ByAlan Bradley, writer at Creators.co
Alan Bradley is a freelance games journalist, vagabond, and collector of oddities. Find him @chapelzero on Twitter.
Alan Bradley

As is the case in any medium, when a great idea catches on and proves viable in video games, there is an inevitable move to ape its success. In the wake of any hallmark game that redefines a genre (or introduces an entirely new one), similar games begin to emerge to emulate and refine its core concepts.

Often this results in an inundation of shoddy clones and also-rans, but from this primordial pool of copycats a slow evolution generally begins to take shape. The best parts of a novel idea are highlighted and new components are bolted onto it, battered and sculpted by the whims of the free market. From to , from the original mod to , games have a tradition almost as old as the medium of imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.

One of the latest of these imitative trends is around , a game that, in its incarnation seemed like a bizarre niche game only for the truly hardcore.

But with each entry, including its spiritual successor , the Souls franchise has further penetrated the mainstream and has begun sweeping along with it a vast number of Souls-alikes borne by its generous coattails. And many of these games are surprisingly strong, with unique ideas of their own that advance the Souls formula in interesting new ways. Here are three of the best to emerge from independent creators, so often a wellspring of fresh takes on proven blueprints.

Salt and Sanctuary

is completely unabashed about its influences. The devs at have repeatedly cited Dark Souls as their primary inspiration, and even had they not, you’d have to be in a coma to not see all the obvious homages to the Souls franchise in almost every element of Salt and Sanctuary, from gathering power from dead enemies to resting at bonfires to heal and level up.

But Salt and Sanctuary distinguishes itself in one very simple, very dramatic way. It shifts the Souls formula to a 2D side-scrolling perspective, which drastically alters the gameplay. It plays more like an old school action platformer, something akin to the NES era games, than like the 3D ARPG combat you expect from a souls game. This simple twist on perspective breaths a ton of new life into this sub-genre and forces you to consider tactics and strategy in a completely different way.

Necropolis

This Roguelike from the fine creators at also shares a lot of DNA with Dark Souls. Like the Souls games, features a brutal, dark fantasy setting populated with hideous creatures, and it emphasizes the importance of staying alive. But Necropolis twists the formula with devious traps, accessible co-op, and a surprising sense of humor.

While it adopts the Roguelike tradition of permadeath, it also has a progression system that will be instantly familiar to players of . As you battle your way through Necropolis’ punishing dungeons you earn tokens, which persist between runs and which can be spent to unlock powerful gear or codexes, passive skills that buff your character.

For players looking for a Souls-alike with similar atmosphere and combat but some radically different gameplay ideas, Necropolis is an excellent choice, especially with the release of the Brutal Edition update with refines and improves a number of the original game’s systems.

DarkMaus

With mechanics like a stamina bar, ranged, melee and magic ARPG combat, a dark fantasy setting and bonfires, is happy to play up the Souls connection. That said, it also diverges from the Souls formula in several ways, not least of which is that you play as a heroic mouse trying to survive in a shattered, hostile world.

DarkMaus also plays from a top down perspective, a twist not unlike Salt and Sanctuary’s that opens up new opportunities for tactical gameplay. While it retains the Souls games’ methodical, measured combat, it plays with thinks like blocking and evasion in ways peculiar to its perspective. It also introduces a system called Death Echos whereby, each time you die, an allied ghost is summoned that will fight by the side of your resurrected avatar.

DarkMaus is a really refreshing interpretation of the Souls genre and, most importantly, it’s ridiculously cute (in a grim, murder-y sort of way).

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