Two full months it’s been since I’ve delivered my irrelevant opinions to you via the medium of a winding online diatribe. It’s not been for lack of video game related happenings in my life, either. Things have kept happening. They never stop keep happening no matter how much I will them to do otherwise. It’s just that for whatever reason in the midst of all these happenings I haven’t acquired sufficient motivation to write about any of them. But now I have.
So while I will probably have an “explanation” for my absence before long as per my typical operating procedure, in the meantime let’s talk about Rogue Legacy.
Rogue Legacy is a game by indie company Cellar Door Games which came out some months ago on June 27th, 2013. I had some passing interest in the title when it was released but whatever amount I had wasn’t enough to pry me away from whatever game or life events engaged my attention at the time; nor enough to pry my wallet open to purchase the game on digital download service Steam. Recently, however, the popular Let’s Play channel Game Grumps tackled the game (warning: strong language). Seeing it again kept it fresh in my mind last Friday when boredom and leftover money in my Steam wallet joined forces to take the form of an impulse buy. This impulse buy was either fantastic or catastrophic, depending on whether we’re measuring it in terms of fun or productivity.
So you’re saying the game is boring but makes you super productive?
I love Rogue Legacy. For a multitude of reasons that I’ll go into in a minute, the game struck a chord with me that overcomes what few flaws the game has (again, I’ll get there later) and imbued it with enjoyably addictive properties. After obtaining it Friday night, it occupied the majority of my weekend, wring about 20 hours of playtime out of me by the time I slept Sunday night. I enjoyed it to the excuse of looking up excuses to play it more and will probably shoot for getting all the achievements, which I historically ignore in every game where I’m not looking for reasons to play (so in every other game but a few). In fact, I’m so tempted just talking about it that I’m going to go play it right now and finish this review later.
So I’m back some hours later, having actually just beaten the game (well, for the first time anyway). In order to establish what makes this game so appealing, I should probably get to telling you what it is, already. Rogue Legacy is a game in the (fittingly enough), Roguelike genre. So what’s a Roguelike game? Well, way back in 1980 a video game called Rogue was made wherein you had to make it to the end of a dungeon. The twist to the game was that the dungeons were randomly generated and changed each time you played the game. This led to all subsequent games that used similar techniques of randomly generated rooms to be classified under the subgenre of Roguelikes.
Particularly in the case of older games like the original Rogue here, they tended to play a lot better than they looked.
So basically Rogue Legacy is a game that has randomly generated rooms. What makes the game unique is the style of gameplay that it features. Most Roguelikes feature RPG elements like stats, equipment and/or magic, and Rogue Legacy is no exception. But whereas most Roguelike games are top down dungeon crawlers of some type or another, Rogue Legacy is the only I know of that is a Roguelike platformer, dodging and jumping from room to room as you hack your way through enemies.
The other thing that makes Rogue Legacy unique is the second half of its title. Roguelike games are infamous for being insanely difficult, often leading to permanent death when your character dies. And again, Rogue Legacy is no exception to this. But in Rogue Legacy every time your character dies, the next character you start is the son/daughter of your previous character. They get to keep all the equipment and upgrades of the previous character, but they may have a new character class, new randomized traits (things like colorblindness or gigantism), and finally any gold from the last run that isn’t spent is lost when the next generation enters the castle.
Every time you choose a new heir, you get 3 choices with randomized classes, traits and spells, as seen here.
The persistent progress you make in the game is, for me, a godsend. I like the progression you see in RPGs in general, yet hate losing large amounts of progress in a game, as I mentioned in my article on difficulty. Rogue Legacy isn’t like, say, Super Meat Boy, where death is frequent but the game simply throws you seconds away from your failures. You may have explored a good deal of the castle before you died, and of course this is somewhat disappointing. But you don’t have to survive very long before you make enough gold to buy an upgrade, at which point your death doesn’t feel like a failure so much as a setback in the midst of continual progress.
When you die in a regular game you’re supposedly making progress through better mastery of the challenges before you, but that’s a very vague advancement that’s hard to measure and, in some cases where you break down in extended play, not even true. Whereas Rogue Legacy, though it still requires player skills to improve, provides you with very concrete incentives to keep playing in the form of its impressively vast array of permanent upgrades. The randomization of the castle also makes it so that when you fail you never have to go through the same sequence over and over again, alleviating the boredom through repetition that you see in most games with difficulty problems.
Whether or not you like Rogue Legacy as much as I do (and in fairness, you probably won’t like it quite as much as me) depends on how much you like its base components. Do you like hardcore 2D platformers? What about fantasy action RPGs? Games where you have to fail a lot in order to ultimately succeed? I didn’t mind the difficulty due to the reasons mentioned above concerning how failure in the game works. However, I must admit (and I’m not trying to brag here) that I’m fairly well-versed in these type of difficult platformers, and that combined with my love of the genre in question may have given me above average tolerance for it. The game has a lot of bullet-hell style gameplay where fast enemies and projectiles are flying everywhere at a rate you can barely follow. So be warned about that.
For example, does this seem to you like fun or a hellish doom from which you may never escape?
While we’re on the subject of flaws, Rogue Legacy does have a few things about it that I didn’t like much. But before we get into those and spoil the mood, I still have the impulse to play the game again. Yes I know I’ve beaten the game but there’s a New Game + Mode. Of course there’s a New Game + Mode. I mean, I really should finish this review but it’s not like any of you would even notice if I stopped writing right now. Well…you wouldn’t had I not just told you. Shit.
…did you know there’s a New Game + 2 mode? Well there is, and I totally just beat the game a second time and unlocked it. Enemies usually have two higher tier versions that show up in later areas of the castle but the game upgrades all enemies by one tier when you use New Game +. So now all the enemies in the castle are high level, maximum tier death machines that are constantly shooting streams of death in every direction. This segues nicely into the first and most prominent of Rogue Legacy’s flaws, that of difficulty.
Because this image even exists in the first place, you can probably imagine the games problem isn’t being too easy.
Rogue Legacy is a very difficult game, and even though I earlier stated that it does things to mitigate this the random nature of the game does create some scenarios that are, if not unwinnable, than at least ridiculously stacked against you and therefore somewhat reliant on luck. Now, I hate relying on luck in video games, as I’ve mentioned in the past. In the earlier iterations of the castle before New Game + I could more or less completely erase the effects of luck if I was skilled enough. I often wasn’t, but it was usually at least clear that I could.
However, at maximum tier so much of the screen real estate is consumed by projectiles that there’s little I can do to stay alive. Sometimes a good deal of those projectiles are even coming from off screen. Now, to the games credit, it gives you indicators on the edges of your screen when projectiles from outside your field of few are in play, but when there are dozens at once being able to see an approximate indicator simply isn’t enough to judge where exactly things will land. I suppose it’s expecting a lot of a game to be well-balanced into its second bonus mode, but a flaw is still a flaw and I think the random generation can break down particularly in these later iterations, leaving you in scenarios that there’s not much you can do with. But of course, also to the games credit, it’s taking a lot to wear down my continual desire to keep trying and improving. In fact…
Damnit, I really need to stop doing that. So the game is often difficult in a way that feels cheap, despite the games efforts otherwise. This ties into the other complaint I can think of for the game, the boss battles. There are 4 major bosses, one for each sub-area of the castle, and then one final encounter. Not counting the final boss, all 4 of the bosses are simply upsized palette swaps of regular types of enemies. They all do something slightly different from their regular enemies types, but it’s usually just firing more bullets or spawning lots of minions. Sometimes there are also environmental hazards like ricocheting spike balls in the boss room, but really this type of thing just feels like something the developers threw in at the last minute due to a boss fight not being hard enough.
See, he’s way bigger on the left. Totes a boss now, guys.
Regular rooms are often more difficult than boss battles. And unlike everything else in the game, boss battles aren’t at all random. The 4 bosses are always the same, and in fact you can only fight them once each until you beat the game. Generations of training, exploring, and surviving as long as you can are all built towards achieving a one-time victory against a boss. The fights are hard enough, sure, but in the same way harder normal enemies are, by upping their stats, size, and number of projectiles. It’s good enough I suppose, but the fights themselves don’t feel unique like you’d expect a big climax to. They’re reliance on large number of projectiles and spawning minions also makes them feel as luck based as the rest of the game, which I’m not a fan of.
Moving away from those few flaws, it’s worth mentioning that both the visual and audio aspects of the game are quite good. Visually speaking, the game is colorful and stylish, with plenty of variety between the different areas and enemies of the game. In terms of audio, the sounds are properly punch and the gold sounds satisfyingly jingly, giving a nice rewarding feeling when you hit things and money pours out. And of course, as per usual, I have to give a little aside to the music.
Rogue Legacy has music that you hear over and over again due to the nature of the game, and it’s to the games credit that I never got bored of it. It’s not because the soundtrack is absent or ambient, either, as the tunes can get fairly catchy at times. A few of my favorites from the soundtrack are as follows:
It feels appropriate to start with the music you’ll hear the most, the theme to the first area of the castle. The music in Rogue Legacy seems to combine retro chiptunes, heavy percussion and guitar, among other things. All are present and sound excellent here.
Just because I was a bit disappointed by the bosses doesn’t mean their theme songs share the same fate. All of the boss songs (hell, pretty much all songs period) in Rogue Legacy are pretty good, but the third boss probably holds my favorite, a short and sweet mix of fast paced chiptunes and heavy rock.
And lest you think all the music in the game is harsh and heavy, here’s the less rockin’ but still good music that plays upon selecting a new heir. Expect to hear this a lot too.
The music to the games third area, Narwhal, is a candidate for my favorite song in the game. The echoing emptiness alternating with heavy guitar and percussion got me particularly pumped for the area where the game really started to get difficult for me.
Beyond the few flaws I mentioned earlier, really the only complaint I can make about the game is the usual complimentary one, that I want more of it. Yes I know the game is technically infinite, but I think we all know what I’m talking about. More enemy types, more areas to explore, more equipment to find, more bosses presented in more creative ways. More variety, to sum it up. This is, of course, a complaint you can make about any game, which is why I call it a complaint instead of a flaw. There’s not something wrong with Rogue Legacy because I want more of it, and indeed it’s quite the opposite.
Rogue Legacy is a wonderful game that was well worth its money for the amount of fun I got out of it, and if you’re not scared away by a challenge than I have a feeling it’ll garner a similar reaction from you. As of the weekend I post this, it’s currently 40% off of its normally $15 price tag on Steam (unfortunately the week after I bought it). So if you’re interested in trying it out, there’s no time like the present. If I keep finding games this fun and interesting then maybe it won’t be another two months until the next update. Er…make that two months and a few days. All that Rogue Legacy was slowing down my Rogue Legacy review.