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Feature: Games That Make You Hurt Yourself to Win

Today's fascinating Gamasutra feature explores games that prompt players to balance risk versus reward and endanger themselves -- fittingly among them, Vanilla
Countless video games contain references to the blades of the legendary swordsmith Muramasa, whose blades were so powerful that lore held they were as dangerous to their users as to anyone else. Today's fascinating Gamasutra feature explores games that prompt players to balance risk versus reward and endanger themselves -- fittingly among them, VanillaWare's Muramasa: The Demon Blade: In Muramasa: The Demon Blade, players wield a two-edged sword. On one hand, it's dangerous to show too much reservation in attacking. On the other hand, it's equally dangerous to play too aggressively. Because of this, the same battle can yield a multitude of situations. Say a player is ambushed by an Oni, overreacts by spamming away all his attack power, then dies because he is left defenseless. The player is sent a few screens back and wanders from left to right again, only to stumble into the exact same battle. Aware of his previous folly, he attempts to slay the demon while preserving his attack power, but he overcompensates and fails again, this time out of reluctance to weaken himself. Only on his third attempt does the player balance his offensive and defensive strategy in such a way to defeat the Oni. This situation, says author Jason Johnson, shows how this "Muramasa mechanic" creates more variety in scenarios, thus more choices for the players. Which prompts the question: If the goal is to provide variety an options, why not use new tech and offer them in a way that is a bit less masochistic? The broader advantage of Muramasa systems is they create a pendulum effect in the games they are used in. In general, the right-hand trajectory of the pendulum represents attack power, and the left-hand trajectory represents self preservation. As the pendulum swings to the right, attack power is plentiful and used accordingly, but upon reaching its ultimate ascension, the pendulum reverses direction, attack power begins to run out, and the player's awareness shifts to self preservation. Plus, it just keeps players on their toes: The starting and stopping inherent in good Muramasa games prevent players from becoming lazy by frequently asking them to change tactics, just as Alien Soldier asks the player to change between tactics of offense and self preservation. Players must master two playing styles and effectively switch between them to succeed. This provides a great amount of mental stimulation, helping to keep the experience fresh throughout. You can now read the full feature at Gamasutra, exploring in depth games that ask players to risk or even harm themselves in favor of a complex, engaging experience.

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