I’ve never experienced quite an equivocal exchange of commitment. From every front, I’m required to put in and stick with as much as I’m getting back, whether I want it or not. Rogue Legacy is such an immensely refreshing change from games that are fine with the occasional half-assedness from you. Instead, it adheres to its own set of rules like the stickiest of tape, as if a super glue factory exploded all over a duct tape plant and it was all rubbed down with wet Jolly Ranchers.
Rogue Legacy is a 2D action platformer from Cellar Door Games (so beautiful) in the roguelike-like or, if you prefer, a roguelite tradition in the sense that death of the character you play is permanent as you attempt to explore a randomly generated arena, but you do get continual progression and there is an end to it all. You see, you play as one of many along a line of generational heroes. Each time your hero dies in the castle, you get to pick one of three heirs to get back in there and defeat the bosses those stony walls contain. You keep all the loot you find, but the castle layout and the abilities of your hero change.
You will be seeing a lot of changes. The few constants are that you pass by several merchants/helpers before you enter the castle (you spend gold to upgrade your equipment and magic and whatnot), the Greek ferryman of the dead Charon will demand all of your unspent gold before entering, and you will pass by a giant, ominous golden door and a table with a journal on it before you get to the random stuff. Everything else is up in the air.
On average, I’d say each run of mine ran just under 10 minutes. At first, they rarely went longer than five or six, but as I went along and learned how to play, I definitely and slowly dragged that number up. Your overall goal is to defeat four bosses within four areas of the castle (like a forest and a dungeon) and then go about defeating the final dude behind the aforementioned golden door. You’ve got a sword and some magic, but the majority of your early attempts will be spent taking damage rather than spending it. It’s definitely not an unfair game (otherwise I never would have improved), but it is difficult. In the end, I took over 100 runs before conquering the castle.
I never minded, though, because Rogue Legacy moves so fast. The characters and enemies themselves don’t move exceptionally quick—at least not for a 2D platformer—but your view is cropped in to where you and everything else can cover so much screen real estate in a single move. It, along with how quickly you and your foes can die, gives the entire ordeal a great immediacy. Your control over your hero is razor sharp to the point where maneuvers like downward striking a platform to expand it while throwing daggers out at an angry floating portrait is fully within your learned competency.
That competency will expand, too, as you play in very discrete, tangible ways. Gold that you collect can be spent on unlocking new abilities like double jumps and new armor and weapons and so much more. (If you equip multiple of the same rune, effects stack, so you can quintuple jump if you want.) The fact that the drawbridge toll exacted by Charon happens every time really puts an emphasis on character progression that will lead to story progression since purchases, for the most part, are permanent. It’s a move-it-or-lose-it philosophy that keeps the pace up even when you aren’t fighting flying eyeballs and moaning zombies and encourages you to spend both frivolously and wisely. Dying is more of a chance to try something new instead of starting over.
This is in combination with unlocking entirely new classes (you start out with low level stuff like knaves and barbarians), all of which have their own unique attributes. Barbarians have high HP, for example, while miners can collect more gold. But you also start finding new genealogical traits you can develop. Some of your offspring will have endomorphic or ectomorphic body types which change how knockback affects them; others will be colorblind or have extreme nostalgia and alter how you see the game; and some will have intrinsic strength or HP advantages or disadvantages.
You’ll start to see where Rogue Legacy really commits, like when you get an heir with dyslexia or vertigo. These are not inconsequential hereditary attributes even though some may seem like that do very little. Certain combinations can be really enabling and give you a good run and others will leave you in a tough spot. It’s pretty great, especially when you have no idea what most of them do.
It’s a lot of fun simply exploring what Rogue Legacy has to offer because there’s just so much. Picking up and reading journals from your dead ancestors is neat, but all the little touches and drastic changes that you feel emerge right in front of your eyes really keeps you going. The problem is when this goes away with every attempt on the final boss of the game. The door is right at the beginning, so exploration and making runs start to really feel like a chore when you run by your singular objective over and over again. The rest of the game, though, manages to instill a very passive flow of difficulty, so it often feels like you’re exactly where you need to be.
You will notice a bit of repetition in the game, though, in regards to music and graphics. Enemies often look recycled and resized while the game loops like the same three songs (they are, however, super catchy). Rooms will eventually repeat, but that’s kind of standard in most modern roguelikes. All things considered, though, these are mostly meaningless quibbles. As soon as you notice these problems, you’re already on your way to another adventure.
I guess that’s what I like most about Rogue Legacy. You know, besides the fantastic sound design (those enemy sounds, man), sublime and nuanced progression mechanics, and crazily taut gameplay. I just really like how quickly the game makes you move. Even though you may come across moments where you can take a breather and reflect on your fifth straight hour of neglecting the outside world, they’re quickly stomped out and wiped away with an urge to see what else is out there and what you’re capable of. It wants you to commit to playing the game just as much as it commits to making everything feel consistent and nuts all at the same time. And I think I can oblige.
+ Plays incredibly well; you never feel cheated out of accomplishing something
+ The entire package is quite charming, from the graphics to the animation to the hooks-in-the-brain tunes
+ Progression takes an RPG slant in a roguelike framework and it is totally engrossing
+ It commits to every joke it makes, no matter how inane or inconsequential
– Enemies repeat, and bosses are just bigger enemies
Final Score: 9 out of 10
Game Review: Rogue Legacy
Release: June 27, 2013
Genre: Action platformer
Developer: Cellar Door Games
Available Platforms: PC