Indie games can be a source of endless entertainment. The best of them can give you a great experience with interesting but fun mechanics, all with graphical requirements and price much lower than their AAA brethren. When a game isn't under pressure to be seen as "mainstream," game designers are free to unleash their creativity and make something that doesn't have to be marketed to as wide an audience as possible. They also don't have to make it easy.
It's easy to make a hard game, though. It's not as simple to make a hard game that doesn't feel cheap or unfair. When a game pulls it off, though, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Just ask anyone who's played Dark Souls. (And don't mention the Bed of Chaos.)
With that being said, here are five of the most difficult-- in a good way-- indie games you'll find on Steam right now.
With a name that takes direct inspiration from Dark Souls, you might expect that Titan Souls would share that series's notorious difficulty. And you'd be right. The premise is simple-- you're in a world where the only enemies are bosses. Your only weapon is a single arrow you can shoot and pull back to you. And everything dies in one hit-- including you.
You might think that the bosses dying in one hit would make them easy, but getting that hit is easier said than done. Every boss has some sort of weak point, some sort of weakness you need to exploit to be victorious. As a result, each fight feels unique and stress-inducing, as you're essentially trying to solve a puzzle while under constant threat of dying from a single slip-up. The game requires you to develop very quick reflexes, and the thunk you get when your arrow finds its mark is incredibly satisfying.
I considered putting The Binding of Isaac on this list, but ultimately decided against it. While that game is extremely difficult for new players, once one has "learned" the game it becomes much easier and based more around RNG. Enter the Gungeon, on the other hand, is almost entirely skill-based, to the point where I've never beaten the final boss.
Like Isaac, the game is a rouge-like, meaning the layout of the floors are randomly generated each time you play and death is permanent. Each floor is exponentially more difficult than the last, as the game throws more and more complex enemies at you. The bosses in particular are extremely challenging bullet hells, and as if that weren't enough, the only reliable way of upgrading your health is to beat a boss without getting hit once. Seeing the true final boss and ending of this game is an achievement you should feel truly proud of.
Hotline Miami, and its sequel, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, are a pair of brutal top-down shooters. Each stage has you taking a gun and massacring a building full of enemies, usually in a highly gory fashion. The real adrenaline rush comes from how unforgiving the combat is-- one hit and you're dead. This means you need to think tactically as you move from room to room. Rather than rushing in, you need to pick your moments to take enemies out without getting overwhelmed.
As swiftly as death comes, though, it's just as quick to reset a stage. One button press after death and you're right back into it, ready to die gruesomely yet again. These are not games for the faint of heart.
While Titan Souls took inspiration from Dark Souls for its difficulty and title, Salt and Sanctuary did the same for its difficulty and... pretty much everything else. The main difference being, of course, that it's a 2D platformer rather than a 3D experience. But other than that, the Souls formula has been very directly translated into this new format. Salt is souls, sanctuaries are bonfires. And yes, the infamous difficulty is present as well.
And although copying a pre-existing template isn't terribly impressive, what is commendable is how well it delivers on making the combat nearly as challenging, yet also rewarding, as the originals themselves. If you've played Souls, I highly recommend checking this one out.
There are plenty of platformers renowned for controller-smashing difficulty, but few are as iconic as Super Meat Boy. Created by Edmund McMillen, who would later go on to make another indie classic in The Binding of Isaac, it's not uncommon to feel that the odds are utterly stacked against you in this game, as you stare down a gauntlet of spikes, buzzsaws, rockets, and countless other deathtraps.
Like in Titan Souls and Hotline Miami, you don't have health, so the game demands perfection as you navigate the deadly obstacle course in your way. One might worry that this would make the game feel unfair, but when you die you respawn immediately, so there's no waiting time between attempts. Coupled with the extremely responsive controls, it's not hard to see why this game has remained a shining example, if a brutally difficult one, of its genre.
What are some of your favorite hard indie games? Let us know in the comments!