These days, it feels like games are easier than ever. Adventures ship with in-game walkthroughs, Nintendo platformers offer a helping hand if you die a few times in a row and some iPhone apps even let you buy your way through the tricky bits.
In reaction, there's been this upswell of ultra-tough and masochistic epics that exist purely for veteran button-mashers who need a challenge. The Internet has put games like Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls on a pedestal, presenting their friends with YouTube brag clips and a fuzzy photograph of a virtual Platinum Trophy.
774 Deaths feels like a highly concentrated take on that ethos. A game specifically designed to rile you up and piss you off.
It is a barrage of cruel and unfair challenges, with instantaneous deaths and unforeseeable dangers. A game where blocks give way beneath your feet and blades drop from the ceiling. A game where you need pixel-perfect precision, impeccable timing and the dedication of a monk.
You've got to get through nine rooms, but the doors remain locked until you beat a handful of mini-games. These could be classic platformer levels, a tilt-controlled stage where you're plummeting down a spike-sided vertical corridor, or a one-button auto-runner like Canabalt.
Pretty much all of them will kill you instantly as every stage has some danger that you couldn't possibly see coming. It will end your life and turn you into a slushy pile of blood-red pixels, complete with a squelchy flesh-against-spike sound effect.
This calls for trial and error, learning from your mistakes, memorising patterns and perfecting your every touchscreen tap or iPhone wiggle. It's not exactly admirable game design - we know there are ways to give players a challenge without invoking impossible-to-predict dangers - but it does harken back, even with its 8-bit styled graphics, to a lost art of ultra-tough video games that is difficult to find these days. It's a bit like learning the exact jump pattern to beat the Yellow Devil in the original Mega Man or, you know, practically anything else on the NES.
Because when you finally do best a level, it feels all that more satisfying. After slogging away at a stage for half an hour, getting incrementally closer to the end with every go, and gritting your teeth at every death, the feeling of reward when you finally succeed is enough to lift your iPhone over your head like you've just scored 50 rupees in a treasure chest. And you can also post your best results to Twitter, if you're that way inclined.
But I'm still not convinced that it's actually a good game. It feels like the most low-rent Super Mario Bros you've ever played, the quality of each mini-game is very hit or miss, and getting killed by unforeseeable dangers is about as much fun as being filleted by a rack of spikes.
774 Deaths is hard to recommend, which is oddly befitting for a game that's been custom built to be agonising every step of the way. If you like a challenge then it's an interesting curio you can really sink your teeth into, but give it a miss if you get frustrated easily.
Version Tested: iPhone
VideoGamer.com Score6 Score out of 10
- Damn satisfying when you prevail
- Unfair challenge
- Doesn't capitalise on social features
- Shoddy presentation