With the games release schedule decidedly quiet during the summer, it’s a good time for everyone, including would-be games critics, to catch up on games that you might have missed during the first months of the year. To be quite honest, I’m not sure how many of this year’s big releases I’ve finished.
I’m starting with the current indie darling du jour, Rogue Legacy. It’s received heaps of praise from critics but what do I, a gamer of average skill and free time, think of the latest big thing on the indie game scene?
Rogue Legacy is a roguelike metroidvania game which is a great selection of popular gaming buzzwords. For the slightly confused, roguelike means that it’s literally like Rogue, a classic 80s game which had randomly generated levels and a permanent character death mechanic. Metroidvania is a term that describes 2D games with action-adventure, RPG and platforming elements.
Your task is to navigate through the halls of a castle and defeat the enemies, including four area boss enemies and a final boss, to find something to save the King from a certainly mortal wound. It’s a 2D platformer where you hack-and-slash your way through enemies until you die. Then one of your children take over the quest in a new looking castle. You see, the castle is slightly alive/evil and changes itself every generation to cover off our roguelike genre element.
Your playable characters (children) have a roguelike element too. You get to choose from three heirs who are randomly generated. They have randomly generated names, classes, special abilities and unique traits. The traits are pretty neat because they add an extra layer of strategy to picking an heir. There’s not much point to picking a mage who can’t cast spells in the right direction. Half of the traits to have an effect on how you play while the other half are just cosmetic.
It’s not like success in the game is all based on random chance. There are attribute/skill progression and equipment systems that let you upgrade your characters as you earn gold in the castle. The only catch is that you have to pay all your gold for entry into the castle so you can’t hoard gold until you have enough money for a big upgrade. You need to be good (or lucky) to get the big upgrades early on in the game.
And you’ll need those upgrades because this game can be painfully hard at times. The randomly generated and populated castle can make your runs lengthy and rich or about three rooms long. Even a couple of hours into the game, a good run was over five minutes long. The enemies can dish out a lot of damage if given the opportunity and some can be difficult to fell. Add that to environmental traps and you have a recipe for short runs.
There are some issues with the gameplay though. There’s the occasional glitch where enemies or treasure chests are inaccessible (or seemingly inaccessible) behind walls. The enemies can get a bit repetitive if you keep seeing them for dozens, maybe hundreds, of runs. And the game seems balanced to punish you mercilessly no matter how many times you choose to play as the gay heir. (Yes, gay is a trait that is randomly generated at the character selection screen.) None of these are close to being deal breakers though.
Between short runs, randomly generated nature of the game and the pay to upgrade system, this game can be dangerously addicting. If I start-up Rogue Legacy planning to only get in a couple of runs before I go to sleep, I tend to wake up a bit sleep deprived because I just keep going “one more run.” Fortunately, because of the roguelike nature of the game, there is a lot of replayability to the game so it never feels like a drag or grind to play a bit more… unless you’re repeatedly getting killed in two minutes or less.
I’ve spent all this time talking about gameplay mechanics (and there are a lot of them for what looks like a simple $15 indie title) but haven’t gotten around to the presentation. The visuals have an almost hand-drawn quality to them. Sure, all the characters are a little pixelated but they have a very nice animated cartoon-ish look to them which fits nicely with the tounge-in-cheek traits (and their descriptions) that the game doles out to heirs.
The sound is even better. Each enemy has a unique set of sound effects rather than everyone using the same assets for, say, a projectile attack or swinging a sword. The soundtrack isn’t terribly deep but it’s certainly memorable. You’ll definitely have the main menu and character select/upgrade screen music burned into your memory thanks to hearing them so many times prior to the next run.
I’ve never been a huge metroidvania game fan but marrying the genre to the roguelike genre has really given Rogue Legacy a solid, unique take on both genres. Thanks to the roguelike elements, the metroidvania component is always fresh and never really feels repetitive. The action-adventure-RPG elements borrowed from the metroidvania genre liven up the roguelike elements which might feel punishingly difficult if random chance is the key factor to your success.
It is a really good game and definitely worth of the praise that the press is heaping upon it. Just don’t expect it to go easy on you because you think it’s a good game. I think it’s not just the castle but the whole game that might be a bit evil.
Rogue Legacy is available for and reviewed on Windows PC. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on system specs, use of a controller rather than a keyboard (which most reviewers recommend) and luck of the draw.
Cross-posted from et geekera.