Last time you decided so petting a dog is better than entering cyberspace. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. And you probably don’t even notice me sulking out here in cyberspace because you’re so busy tickling some stinky sack of a toddler’s mind. Okay, okay, whatever. This week is all about challenging yourself. Which is better: fighting your double or optional challenges with a reward?

Fight with your double

You enter the boss arena and there they are: your enemy, your next victim, you… me? I’m always happy when a game forces me to fight my doppelganger.

The best recent example is the Mimic Tear of the Elden Ring, a mercurial blob that solidifies into your form, reflecting off your weapons and spells. If you beat him, you can summon him as a friendly spirit, your own little you in your pocket. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivions’s Shivering Isles expansion similarly forces you to face your shadow. And the side quest with the Control mirror is totally worth it so Jesse can get the cool esseJ coat. Come on, tell me more examples.

A mirror match can be tough. You see your construction being done without the slowness and clumsiness of your flesh. In a way it confirms it! Your build is reliable. It’s also interesting because players and NPCs rarely fight with the same toolkits. We are so used to having the advantage of having access to a lot more systems than these fake people. How terrible does it feel to face me, huh? But it can be downright awful if the game buffs my doppelgänger for an extra challenge or to balance out the subhuman AI (why do they so often have so much more health than I do?).

In many doppelganger games, people find ways to do this. A classic role-playing game is to undress before a fight, remove your heavy armor and hide your shiny swords so your clone doesn’t show up with them, then hastily change clothes when your naked enemy appears. It’s cheesy, sure, but it’s pretty funny to 1) mess with the system and remind that NPC that you have special access to reality; 2) see that idiot in their/his pants. Another way is to equip harmful skills and items, forcing your twin to get poisoned or sacrifice health for abilities you know better than to use. I admit that I used bad builds in Guild Wars to mirror match some of my characters. If it spoils your enjoyment, you have only yourself to blame, and only you and your twin should know.

Some of the twins are admittedly completely useless, just a display of shaky AI that clumsily casts spells and attacks without the combos and finesse that fuel my kills. I feel a little bad for them, but I still appreciate the thought. And if you don’t mind a little self-delusion, sure, let’s just say it proves that you’re so smart and skilled at video games that even an artificial intelligence with silicon synapses can’t beat you.

If you want, I’m open to hearing arguments that fighting game mirror matches can matter. They are you, you are them, you have the same movements – and they can have a human mind that knows how to properly be you. Convince us? Or dissuade us.

Optional challenges that give a reward in advance

In most games, additional tasks are evaluated after this, and if you have fulfilled the conditions, awards are given out. It’s: a bit boring. One thing I’m starting to see more of in roguelikes is the opposite. These few great games will hand you a reward and then say, “Okay, cool, here’s your awesome new toy, now let’s see if you can keep it.”

Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Slice & Dice dungeons, which sometimes offer extra tasks before a battle. It will show you the items you will receive and the additional monsters you will face in battle if you accept. You know exactly the rewards and risks, so how do you feel about this gamble? Are you sure these items give you enough extra power to take down the bonus villains? Or do you want to roll the dice and take some chances? If not, hey, don’t worry, continue with the official battle.

Brotato screenshot purchases.

Although they do not appear as formal challenges, a fun little wave survival game by Brotato reproduces this effect on multiple items. The Peacock item gives you a permanent 25% experience bonus plus a temporary whopping extra 100% experience bonus for the next wave after you acquire it, but you’ll also take 50% more damage from enemies during that wave. That seems like admirable courage, especially knowing that the next wave is a horde. Survive and you will come out laughing. But if you get too confident or miscalculate the power of your run, you can easily die. And the Lure item offers a constant damage boost for a low cost, but in the next wave it spawns a handful of tough bullet-spitting leeches that will chase you. Defeat them and you deal a little damage, but these leeches can be a deadly nuisance if you buy them at the wrong time. I died from both of those things and I thrived on both. Applying these effects to items is a smart way to deal with this. Catch me off guard when I’m looking for bargains and bump into me.

I suppose a broader application of this idea is difficulty modes where you get better drop rates or extra stats at higher difficulty levels, but no, that’s too broad. Let’s save that particular thing for another time.

This thing can mostly be included in roguelikelike and other games with permadeath (or at least no savescumming), but it’s much more interesting to me than the rewards after. Give me a cool thing upfront, give me the excitement and (over)confidence that comes with a cool thing, and then make me fight super hard to keep it. Arm me and then send me to beat. Give me room for pride, because no feeling defines me more.

But what is better?

The only thing that would have made the mirror better would have been to offer me a powerful item ahead of time that I know the doppelgänger would have also obtained and used against me. Yep, that seals it for me. But what do you think, dear reader?

Pick a winner, vote in the poll below, and share your opinion in the comments to convince others. We’ll meet again next week to see which thing wins and continue the great contest.