirely different experience.

        Now whether Hyper Light Drifter is one of those games I have no idea, but to make a general statement that a lack of difficulty options is poor design is a little nonsensical. You’re blaming the developers for their incompetence when in reality you just have a different view. It’d be like saying death metal is a bad genre because it’s death metal. In reality you just don’t like it, but that doesn’t make the actual music bad. A lack of difficulty slider is a creative and artistic choice (like death metal).

        And yes, the developer does know best because it’s their product. Remember: this is their creative and artistic expression, not yours. If games without difficulty sliders aren’t your thing then that’s fine, but don’t knock the game’s quality just because you feel different. Not everything in the world needs to be catered to everyone.

      • Carbon. says:

        actually some good news, respawning to carry on the fight with the boss is very fast. You respawn instantly at the entrance of the room and just have to watch a short animation of the character getting up. It gives you just enough time to think how to change your strategy with the boss but is not long enough to be frustrating. (I have beaten this boss btw)

      • Abara says:

        Death animation is around 5 seconds and when you enter bossroom you get 3 seconds in which the Boss gets in the arena, that is the “cutscene” every retry and is no reason to buy a gorgeous and fun game with a bit of perseverance.

      • Imek says:

        Arguments about game difficulty aside, because I think everything I’ve thought has been said (I personally am greatly enjoying the game, and find the level of difficulty fair and just right), I’d like to let you guys know that they released an update to speed up the recovery time after death. You just hold down a button I think.

        You also respawn in the very next room, as others have said. It’s about as forgiving as death in a game could be.

    • illuminerdi says:

      I agree. While I love playing difficult games, I do not like the idea that difficulty is ever a barrier to someone else’s enjoyment of a game. I like punishing difficulty, but I know that I am the exception, and that difficulty should be an option, not a mandate.

      • Xzi says:

        I’d say all that matters is a disclosure of the fact that it’s hard. I love roguelikes and difficult games, but I pre-purchased Hyper Light Drifter for other reasons, and I people of “average” skill wouldn’t have an issue with it. A marketing failure, I suppose.

    • Squiky says:

      Just beat it (after something like 15 tries) ! :)
      Honestly he is not that hard and should not prevent you to buy the game.
      And for the writer of the post the key to this fight is to constantly dodge !

    • Boomchakalaca says:

      1.git gud
      2.It’s a boss its suppose to be a challenge
      The first boss is easy did it in 3 tries hint: look at the dam ground

  2. cakeisalie says:

    L2p noob! Just kidding. I don’t like games that are far too easy, and I tend to play on hard by default. But I also loathe games that are prohibitively difficult with no option to change the level of challenge – to me this is just bad game design.

    Anyway, this game looks gorgeous, but your preview has really put me off trying it.

    • Kid Woof says:

      If its any help I am throughly enjoying this game. I wouldn’t let this article put you off. Its definitely worth the money.

      • John Walker says:

        How did you defeat the first boss?

        • Arkayjiya says:

          You sound like one desperate journalist. Which is starting to worry me as I’ve just finished downloading the game xD

        • burstargen says:

          what qualifies as “The First Boss” seems to be sort of your choice. I’ve beat one boss so far and it was the frog boss in the east pretty water zone, not any chump with a staff. My strategy consisted primarily of hitting it and dodging its attacks. When my ammo was full (which was frequently), I emptied it into the frog.

        • thebigJ_A says:

          I watched someone stream it last night. Took them maybe seven tries.

          It looked like the main thing was to not get greedy, focus on staying off the tiles that warned you they’re about to do damage, chip away with bullets then do real damage when it goes to the middle. They used the birds just as ways to replenish ammo

          idk. It seemed difficult but not extremely so. Guess I’ll find out shortly

          • jonahcutter says:

            Very much this. In this particular, it is very much like Dark Souls:

            Don’t get greedy.

            HLD rewards patience and restraint, along with movement. Get a couple licks in and MOVE.

        • HonageMaximus says:

          I’ve just beaten the Bird-Wizard Bastard you’re stuck on. He’s pretty tricky, I kept dying constantly to him until I started focusing on avoiding his death squares. Move around, take a couple of swings at him, shoot him as many times as you can. When he summons his flying friends he seems to stop doing death squares so you can wail on him with the sword pretty safely, just time the hits with when the flying dudes attack you so you do damage to the boss and take them out at the same time. But in general: keep moving, hope that helps.

        • Squiky says:

          Don’t worry about the flying monsters, just concentrate on the boss and your dodges and it should be fine remember to always use your gun when you have ammo.

        • Zeroebbasta says:

          I found having the dash ability very helpful for avoiding the dark squares of death. You should have the money to buy it, and there is a room in the shop where you can train – timing is very important, you have to dash and then quickly press the button again during the last frames of the dash animation.

        • Ashabel says:

          The bird boss is honestly just pattern recognition. All of its spells follow a strict pattern:

          First phase: fire one trail of burning tiles that follows you around, fire a + shaped tile pattern at your location, follow up on it with a x shaped pattern, teleport.

          Second phase: fire two trails of burning tiles that follow you around, then follow up with much bigger versions of + and x on your location.

          Third phase: alternate between firing horizontal and vertical rows of burning tiles.

          Other than that and sometimes summoning four followers, he has no other abilities whatsoever and cannot even defend himself in melee. All you have to do is side-step the patterns with your dash, then either shoot or stab the boss, depending on how close you are and whether you have any ammo left. Complaining about its 50-point health bar is really silly when you can shred a fifth of it in a single decent engage.

        • Kid Woof says:

          It is a difficult boss to be sure and the shudder on the screen whenever he casts a spell is kinda obnoxious. Really the trick was a lot of patience and to get your hits in when he teleports to the middle to summon the flying birds then spend the rest of the time focussing on dodging his casts and getting the random shots onto him when you get ammo from killing the birds. You can do it John!

          • scannerbarkly says:

            There are actually quite a few viable options to beat this guy, which tells me it is actually pretty well designed. What I did was put 6 shots into him the second the fight starts, then roll in and out hitting twice each time, the squares follow you so once you leave in a different direction that you go in from you are fine.

            He will port to the corner and you can hit him with 6 shots. He will do the follow cubes, then the cross/split cross cubes. You can choose to either work in some melee or just dodge. Important note here…if you are just walking the cross and split cross can never hit you…people are dying here because they are changing direction when they try and react to them. Commit to your movement line and you are fine.

            Here is where I seem to differ from most people. When he comes back out of the corner and summons I hit him six times, getting all my bullets back. I ignore the birds, if one of them dies when I am hitting him, awesome. When he ports to the corner I roll after him, let him cast the Following Squares and then roll out. The birds have followed me in and are grouped near him. The fun part is that the follow cubs kill the birds. I put 6 more shots into him at this point. After that it is all diagonal rolling to dodge the columns. Digonal is important because it doesn’t leave you open to accidentally rolling into damage. Gif below to show what I mean…I had used all my pots failing on the first run…that’s the 4th attempt as I was just one lifing him a few times to find his patterns.

            But yeah, I was watching a lot of streams today and I noticed that most people killed themselves by either rolling too far or reactively changing direction for no reason at all during the Squares and Cross portions.

            link to gfycat.com

        • Oozo says:

          Honestly, I think it’s a bit misleading to repeatedly call him “the first boss”. And it’s downright incorrect to say that you’re “stuck” at this point.

          From the beginning, the game makes it clear that there are four different regions you can chose to explore from the get-go. It can be the first boss. It doesn’t have to be.

          The game clearly communicates that you can at any time teleport back to the “safe hub”, and there’s another teleporter close to the boss, so you can always leave and come back whenever you feel like it. There’s nothing stopping you trying your hand at another region first, find more upgrades, and give it another try.

          While I can certainly understand your frustration (I never beat the last boss in Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance, for example), I think that deciding that the game does not want you to play it just because you decided to hammer your head against the one wall you encountered early on instead of choosing to walk into another direction is… well, it’s downright unfair towards the game and it certainly paints an incomplete, if not wrong, picture of the situation. (Unless this here was merely a first impression and you’ll give a more complete one once you have tried other options, that is.)

          (That said, I haven’t tried to beat that crow myself yet, so maybe I’ll eat my words later on. I wouldn’t rush out a judgement before having tried other options, though.)

          • SleepingRobot says:

            Absolutely agree. It’s really annoying how negative a light this article is casting the game in for so many people commenting, when the author is clearly confused and completely misrepresenting the game. You have a lot of freedom in the areas you’re allowed to explore and the order you wish to do it in. The “this game just doesn’t want me to play any further” bit is just ridiculous. Really irresponsible for someone writing to a considerable audience.

          • Hypocee says:

            I was reading through the little debates on challenge and spikes and arts and marketing and so on, read this, and now I’m sitting here in shock. How does this not have a hundred pitchforks under it? How is there not a correction at the top of the article, typed five minutes after this?

            Fuck the ‘objective’ game reviewing chanop, obviously, but there are such things as objective facts in game reporting. This article states that the boss in question is ‘the first’, and that being unable to beat him is preventing Walker access to the rest of the exploration he wants. It’s hardly incredible that an indie combat puzzler might be strictly linear, or have hubs periodically narrowing to a critical path, so I was reading with that image in mind which is the main foundation of his point. Then I suddenly learn that this boss is one of four endpoints of the game, ‘the first’ he happened to choose, and that the easy mode he’s whinging for is in fact to just go and do the other exploration he so loudly desires, and come back with better kit.

            To factually misrepresent an open hub game as linear, a final boss as an early obstruction, available content as locked off, and an available easy fight as absent… Maybe the initial mistaking of blockheaded masochism for design restriction was merely stupid but writing and posting this without discovering the error was completely irresponsible, and the fact that it remains uncorrected and driving people away, during the game’s launch weekend, days after several commenters retroactively did your legwork for you…I don’t know what to call it! I’ve read RPS from the beginning, something like a fifth of all the articles I’d guess, and I’ve never, never seen something like this here before. It’s disgraceful. I guess that’s what I’d call it, a disgrace.

        • 7godeohs says:

          Go to another area and explore until you have enough points for the dash upgrade AND the charged sword upgrade. Dodge, strike a couple times, dodge, then when he goes to the center to summon those birds, get one or two charged sword attacks in. That’s when you get your serious damage in – large chunks instead of pinging him down constantly.

          I beat him with no upgrades but it took forever and was very frustrating – although rewarding at the end. But I agree that if you go into this with a “first boss” mentality you’re gonna have a bad time.

        • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

          I’m definitely not a ‘hard mode’ kind of gamer. I’ve never beaten Nuclear Throne, I’ve never gotten past level six on Teleglitch, I stumbled my way through Dark Souls (just)…

          This boss in HLD is a difficulty spike, it is hard, but it’s not take-your-ball-and-go-home hard. It just isn’t that bad.

          It’s careful movement and pattern recognition, it’s exactly the sort of thing I suck at, I went at it like a bull rather than carefully, and while it took me nearly half an hour of trying it was obvious right from the start that it was entirely beatable. As someone else said here, focus on avoiding getting hit and striking the boss when you can, and it’s fine.

          But whatever. The point is that this boss just isn’t perma-ragequit hard. Sorry, John, it isn’t. And trying to head that reply off at the pass by “Your desire that games be so punishingly difficulty that only people of your skill can enjoy them is ultimately deeply selfish…” Nope. This boss is not in that category whatsoever. In fact, it’s that quote which makes this review so unfair. For anyone considering a purchase who hasn’t played the game, looking at this review and then at these comments, anyone saying “Well, yeah it’s hard, but it’s not that hard” is pre-judged by that snide “Your desire that games be so punishingly difficulty that only people of your skill can enjoy them is ultimately deeply selfish”. “No, like, it’s doable.” “Well you would say that, wouldn’t you Mr. Selfish McHardMode-pants!” That unpleasant comment begs people to disagree with it and then imply that their disagreement proves the comment right.

          With just about any game that isn’t Nelly Cootalot, there’s always going to be some level of player’s ineptitude at which the game becomes prohibitively hard, but Walker’s characterisation of this particular difficulty spike as insurmontable to all but ‘difficulty fetishists’ is just utterly wrong. Hyper Light Drifter isn’t Teleglitch, it isn’t Nuclear Throne, it isn’t Dark Souls, it isn’t Risk of Rain.

          John, just… Go play Proteus or something. Leave Hyper Light Drifter to someone else.

          • vahnn says:

            This. Thank you for saving me the time of typing something similar on my phone. Plus I wouldn’t have said it so well.

          • Rocktave says:

            Yeah, I really don’t get how this guy came to the conclusion that he can no longer play the game, because he can’t get past the first boss he encountered. This game is non-linear. You can go explore the other areas and fight lesser bosses if one is too much to handle right off the bat. This is a poorly written article from someone who doesn’t understand the core mechanics of this game.

        • April March says:

          I’m a bit sad no one responded to this post with the single word, “Easily.”

        • Tegiminis says:

          I used the shotgun earned by completing the frog (who is a much easier boss than the bird mage) to wreck face. It’s probably the best gun in the game, assuming you’re willing to play dodge games; a point blank shot takes off 5 health, and it can hold up to five shots upgraded, which means you can knock off 25 health in a single go.

          Like other people in this thread, I suggest transitioning to a different area – specifically, the much easier eastern area – before trying to tackle the other two bosses. The shotgun really does make a huge difference in your damage output.

        • MaxAstro says:

          I got lucky and decided to go right first. The frog boss of the water zone is definitely the easiest boss in the game. Plus, after that you get the shotgun, which makes everything way easier.

          For me I beat the bird the same way I beat basically everything: Dodge until it stands still, shotgun at point blank, run away. Replace shotgun with sword slashes to recover ammo occasionally.

          The bird king was actually the third boss for me, so I had the benefit of lots of practice with the game. The hardest boss for me (and the one I assumed this would be about) was the samurai lord in the forest. Getting the dash timing right to dodge his sword combos took me a dozen+ tries. And the enemies he summons take five hits each, which is way to long to be ignoring him. :/

          The other boss that particularly frustrated me, design wise, was the sub-boss in the south zone. I eventually managed to cheese him with the shotgun and lots of bombs, but the extent to which that battle screams “this is unwinnable if you don’t have the reflect sword upgrade” (I didn’t) was extremely frustrating.

          The final boss, on the other hand, was IMO a very well done balance between fun and difficult.

  3. Mortivore says:

    This actually made me want to play the game even more than before..

    • Mortivore says:

      Bought it and gotta say that I’ve had a more troublesome time playing 5 minutes of Super Hexagon than I did playing this game for 2 hours. First boss cleared without death; I don’t know what you’re doing wrong here but as suggested previously, you might want to explore some other area’s and come back later.

  4. Tobberoth says:

    The games market is filled to the brim with casual games which refuse to present any form of challenge to the player outside of difficulty settings, which is terrible design since it leads to bulletsponges and one-shots instead of properly designed challenge. When games finally dare to start presenting challenge to players again, those players who already have an insane amount of easy casual games to pick from suddenly demand to be able to play the challenging games as well.

    Personally I’m thankful to developers who dare to develop for their specific vision and not catering to the masses. Challenging games are fun, and every game on the market doesn’t have to cater to every player.

    • cakeisalie says:

      While I agree to an extent, surely a well-designed game can scale the challenge in a meaningful way that satisfies a wide range of players?

      • klops says:

        If the game is designed to be hard from the beginning and it does that well, I’d say it is well designed. Though I don’t know does the game do that well or is it really that hard.

      • Tobberoth says:

        It might very well be possible to design games which cater to a wide array of players, but it’s going to depend on the game and it’s extremely hard to do, and even then the developers might just prefer to stick to their own artistic vision. For example, why are the bosses in this game not optional? Probably because the developers are like the “snarky” players this article brings up, they might very well feel like you’re not playing the game they intended to make if you skip the bosses.

      • Arkayjiya says:

        Not every game is supposed to satisfy a great range of people. I’m tired of taking Dark Souls as an example in every discussion, but the game wouldn’t be as good if it was easier because the difficulty is part of all that the game made you feel, it meshes with the environment, dialogue, etc… If the game was considerably harder though, it would be worse too, it doesn’t only go one way ^^

        Now I can just hope the HLD is difficult for more reason than just being “old school”

      • MikoSquiz says:

        The first thing this makes me think of is “Surely a well-written movie can deliver a compelling story without the need for profanity and violence, making it suitable for the entire family?” Not everything is supposed to be for everyone. Hidden object games aren’t aimed at ‘core’ gamers, Dark Souls isn’t aimed at Bejeweled’s audience, etc.

    • John Walker says:

      Again, there is nothing wrong with games being challenging. (I repeatedly celebrate this game for being tougher than others in its genre.) It makes a lot of sense from a financial perspective to have options for them to also be less challenging.

      However, the rather larger issue is of boss fights being incongruously difficult compared to the rest of a game.

      • Caiman says:

        Again, Dark Souls? I’m replaying the first one right now, and every boss fight is a massive difficulty spike… until you learn through trial, error and observation what you’re doing wrong. Or do you hate Dark Souls too?

        • PikaBot says:

          Eh…not really. There are definitely some bosses which represent a big difficulty spike (Ornstein and Smough, Capra Demon, etc.) but there are plenty others where the boss is just a slightly more challenging encounter (Taurus Demon, Gaping Dragon, Sif, Nito, Seath, etc.)

      • PigsR4Eating says:

        If you have had so many issues with tough boss fights in the past maybe you are not the right reviewer for this kind of game. It’s a bummer your stuck and can’t progress.

        • April March says:

          Well, from the previews I didn’t expect this game to have massively difficult bosses, so maybe he’s actually the most qualified person to review it?

      • Ashabel says:

        I have found both the sliding block traps and the cathedral right before the boss you’re talking about to be much more challenging than the boss itself, so I’m not sure where this whole “boss fights being incongruously difficult compared to the rest of a game” thing is coming from.

      • macaronies says:

        I think difficulty pacing and expectations are an issue with this boss. I went east first, which I found as a whole much more difficult than the northern area with a boss that was a bit easier than I expected based on the area. When I went north after this, the area as a whole seemed much easier than the eastern area, but the boss fight was a surprising increase in difficulty. It would make not thematic sense, but if the two bosses were swapped, I think their relative difficulties would feel a lot more congruent with their surrounding areas.

        The thing that I realized that helped me beat the bird boss is that tiles don’t hurt you until they flash white, and not all of the tiles that follow you around damage you. I might be wrong about the second part, but I think only every 3rd tile flashes white when they follow you. Most of my deaths came from panicking about getting away from purple tiles as fast as possible. It’s a little more manageable when you realize you have a second to get away.

    • molamolacolacake says:

      I donated to the kickstarter for this game, and I’ve been pretty excited about it, but was it originally pitched as being crazy hard? I’m honestly asking that because I’m not remembering it well. If it turns out I have the same problem with difficulty scaling (and I probably will) and can’t progress, I certainly won’t regret donating because I’m glad this game exists, but I’ll be a bit sad for sure.

    • trjp says:

      If you’re developing games purely for your own edification – for people to come and ‘appreciate’ as they would a piece of art – that’s fine.

      If you’re selling unlimited amounts of a thing for £x you need to consider how many of those copies you want to sell and whether you might widen your audience to achieve that.

      or be prepared to be gutted on the altar of the refund?

      • April March says:

        The line between those two things is fuzzier than you seem to believe it is, if it exists at all.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      The games market is filled to the brim with casual games which refuse to present any form of challenge to the player outside of difficulty settings, which is terrible design since it leads to bulletsponges and one-shots instead of properly designed challenge.

      Mainly just musing aloud here, but can you really draw that distinction? Take pretty much any difficult boss from any ‘hard’ game and halve the HP or damage they do to the player (especially eliminating insta-kill type attacks), and they can be made a lot easier.

      There’s been a number of articles on AI design for notable enemies in past games, where the devs straight up said, ‘oh we just boosted the bad guy’s HP and damage dealt a bit, and players started thinking we’ve made their enemies smarter and more challenging’.

    • Urthman says:

      Even for a game like Dark Souls, what would be the down side of including a “Casual” mode or “Baby Boss” mode, clearly marked as not being the “real” game experience, that would let people who aren’t interested in mastering the combat to enjoy the other parts of the game?

      • Ragnar says:

        I would love that. I like the difficulty of Dark Souls, but I don’t have the time for it. I particularly hate the enemies that can one shot you – even if it’s “fair” because it’s your mistake.

        But every time someone suggests making hard games more accessible, hardcore gamers cry out about “casual games” and some such – as if adding an optional easy mode transforms the game into a clicker.

        Design games to be hard, sure, but not add accessibility even if it’s not the real experience. Make it a cheat code, whatever. I’ll take a diminished experience over no experience.

        But every time someone suggested

      • PigsR4Eating says:

        The issue would be multiplayer. Unless they locked any characters playing in easy mode to offline forever or only allowed them to play online with other players in easy mode the best gear in the game would become too easily obtained and the average player could abuse this.

      • pepperfez says:

        I think the same problem with any artistic work with a piece taken out — it’s not the same work. I can see designers getting grumpy when people ask for one particular part of their game rather than the whole thing.
        Of course, this ignores the degree to which games are consumer goods rather than art, but from the inside it’s not an unreasonable reaction. The Real Hardcore Gamers, as usual, are vile and stupid and ought not to ever be listened to.

  5. aircool says:

    I hate boss fights. I’m shit at boss fights. I wish boss fights didn’t exist.

    • Mags says:

      What if they applied this kind of thing to books?
      You’ve read the first half of the book, now write a detailed and insightful essay on it to reach the second half. What? You’re not good enough at essay writing? Well, then you don’t get to see the rest.
      Keep trying though, we’re sure you’ll manage it eventually.

      • trjp says:

        Dara O’Briain called…

      • Premium User Badge

        shevek says:

        This is more-or-less how my primary school taught reading, back in the day.

      • anHorse says:

        Yeah because difficult books don’t exist

        Pale Fire, The Recognitions, Gravity’s Rainbow, Ulysses… are all totally accessible to any reader, even the unskilled and unpracticed

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          ‘Difficult’ has a rather dramatically different meaning when it comes to books vs games. There are no boss fights in Ulysses.

          • pepperfez says:

            It’s more of a Treasure-style boss rush.

          • Egypt Urnash says:

            There are no boss fights in Ulysses, but there sure is some tricky platforming to be had in teasing out all the meanings.

            If you want boss fights, pick up Finnegans Wake and try to conquer a few Thunderwords.

        • KillahMate says:

          I may not have understood a damn thing about Ulysses, but I sure as hell was able to get to the end anyway :-/

        • RegisteredUser says:

          Not so much about existing but about preference, isn’t it?

          I’d sooner read a wonderful heartfelt and funny Discworld novel than any of the ones you mentioned and I feel similiar about my gaming habits.

          Why would I constantly pain and hurt myself with masochism machines like Dark Souls if I can just play things that give me joy on both an intellectual and heartfelt level? (For example turn based strategy, things like Divinity, shooters, grand strategy, etc pp)

  6. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    Ugh, yeah. I can only hope there’s some (easy) mechanic John missed that trivializes that fight.

    • John Walker says:

      Me too. I’ll be very pleased to add a mea culpa and continue reviewing.

      • trjp says:

        Out of curiousity, are you a ‘go look on Youtube’ sorta guy or a ‘I have to find it for myself’ sorta guy? :)

        • John Walker says:

          Oh, definitely the former.

          • Treter says:

            Ok, so here is how i did it:

            *SPOILER ALERT*

            If he does the plattform thing that follows you dont bother attacking him while it’s following, instead dash in a square around him so you are at him when it ends. Attack him 2-3 times and always roll to the side if you see him doing the 4 Square attack. When he calls the birds just stay at him and hit him and try to hit the birds at the same time as you hit him.

            On phase 2 it’s the exact same way, but instead of doing the 5 Squares attack he does 2 big lines, it’s the same to dodge. Either straight if it’s diagonal or other way round.
            The following attack is now cast 2 times but the dashing in squares also works here. You won’t reach to attack him but that’s okay because you can attack at the diagonal or straight attacks.

            On the last phase you need to look before you, the attack only hits every second square. DONT ROLL, run into the square which won’t be hit.(I atleast rolled to far everytime i try to dodge that way) By the time he calls the birds again you can focus him and kill him before the birds reach you.

            Also get health packs, there are 2 in books in the rooms before.

          • qrter says:

            Good lord, how to make playing a game feel like a chore.

          • isochronous says:

            @qrtr, it sounds more complicated than it is, because (like almost any well designed boss) the fight is all about pattern recognition. In practice you’re not actually counting tiles or anything, you’re just thinking, “ok, it’s gonna come from the left this time, wait for it, now! Okay, I’ll whack you a few times, and now it’s gonna come from the top… dodge! Now I’ll put a few bullets in you…” etc. There was a good post above that included a gif from the fight, and you can see exactly what we’re talking about.

  7. Sandepande says:

    I’ll go looking for a trainer then.

  8. flidget says:

    To be fair, the Kickstarter made it clear that the game was meant to be punishingly difficult so I’m glad they stuck to that despite the fact that I’ll never be able to play it. As a crowd-funded game it should deliver what it promised.

    • molamolacolacake says:

      Ah that answers my question above!

    • isochronous says:

      And TBH it’s really not that hard, and I’m not saying that as a hardcore super-difficulty player (because I’m definitely NOT that). It’s all about pattern recognition and does not at all require perfect timing and quicksilver reflexes. It sounds like the reviewer just needs to either take a step back and re-evaluate his approach to the boss, or go explore any of the other 3 areas open to him, power up a bit more, and come back later.

  9. RIDEBIRD says:

    I can very much see where you’re coming from, but why not just try again? You’re obviously digging it. Don’t give up, John.

    But I have to agree most boss fights in games are just dreadful and take absolutely no skill to defeat, just trial and error and tedium. Dark Souls is one of very few exceptions to this.

    • baozi says:

      Eh, I always felt that bosses in Dark Souls were tedious (including the getting-to-the-boss-part) and involved trial and error. (FYI I did play through DaS 1&2, but the bosses were always the parts I liked least about these games)

      • Tobberoth says:

        How are bosses in DS trial and error? I can agree with Capra demon and possibly bed of chaos in DS1, none of the other ones. I personally beat several of the DS2 bosses on my first attempt.

      • TheTingler says:

        For me the “getting to the boss fight” is the part that broke the Dark Souls series for me, as much as I was enjoying them. I don’t mind boss fights, but for me there is an absolutely unbreakable rule for my enjoyment – if you’re going to present a really hard challenge, in particular a boss, you f***ing save BEFORE and AFTER the boss fight. No exceptions.

        (Additionally, no unskippable cutscenes, but at least Dark Souls gets that part right)

        • thebigJ_A says:

          but….
          DkS saves before, after, and during a boss fight.
          It saves all the time. constantly

          Its fundamental gameplay mechanic of having to retrieve your souls on death (and thus demonstrate, to yourself even, that you’re learning) would be a nonsense if it just plopped you outside the boss room when you die in the middle of a fight

        • fish99 says:

          You can run through (usually in under a minute) every pre-boss area in every Souls game without fighting anything. Also the point in playing the area before the boss is usually to unlock a shortcut which makes getting to the boss a lot quicker and easier.

          Also, the run back gives you time to assess your tactics and it helps build the tension.

          • Premium User Badge

            DelrueOfDetroit says:

            That is not true. Quelagg

          • Premium User Badge

            DelrueOfDetroit says:

            That is simply not true. Quelaag has you trudging through a poisonous Swamp of unavoidable bugs before each fight. Seath has you traversing a dangerous cave each time, not to mention you probably need to have your curses removed.

          • fish99 says:

            Ok so you managed to think of one boss where you have to fight a few insignificant enemies. It’s still a super easy run.

          • Premium User Badge

            DelrueOfDetroit says:

            It’s skill on par with an unskippable cutscene, only with the potential of dying.

          • baozi says:

            Of course you can often just run to the boss – I always did that when possible – but that doesn’t make it less annoying. It’s like an ad before a very short YouTube video. If I wanted to think about my tactics, I’d just wait at the bonfire.

          • fish99 says:

            It’s part of the game though, it helps build tension because there’s more at stake. If it was just die, press one button and then straight back in, the fight would feel slightly less of an event.

            Dark Souls 2 was criticized for having some bonfires right outside of boss rooms (like with the Rotten).

          • Premium User Badge

            DelrueOfDetroit says:

            Have torches next to boss fights that appear once you’ve been killed by the boss once. Put x amount of souls into that torch and you will respawn from that point until you leave the area or rest at a bonfire. Once the boss is defeated the torch disappears forever.

          • baozi says:

            Sure, but after dying for the nth time I really don’t care about thematic integrity anymore. I like that torches idea.

          • isochronous says:

            While I generally agree with you, Fish99, you’re equivocating – as soon as someone brings up evidence that contradicts your argument, you change your argument. Personally I don’t think the Quelagg example is too bad – green moss (I think that’s the poison cure) is *really* easy to acquire, and I’ve never had any trouble getting to the fog door from the swamp bonfire without getting hit by mobs. Seath, though, is just a huge pain in the ass, especially if you’re trying to get his tail (which usually takes me more than one try). I’ve been knocked sideways into the void by crystal golems more times than I care to remember…

            Crap. Now I’ve gotta go play some Dark Souls again.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      I’d say there comes a point where the tedium of endlessly repeating the same boss fight and losing overcomes the desire to keep going through an interesting game.

      • aoanla says:

        This, definitely. It’s at its worst when it’s hard to actually get to the point of the boss again – one of the reasons I gave up on Rogue Legacy was that you mostly would have to redo the castle from scratch (unless you forwent any money) each time, which made trying to deal with Bosses particularly frustrating. Especially, being in John’s definitely skill-area concerning games…

      • El_MUERkO says:

        Avadon 2 was an example of that, ‘sure your party defeated my minions to get here, but I decree your party make-up is wrong and you cannot beat me’, it got uninstalled, future releases ignored.

        I’ve found that even in victory my urge to carry on diminishes if I’ve felt a boss is unduly hard; the sense there’ll be another at some point can make me think ‘fuck it, i’ve got plenty of other games to play’.

        • pepperfez says:

          Does it make a difference to you if the difficulty is in strategy or execution? Because I have a ton of patience for the latter and a limited amount for the former, so Avadon and Hyperlight wouldn’t be directly comparable.

  10. Zeroebbasta says:

    Don’t give up John! You have every right to enjoy the game.
    Why don’t you grab a friend and give the controller to him/her? This can be a nice chance to throw a party and play games together.
    (Or ask someone for a save file just after the boss battle, if you don’t have close friends with Mad Videogame Skillz).

  11. Cinek says:

    Oh… that’s… rather unexpected. I’m looking forward to play it today, after work.

  12. Jay Load says:

    I despise boss fights. They’re rarely implemented well enough to avoid frustration. I’ve given up playing games because a boss fight doesn’t have a save or checkpoint near it, meaning frustrating repetition (recent example: Axion Verge, the final boss – although previous bosses were far less painful)

    I like challenge – bullet sponges with carefully hidden vulnerabilities just bug the crap out of me.

  13. Zekiel says:

    I feel your pain John. (In a generalized sense, not having played HLD).

    Hopefully a patch will lessen the difficulty on Normal… I was looking forward to playing this but as someone without great reactions & dexterity I’d be loathe to buy a game which I’m unlikely to be able to see 75% of.

  14. Hidoshi says:

    Thanks for this honest review! I’m one of the ‘hard mode’ kind of guys and this actually makes me want to play more.

    I have some friends who think/are like you though, and the solution I found was that usually I’d do the hard parts for them. In my case that would make everybody happy; I could do the hard stuff, they could continue and I would have helped a friend.

    Even though (like someone said) this is quite bad game design, I do hope that you find someone to help you through the boss fights!

  15. Michael Manning says:

    Interesting topic, it does seem strange to block content behind a ‘skill wall’ I guess it depends on what the game is trying to accomplish.

    Devil May Cry 3 is a good example, that game I found to be so frustratingly difficult. It is learning a skill and perhaps pulling the difficulty down would make for a game which doesn’t fully exploit its mechanics.

    If as the player you aren’t put into situations where you have to learn this or that about the combat system and come to an understanding of the deeper mechanics, perhaps the game would end up feeling flatter. This game seems to be mechanically all about the combat, so if you’re playing it and only ever come to understand part of the systems the experience might not be as fulfilling.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Did you play on the easiest setting, like the one it offers once you get your ass handed to you on normal? That game was still hard and still required you to learn how to play under those conditions. I remember at least a couple boss fights I had to beat by spamming Holy Waters.

  16. Faults says:

    gg skrube

  17. LennyLeonardo says:

    I love games that feel new when you replay on a super high difficulty (Bayonetta and the like), but am increasingly loathe to start on the hardest setting. I think I’m getting old. Still, it’s kind of a personal thing. Which must make it hard to calibrate difficulty for developers, and must also make difficulty a tough thing to tackle in reviews. I suppose the bottom line is, if you’re not enjoying it you’re not enjoying it (though that can be hard to tell sometimes, too).

  18. bl4ckrider says:

    In school they taught me that boss fights are like an exam that tests all the skills you learned in the previous levels. But in reality it is almost never like that. It’s mostly memorizing tells and timing your attack and repeating that, and the tension comes from the fact that you will have to start the whole slog over again if you fail.

    It is bad game design because it takes away the freedom to play the game the way you are used to and make you look for exploits.

    If you want to heighten tension then throw me into a room with 30 goons (Arkham) or bring on an onslaught of zombies or a gauntlet or make me run a roller coaster (L4D) or make me defend a prison block with only a bunch of turrets (HL2). Those scenarios keep me in the game world but they also give me lots of options.

    Other than that difficulty is just another USP to sell a product. People wouldn’t like Dark Souls half as much if it weren’t so difficult. If it had an easy mode you couldn’t brag about finishing it.

    • Legion1183 says:

      defend a prison block with only a bunch of turrets (HL2)</blockquote)

      Brings back memories :) I love the way HL dealt with "boss fights" and agree with all of what you are saying.

      • soopytwist says:

        Here’s a top tip for that bit in Nova Prospekt. Use the gravity gun grab all the boxes, barrels cabinets and desks you can find around that area and stack them where the forcefields are. Played on Hard mode it’s hilarious as the Combine can’t reach you. Always makes me smile when Alex apologises for not helping – “no I didn’t need your help thanks” Gordon doesn’t say.

    • frightlever says:

      If the game was less difficult or had a difficulty slider, some people wouldn’t have liked it so much, some, probably more, would have liked it even better.

      Bethesda RPGs outsell Souls games ten to one.

      If you check out the Steam Achievements for DS:PtD about 13% of players have an ending achievement, and some proportion of those players will have picked up both, so let’s say approx 10% have finished it. Only 40% of players get the “Reach Lordran” achievement, ie leave the tutorial area. A LOT more people would have played it and completed it if it was easier, but it still sells okay so I guess they shouldn’t mess with the formula…

      Except, Dark Souls 2 sold better, was easier, and more than three times the percentage of players finished it. (37% vs approx 10%).

      I can’t find exact stats for Bloodborne, but anecdotally it’s easier than DS2 and Exophase suggests even more players have finished it.

      • Reapy says:

        Well dark souls PC came out after it had been out on consoles. I bought the steam version again but had put a lot of hours into the 360 version and turned out I didn’t have the heart to play through it all again. That and many people bought it without realizing how bad the keyboard and mouse support was… There were a lot more reasons for people to not finish the first one.

        dark souls 2 was just set up for the PC a lot better and you kind of knew what you were getting with that.

        I didn’t like dark souls for the difficulty, I liked it for the atmosphere and art. It isn’t a hard game as people said, it’s a game about being careful and making good decisions. I cheeses bosses and areas with range when I could or built my character in ways that didn’t involve me having to react quickly to pretty much anything.

        Anyway, epic whine by john as usual going on. I realize that there are types of games out there that don’t appeal to me or are too hard for me. I really love volgarr the viking, it is an amazing game, but I never got past world 4 after 15 hours of play, I just suck at games that require good memorization and consistent execution, and it’s ok, I survive.

        If people wonder why let’s plays do well this is it. Watch someone else play through it so you can enjoy the game if you like it so much, that’s what I did with volgarr, and I still love the thing.

      • malkav11 says:

        Also, Dark Souls PC originally was a GFWL game and did its achievements through that system. It’s possible they transitioned those achievements to the Steam equivalent when they revamped it to use Steamworks, but I strongly suspect they did no such thing.

        • Premium User Badge

          basilisk says:

          They did, as a matter of fact, but you had to launch the game at least once after the conversion.

          Your point still stands, though; there are far too many unknown variables here to draw any meaningful conclusions from the achievement statistics.

  19. l33t_j4gu4r says:

    People who say that can’t do something, and people who say they can, are both usually right.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      the dunning-kruger effect would like a word

    • Jeremy says:

      Those who say they haven’t done something, and those who say they have, are usually both right. Unless they’re lying because they’re narcissistic pigs.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      Yeah, because people aren’t crazy liars.

  20. Premium User Badge

    keefybabe says:

    I don’t think there’s ever…. ONCE… been a boss fight where I thought, “oh good, I’m glad that was there, that was fun!” At best it’s been, “I’m glad that’s over”.
    We’re talking even back to the likes of Nemesis/Armalyte. Old school shooters like that. I’m convinced they just put them in because games are supposed to have boss fights and killing the main bad guy would feel slightly anti-climactic if it were just a simple kill.

    • fish99 says:

      The Souls games would not be the same experiences without boss fights and the increased difficulty and tension they bring, they are undoubtedly the high points of those games.

      Boss fights have to be well designed though. I remember in Crysis (or maybe Warhead) there’s a Korean army commander, who, unlike everyone else you’ve fought, could take 200 bullets to the head, for no reason other than he was a boss.

      • frightlever says:

        I don’t think tension is the right word. You don’t generally lose much in Dark Souls when you die, apart from some of the infinite souls that you may be carrying. It’s frustration that turns into relief when you beat the boss, in the same way that after you’ve been smoking for a while a cigarette doesn’t make you feel better, it can only make you stop feeling bad.

        • fish99 says:

          Yes there’s relief, but there’s also a definite sense of elation and accomplishment when you beat a hard Souls boss, especially when it was achieved by playing well.

      • Don Reba says:

        Maybe the Korean army demotes its troops for getting injured, so the sturdier men naturally gravitate to the top.

    • anHorse says:

      Get some Ys in yer

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      The Evil Within had some of the best boss fights I’ve seen in a long time (other than the one in the parking garage.)

    • qrter says:

      I’m the same. I always feel like I’ve just massively been wasting my time. Maybe because I’m getting older, and there are so many games I’d like to play, I don’t see the point in wasting time on trying to grind through an overly hard game.

  21. Legion1183 says:

    Oh no :( I have been so looking forward to playing this game. This is really disappointing to read…

    While I used to enjoy the harder difficulty on games (I almost always used to set the difficulty to Hard before starting a game) I no longer have the time to spend hours/days/weeks trying to complete a challenging game. With my limited free time I’ve been forced to play games on either Normal or Easy to be able to complete campaigns/stories. I had to give up on Titan Souls fairly quickly because of how difficult it was and how long it took to keep running back to a boss fight from the checkpoint.

    I need to play a game that I can keep progressing through at a reasonable pace that doesn’t take me so long to play that I forget what the hell is going on after months of playing, and after reading this article I wonder if HLD is not the game for me…

    • SparroHawc says:

      I wouldn’t let the article scare you off. I did defeat the boss he’s having problems on, as one of the people who enjoys playing games on ‘hard’. It took me a good few tries, but I’d already beaten another area first (there are two you can access from the beginning of the game). It’s a fantastic game and well worth playing.

      Also the shotgun lets you shred a big chunk of the boss’s hitpoints – if you wait for the most annoying phase, you can blast him past it in short order with some cautious play.

  22. FreshHands says:

    I have to admit I am a little worried now. I like me some challenge if it’s well done (Dark Souls, just one example) – but I really share John’s pain concerning terrible bosses, unskippable death animations, bullshit checkpoints, needless difficulty spikes and all that.

    If however I beat the crap out of this boss then I will be dancing around knowing I am more badass than John Walker – not that he would be terribly impressed, apparently.

  23. thelastpointer says:

    Soooo… how much of the game does this impression cover? Is it possible that you would beat this boss with different upgrades?
    I hope RPS does a full review in a few days as it looks like a great game.

  24. Greggh says:

    Though this review is incomplete (so sorry for you, John) it was enough to help my decision to buy and play the hell away of this game!

  25. berrysad says:

    I hate it when games become too hard to finish. I always want to finish the main story/campaign for games I play. When the difficulty gets in the way I wish I never played it in the first place.

  26. pillot says:

    git gud

  27. Frank says:

    “I don’t understand why it’s a part of gaming, why it’s always been a part of gaming, and I don’t understand who its obligatory nature is for.”

    I’m also in that boat. I backed the game and have no regrets, though, even if I can’t manage to actually play it.

  28. Mike_M says:

    So I think hard, skill-based games are just a type of electronic entertainment we throw into the same basket called ‘games’. This shouldn’t be a template every game to follow. Dark Souls is a game designed to be a serious challenge and it executes this design very well.

    I think the problem here might be that HLD is a different kind of entertainment for a large part of the gameplay and then throws you into a boss fight akin to Titan Souls. This, if true, is rather uncool.

  29. Synesthesia says:

    Git Gud!

    But seriously, just don’t give up. If the boss fight is indeed too hard, it’ll be patched.

    Are you playing with a controller? This looks like a controller game.

    • aoanla says:

      I’m pretty sure John is using a controller, as he comments on how the game is intended to be played with a controller in the review. (It’s possible he’s not, though, of course.)

  30. Alberto says:

    I’m a ‘normal difficulty’ guy, but I don’t want the designers to water down their original idea just for me.

    I feel it like asking a band that please don’t play that particular part of their song or a writer to re-write some special chapter because the style is too difficult for me.

    Apply that to wonderful easy games that don’t need to be harder.

    • Mike_M says:

      If a band plays electro-pop and all of a sudden goes Sunn O))) on you in the middle of a record, I think it’s okay to want to skip this part.

      • pepperfez says:

        But if you like them enough to listen to their record in the first place, it might be worth giving that section a chance to see if you like it more than expected.

  31. therighttoarmbears says:

    Anybody know how the bosses compare to, say, Lil’ Hunter? He’s widely regarded as a cheese boss difficulty spike: it takes a while to get to him, and he’s got several abilities that are tailor-made to end your run. But, he’s also a good example of the fact that (once you’ve died to him enough) you can see his patterns and overcome them. That being said, if you RNG into a bad spawn position you’ll still pretty often lose. So, yeah, I hate that guy.

  32. Niko says:

    I haven’t yet figured out how to get to the first boss, but I had to retry some fights a couple of times, and although they might be a bit random and twitch-based, it also feels like there’s a learning curve.
    Other than that, I’m enjoying the visual and interface design, music, and world building a lot.

  33. fish99 says:

    I don’t agree boss fights are a universally bad concept. In the Zelda games, the boss fights are usually about figuring out how the new item/ability you’ve recently aquired is used to kill this boss, then once you’ve done that the actual killing isn’t that hard.

    I’d also have to say my most memorable recent memories in gaming have been defeating bosses in Dark Souls 1+2, precisely because they were challenging. Artorias in particular, which took over 5 hrs, I realized after beating him that I was terrible at the game before that fight.

    • fish99 says:

      This debate also makes me think of Devil Daggers, a game that is near impossible for most players past the 3-4 minute mark, but a game I’ve nevertheless put 39 hrs into and may be my GOTY so far. A difficulty setting that let everyone see the whole game would be silly.

  34. Cloudiest Nights says:

    Here’s a video of the first boss (Spoilers, obviously if that matters) and it doesn’t look too difficult. Just lots of dashing upon dashing. And healing. Game looks pretty great and I’ll probably be getting it.

    • JustAPigeon says:

      Holy crap, is it possible to turn off that incredibly obnoxious screen shake?

      • Spakkenkhrist says:

        It’s not that bad and you’d probably not notice it that much when you’re trying to avoid being killed.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like the main boss AOE attack takes care of the mobs?

      • Ashabel says:

        You’re correct, and it applies to more than the boss. There are plenty of places where you can bait enemies into killing each other if you time your dodges right.

    • klops says:

      That looks too hard for me. Doable, perhaps, but I don’t want to bother myself that much any more. I sip tea and play Chaos Reborn or CKII like a true geriatric.

    • Reapy says:

      That is a pretty tough first boss fight, there are is a lot of movement required and those AOE patterns appear to do damage quite fast without any tells. I could see easily giving it like half a second of tell before the aoe goes off to make it more in line with what you might call a first boss fight.

      But without knowing the rest of the game or anything this guy might be a well tuned gatekeeper for what is coming up afterwards in the game. It might be a good lesson in teaching ‘movement and safety first, damage second’ philosophy that, based on the trailer, might be really important.

      • Paycho says:

        Not correct. The damaging abilities have a huge window where you can dash out of them (check out this .gif where the guy never takes damage: link to gfycat.com).

        It’s also not the ‘first’ boss. It’s the hardest of the first three, which you can do in any order – notably, after you’ve spent a bunch of resources upgrading your abilities.

        • Reapy says:

          Just finished the game, and you are right. Basically this is a pretty insulting and misleading article.

          There are 3 areas to go from at the start, the easiest boss is in the east, if you follow the dog. The game is all about patience and dashing around, waiting for opportunities.

          When you calm down and look around it turns out most bosses have huge attack windows and are very manageable, especially with the dash upgrade and shotgun.

          I felt like the game difficulty was well balanced throughout the whole game, truth be told.

  35. j.lew says:

    Am I the only one who gets a somewhat offensive message when you hover over the last pic?

  36. realitysconcierge says:

    FYI guys the game is locked to 30 fps with events and animations tied to the framerate.

    • Niko says:

      Oh gee, somebody call the police!

    • Cloudiest Nights says:

      Doesn’t surprise me. This was made in GameMaker, and as such you can “lock” the game to specific speeds by changing a variable called room speed. The default room speed is 30, and while it probably could be increased to 60, it may have caused lag in the game so the developer lowered it. No big deal-breaker for me.

      • Premium User Badge

        FhnuZoag says:

        I’m kinda confused really about the whole expecting 60 fps thing. Sure, in a 3d game you can pretty much animate at whatever FPS you design, but in a 2d sprite driven game you need to individually draw each and every frame of animation. Otherwise doubling the fps has literally no effect. So you’re really asking that the devs double their art asset expenditure, for what is surely at best an incremental improvement in animation smoothness.

        I mean, the Chronotrigger walk cycle was literally 3 frames and no one gave a shit.

        • Niko says:

          There’s also an issue of visual consistency – you can’t have a small sprite with really fluid animation, but if the sprites are large, a small number of frames will look bad.

        • fish99 says:

          Not entirely true, there’s still benefits from a higher framerate even if the animations are at a lower rate. Character/object movement and scrolling will still look smoother.

        • Enso says:

          I’m not very technical but I booted up Super Metroid on an emulator and compared. The camera pan is especially noticeable as being very jittery in Hyper Light Drifter, also compared to other sprite based indie games.

          • Enso says:

            I was playing this on a monitor with Gsync. Just played it on my own PC with a standard LCD and the effects are not nearly as bad.

        • Don Reba says:

          Otherwise doubling the fps has literally no effect.

          A 2D animation might advance at a fixed rate, all the animations don’t have to proceed in lockstep. A 2D game could run its logic at a higher rate.

  37. Spakkenkhrist says:

    I got stuck on a boss in Intrusion 2 which was incredibly frustrating as I really wanted to keep playing.

    • GWOP says:

      It was the girl with the giant gun, wasn’t it? So frustrating. :'(

      • Spakkenkhrist says:

        Yes! I banged my head against it for a while then gave up :(

  38. PancakeWizard says:

    ” I don’t understand why it’s a part of gaming, why it’s always been a part of gaming, and I don’t understand who its obligatory nature is for.”

    I’ll take a stab at it.

    1. Because retro. Games were harder the further you go back to arcades, because they were meant get you to put more money in. It’s carried on largely out of tradition. Like ‘lives’ and meaningless high scores.

    2. Because somehow it’s probably worse if the reverse is true: “The boss fights aren’t a challenge and they just fall over. they may as well not be there”, is not an uncommon criticism in gaming journalism. Developers are likely to err on the side of ‘tough’.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      With a light bit of experience in game dev, I’d actually speculate that it’s a design mistake. Specially, boss fights are an ‘easy’ thing to design in a way that a level isn’t. They are short and they are self-contained. For debugging and balancing purposes it’s easy to iterate on them and add complexity and play them over and over again. I’d wager that the boss fights are the parts of a game that the designer is most likely to replay most often themselves.

      And this is kinda what creates the difficulty spikes. The problem is that it is terrifically easy to underestimate how hard it is to grasp a game system. The devs know how everything works and what you need to do, and repeat playtesters know, but their experience doesn’t reflect the experience of the player.

      If over the course of development the devs and core playtesters have played each level fully 5 or so times and each boss fight a hundred or so times, it’s the boss fights that are going to start feeling apparently easy, and thus it’s there that there will be the temptation to ‘toughen them up a bit’.

    • Premium User Badge

      Thirith says:

      I think there are absolutely games where difficulty is inextricably part of what they are and how they work. Take the Dark Souls games, for instance: atmosphere, pace, tone, theme, these are all tied to the game’s difficulty. Add an ultra-easy story mode or skippable bosses and you get something whose parts no longer fit together as well, something that feels less coherent.

      Then again, with something like, say, Pillars of Eternity, a story mode that’s mostly about exploring the world, experiencing the story and spending time with the characters absolutely makes sense. The game’s individual elements can be compartmentalised much more easily, so to speak.

      Then there’s the question of learning curves; it’s never good design if a game lets you proceed to a certain point only to have you run into a wall because the difficulty spikes, and you don’t have any alternative routes. From what MatteoC writes in his post, it’s well possible that John should basically try other routes and return to that particular boss later, though the game should ideally hint that this is a possibility.

      Anyway: while I sympathise with John, his argument for skippable bosses doesn’t convince me, at least not as something that should always be possible. It views games as consumer goods, first and foremost, and to my mind this clashes with the notion of games as cultural goods. This doesn’t mean I completely reject the option, but I don’t think it is an option that improves every game. Sometimes difficulty may be the point – which doesn’t excuse bad design/balancing, however.

  39. Legion1183 says:

    Ok I went ahead and purchased the game shortly after reading this article and this 1st boss is freakin difficult!!! It made me laugh at first but now I’m starting to get frustrated. I wish the dash manoeuvre was more fluid; at the moment it seems there’s a split second delay between dashes which can becoming really annoying especially when you’re dashing out of the boss’s AOE attack, don’t dash far enough and want to dash again just before it affects you but because of the split second delay you die. And boy do you die a lot in this game.

    Agreed, the revive animation every single time you die gets very annoying and checkpoint placement too.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      upgrade your dash
      you can infini-dash with no delay once it’s upgraded

      or, do a different boss. I’ve heard this isn’t the “first” boss just a possible “first” boss

      • Legion1183 says:

        Ah great thanks for the tip! I’ll keep going at it for now and hopefully beat this boss soon, if not I’ll try go back and upgrade my dash now that I have enough “cash”.

  40. MatteoC says:

    The first boss in my game was not this one; the first I fought is a gigantic frog guy, in the water ruins east of the city. It was a nicely designed fight, far better than any I’ve had recently in other games. So it seems you can walk different paths. The frog boss took me a few attempts, but I put him down without too much trouble. For my efforts I received a new gun and a fair pile of currency with which to buy upgrades. Don’t give up on the game! Try going in a different direction. By the time you get back to this troublesome boss, you may find yourself better equipped to deal with him.

  41. burstargen says:

    I like games that you overcome rather than waltz through. Games where the game doesn’t owe you a win.

    but i respect wanting a “let me see the whole game” mode too

  42. thebigJ_A says:

    Go a different way, fight another boss, come back when you’ve upgraded your dash, or health or whatever?

    That there are multiple paths negates the complaint mostly. “this area is too hard, ill come back when I’ve leveled” has been considered a good thing in games, no?

    • gunny1993 says:

      Depends how well the game tells you that there ARE other areas or bosses, I know that if I was playing a game and met a boss i’d automatically assume that this was what I was meant to be doing unless the game had made it clear to me that it is not the only way.

      • thebigJ_A says:

        The game pretty clearly signals you to go east rather than north (which is where the bird boss is). It’s as clear as a dog barking and. leading you. Even the mobs that way are easier

  43. ribald says:

    This is a rough set of impressions to dump at launch, the game feels like an exact mix of Snes era Megaman X and Zelda it belongs on a gameboy advance. Definitely old school gameplay (Them old megaman bossfights were shithard and if you ran out of lives that was it, back to the start, this one is much more forgiving)

    The wee barking dog at the start calls you east! That seems to be the easier of the 4 areas to go for and the frog boss was straightforword. If its too challenging maybe spend more time searching for upgrade points? Each upgrade (from town) really seems to help, the bomb in particular has been really useful.

    Some advice: My strategy so far when getting “stuck” on a tough fight is to go hunting for upgrade points in another area for a while, the world is totally open so you’re free to roam and explore all the things. There are sooo many secrets in this game that are very cleverly (but not impossibly) hidden, you really need those points and the puzzle aspect of the design centres on keeping a sharp eye out for the subtle hints in each room about where they might be. Finding those yellow boxes is really rewarding!

    It’s such a visual experience, all the information within the game about strategies is subtly coded in very fine detail, it really pays to pay attention to everything. A real treat :)

  44. internisus says:

    John, I’ve only played for about 15 minutes, but are you sure this is the only boss you have access to? It seems like you can wander off in one of four directions from the start, and I would expect a boss at the end of each of those paths. Perhaps one of them would be easier to begin with?

    As for the broader topic, I value difficulty because games without challenge have no friction, and friction leads to engagement leads to meaningful experience. And I really enjoy a good boss fight—often it feels like a test, a culmination of the combat design ideas that have been explored leading up to it. It’s a classic structure that appeals to me a lot.

  45. GemFire81 says:

    Rather then changing how difficult the boss fights are , maybe they can just add a childrens mode for people interested in seeing things rather then playing things… Nothing like a game being ruined by people complainingbthat its hard and then they dumb it down to a faceroll level.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      Ignoring the passive agressiveness here, I’m actually curious. Which games would you characterize as being ‘dumbed down to a faceroll level’?

    • Flatley says:

      Oh absolutely, it is just SO TERRIBLE when I see another difficulty setting on screen and I have to use all my elite skills just to avoid clicking on it. Really ruins my day.

    • Sandepande says:

      That’s a very sad attitude.

  46. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I somewhat also value difficulty and don’t mind bosses as I grew up with those and like mentioned Dark Souls bosses are really neat, milestones and achievements.
    That game made me feel like in times of yore when I actually stopped before the boss gate and felt fear of losing.

    It would be bad though if one fight just gates the rest of the game away. Just like in the old days when games were two hours long but really tiresome. Will wait for some more reviews to come in to judge.

    On a sidenote people never stopped complaining about Deus Ex:HR. Granted that Barrett was kinda hard but you got quicksaves and a human can outwit his AI in about five tries. Sadly no killswitch.

    There’s a point about those damn cutscenes and fighting babble however remembering reading Witcher 3’s werewolf monologue 8 times.

  47. Al Bobo says:

    Thanks for your review. It made me immediately buy Hyper Light Drifter (though, I was going to buy it, anyway). I enjoy playing challenging games and this sounds like it’s right up my alley.
    It’s such a great feeling, when you manage to win very difficult fight. After fierce battles, serene moments in games are much more powerful, too.

  48. soopytwist says:

    I use trainers when this happens, if I didn’t I would leave the game and never go back. I have lifetime membership with Cheat Happens. Use them to get past a particularly difficult area or boss then turn it off again. What’s the problem?

  49. Viral Frog says:

    I don’t see a problem with incredible difficulty levels being a barrier to entry, as long as that’s what is advertised.

    If the game isn’t advertised as being for “that crowd” (which I am a part of), then it should have scaling difficulty to open it up for a wider audience. Just my opinion on the matter.

    I never really followed HLD. Wasn’t it advertised as being incredibly difficult?

    • klops says:

      No, it wasn’t advertised as being incredibly difficult. Quote from the Kickstarter page:

      “A challenge – The game is accessible and easy to pick up, but difficult to master and complete”

      • thebigJ_A says:

        “And complete”

        He went one of four ways immediately open to you, and NOT the way the game directs you to go. Ofc an area meant for later is harder

        • klops says:

          If the game directs you to one way and that is “the way to go” I wonder why does it keep the rest of the directions open at the same time. Without seen/played the game, that does not sound a very good design choise.

          • Premium User Badge

            DelrueOfDetroit says:

            Lots of games do this. Not to beat a dead horse but Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls is a notable example as are many Legend of Zelda games.

          • klops says:

            Lots of games do stuff like QTEs. Good design? But I’m not really trying to disagree, it just _sounds_ not-so-good.

          • thebigJ_A says:

            Tits an open game with teleporting. You can go wherever you like, teleport back to town to upgrade, and teleport right back to the boss you’re stuck at or wherever. It just heavily suggests which way to go first

            That’s good design, not bad. There are no walls to hit. Something gives you trouble everything else is open to you so you can get more powerful and come back whenever you want

          • klops says:

            Sounds good.

  50. csbear says:

    All this talk of Dark Souls has me thinking about Salt and Sanctuary (on PS4, but coming to PC this summer). Beautiful looking game I feel… 2-D ARPG.

    I am enjoying it a bunch. Tough boss fights, but nothing too crazy like what I am reading about Hyper Light Drifter. Bosses are easier than DS as well I would say.