Frustration is a difficult thing to manage. At what point does it turn from incendiary rage to something resembling an addiction? But Hyper Light Drifter finds that fine line and toes it for over eight hours. It forces you to do uncomfortable things, bending your gaming morals, all in the name of progress, a tantalizing, ephemeral carrot the game hangs in front of you to prod you along.
We can talk about the mechanics and how impeccably tuned they are. They are limited, yes, but they are purposefully so, aimed at stretching them to their absolute boundaries to cover all the gaps it injects into the combat. The dash, for instance, uneasily reaches over the convinces you that it is a jump. It is almost gameplay nonsense, but it works.
It works because within this tight circle of abilities, the precision the game asks of you is similarly tight. The margin of error is zero. It might be less than zero, if that’s possible. It means that for every mistake you make, the result is catastrophic—devastating, even. It really should, by all means, be the single most frustrating thing you’ve ever put your hands on.
But it never makes it there. Instead of feeling like a hand squashing you down, it feels more like one opening a door, inviting you to do things you don’t ever do in games. You practice. You cheat. You uncomfortably scoot along the floor until you barely manage to scavenge your residual willpower into something that somehow resembles joy.
It’s hard to put into words. The easiest trade of awareness I can offer is you play this and you play Furi (also one of my favorite games of the year). They are almost ostensibly the same game in so many ways, but all you have to do is hit one layer deep and you understand what it means to exist on a spectrum of frustration. This is a game that captures the rare, elusive capacity to compels you to play, making it the number six game of the year.