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Rogue Legacy Review: Roguelike Done Right
It’s 11:58 pm, and with an early start time on my work shift for the following morning bearing down on me, I am well aware of the fact that I need some sleep. Still, I find myself justifying playing through just one more level in Rogue Legacy. After all, those upgrades won’t earn themselves, and there’s a nice critical booster calling my name from the skill tree.
Such an occurrence was not at all uncommon during my time with Rogue Legacy for this review. With clever hooks and smart design choices, the game has a fantastic “just one more level” appeal to it that makes it both a fun and engaging experience to be had in the relatively lesser-known roguelike genre. It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, and it’s a game that shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone who has even a passing interest in the indie gaming scene.
Staying true to the core conventions of a true roguelike game, Rogue Legacy combines the ideas of an RPG and permadeath to create an experience that is equal parts challenging and rewarding. Players move through procedurally-generated castles with their character, collecting loot and taking out enemies, all while trying to survive as long as possible. Death is punishing and final, and any character that meets his or her demise in the castle will never be respawned, instead forcing the player to pick an entirely new character to start from the beginning and try again.
On the surface, this design choice might seem a bit tedious. But Rogue Legacy is designed so well that the systems involved and the payoff from success within the castle is enough to tempt you to try your luck again and again.
Truly, the most amusing and novel part of the game is found in the latter half of its name. Whenever you start a new run, you take control of one of your previous character’s progeny, all of whom have unique traits that alter the game in one way or another. Characters with Gigantism tend to be much larger than anyone else on screen, while others will suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and will be rewarded with magic and health points upon destroying any destructible structures within the castle itself. This range of traits carries from being goofy and amusing to downright game changing, as we see with characters whose sight issues blur out portions of the screen and whose afflictions of vertigo act to flip the entire playscape upside down.
The traits are easily the most fun and entertaining parts of Rogue Legacy, and they really act to encourage experimentation with the different classes and character types in the game. Classes range from Barbarians and Paladins to the unlockable Shinobi and Lichs, and even once the novelty of seeing how the different traits effects the characters on screen wears off, you’ll still find that playing as characters from different classes often keeps things fresh and interesting while you’re trying to accrue as much gold as possible.
Upgrading in Rogue Legacy can only be described as robust. The core skill trees are handled in the player’s manor, where you’ll be able to purchase standard health, armor, and damage upgrades with gold earned during your previous run, all while unlocking new character classes, adding new workers to your manor, and investing in power ups and abilities unique to the different classes themselves.
Workers such as the Smith and Enchantress allow for further upgrades as well, as they sell you items and equipment that give characters boosts in damage, allow for more health and armor, and give you access to new abilities through the use of runes. New equipment is also made available through discovery in the castle, giving you yet another reason to make that next run.
It should be made clear that this is not a game to hold your hand. In fact, it will be downright painful to people who don’t like to deal with challenging gameplay. The difficulty spikes are often daunting enough that it sometimes made the game feel a bit grindy and at times did warrant some frustrated cursing on my part. Still, even when you die, it takes next to no time to jump right back in again, allowing you to forgive yourself and get back inside the castle virtually instantly.
When inside the castle, the gameplay formula itself is not reduced merely to hacking enemies and jumping on platforms. There are items to find, gold coins to collect, challenges to complete, new areas to explore, and bosses to defeat. The basic controls and mechanics remain very simple and straightforward, but I never had a run through that felt similar to another in any way. The fact that it is essentially a new game every time I played was easily one of the more engaging parts of the game itself, and one that anyone familiar with the genre will find stays true to its roots.
While it does use the pixelated art style favored by so many indie developers today, there’s still something modern about Rogue Legacy that makes it stand out above the litany of others that share its genre. The music is a nice infusion of nostalgia and modern stylings, the visual design has good depth and use of color (when characters aren’t afflicted with color blindness, that is) that gives it a charming and unique feel, and the writing is clever and straightforward.
In many ways, Rogue Legacy reminds me of playing slots. I know the odds are stacked against me, but it’s still incredibly difficult to fight the urge to keep jumping back in, convinced that this time will be the one run through that got me all the gold I needed to unlock some amazing upgrades. Essentially, Rogue Legacy is what happens when old school sensibilities and great game design meets the perfect premise; it’s fun, it’s unique, and it keeps you coming back for more time and time again for all the right reasons.