Every now and then a game comes along made up of such an obvious collection of ideas that you can’t believe it hasn’t been done before. Rogue Legacy is one such game, taking the Roguelike formula that has proven so popular recently, and laying that over the foundation of a 90s-era platformer.
Is it worth your first born though, or should you pass it over for the next in line?
On top of the platformer trappings, the other main draw in Rogue Legacy is the way it weaves a genealogical meta-narrative over the top of the perma-death mechanic. You aren’t a sole adventurer, resurrected countless times for the same fool’s errand; you are an entire family tree, sending generation after generation to its inevitable death at the hands of an ever-changing castle.
This castle is perhaps Rogue Legacy’s main character. Chances are you won’t get to spend more than a handful of minutes with any one member of your family of adventurers, but the castle is always there. It changes drastically from one generation to the next, but it’s always similar, always familiar, always prepared to kill you without a moment’s hesitation.
And kill you it will, many, many times. In your first two hours with the game, you’re likely to spend nearly as much time preparing to enter the castle as you will inside. It looks like a platformer and it quacks like a platformer, but if you play it like one you’ll be met with frustration. Charging through, swinging your sword around wildly and expecting to pick it up as you go simply doesn’t work. You need to come at Rogue Legacy from the point of view of any other Roguelike. You need patience, you need to study enemies’ abilities, and you need to – sometimes majorly – change the way you play depending on your class, traits and equipment.
Traits are the other area of the game where the genealogical theme is brought through. The traits are presented as congenital abnormalities – some positive, most negative, most fictional, some true-to-life. You can be dyslexic, swear too much, have feet that don’t activate spike traps, see in black and white or sepia, be short-sighted or far-sighted, be skinny, heavy, giant, or a dwarf, the list goes on. When you die and it comes time to choose your heir you have three randomly-generated choices, made up from the pool of available classes, spells and traits.
[A part of me wishes you could selectively breed your character through generations, but obviously without that aspect of genetic chaos in the character selection, it would be a very different game.]
Due to the random nature of the procedurally-generated castle, you can occasionally find yourself in rooms filled with bizarre, nonsensical architecture, or castles that are more spike and flame than stone and wood. Mix that with some of the traits that are merely irritating, not interesting or useful, and you might feel as though many of your generations have been completely wasted. Wasted runs are par for the course in Roguelikes, but the reason it’s an issue with Rogue Legacy is because so much of what will define each run happens before the run starts. In The Binding of Isaac or FTL the one item you need to totally turn things around is always (potentially) right there, if only you’re lucky enough; in Rogue Legacy it’s a slow and sustained ascension to greatness, meaning any lifetime where you didn’t find a rare special item, earn enough money, or make genuine progress through the castle feels like a complete waste.
Rogue Legacy is the latest fling in gaming’s affair with the Roguelike formula, and it’s well worth a look for many of the ideas it brings to the table. The sound is great, the music superb, and the graphics might make you misty-eyed for those Epic Megagames days of yore. How much you enjoy your time in the game though, will depend on how much work you’re willing to put in. Cellar Door Games call Rogue Legacy a Rogue-lite, but it is still a thoroughly deep game that will take time and patience to master.
- Gamepad – Being a platformer, the gamepad feels far more natural than keyboard, not to mention the fact that the in-game menus are laid out awkwardly on the keys.