Developer & Publisher: Cellar Door Games
Release Date: June 27, 2013
Platforms Available: PC, Linux, Mac
Every once and a while it’s nice to find a game that won’t hold your hand and pat you on the head for a job well done. A game that throws every dirty, nasty trick in the book in order to kill you and possibly even do horrible things to your corpse afterward (you’re dead, what do you care?).
These games can be incredibly frustrating, even infuriating at times. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to hurl my controller at the screen after a, seemingly, unfair death (“Oh come on I made that jump!”). But still you persist. You throw yourself time and again into the middle of the fray, hoping that maybe this time it will be different. Each time getting just a little bit closer, but still not quite there. While frustrating, no other games give you the overwhelming sense of accomplishment after defeating a particularly difficult section/boss. Rogue Legacy falls into this category quite neatly. It manages to toe that thin line between challenging and smash-your-keyboard.
Rogue Legacy is a roguelike 2D platformer released by indie developer Cellar Door Games. It was released in late June of this year for the PC. Mac and Linux versions were released in October and plans for distribution on current and next gen Playstation platforms have been confirmed for 2014.
The story for Rogue Legacy is a fairly simple and formulaic one. You and your descendants are tasked with exploring a magical castle in search of a cure for the king who has suffered from the dreaded “knife in the back” syndrome. The cure stands behind a big, golden door that is magically sealed and can only be opened after defeating the four big, scary bosses that reside throughout the different areas of the castle. While it might not be the most titillating tale, the gameplay of Rogue Legacy is strong enough to stand on its own merits.
The game does well splicing in the odd joke into the serious setting (or is it the other way around?)
Rogue Legacy is a 2D platformer with some roguelike elements (permadeath, level randomization) thrown in for fun. Your starting character is given fairly basic equipment and abilities (jump, slash, and a random piece of equipment/magical ability). With these powerful skills you are expected to traverse the castle and save the day.
You will be lucky if you make it to the third room.
The game is incredibly difficult and completely unforgiving in its methods. Most rooms are filled to the brim with a variety of traps (bouncing spike balls, floor spikes) and monsters (skeletons, magic-hurling ghosts, evil knights) that love nothing more than to tear you open and revel in your sticky bits. But fear not! Though you may die, your legacy lives on. After your death you are given the choice of one of three of your children to decide who will be the next to brave the monsters for the love of glory. Each descendant comes with their own randomly selected gender, class, and traits.
As you die and move on to the next generation the child is left with all the money that their parent earned from looting the castle that they can use to purchase upgrades for their manor. Each upgrade gives its own rewards such as: unlockable classes, special abilities, and stat boosts. This serves as the leveling system in the game, though thankfully the enemies in the castle do not scale with you.
Through manor upgrades you can also unlock three special NPCs: the blacksmith, the enchantress, and the architect. The blacksmith can create and outfit your character with new and exciting equipment. While the enchantress will give you magical runes that give you special abilities (double jump, flight, increased gold). Each of these NPCs requires that you find blueprints and runes during your time spent exploring the castle in order to purchase the upgrades. Can’t have it be too easy, after all. The final NPC is the (slightly insane) architect who, for a percentage of gold you find, can lock the castle into its shape. This is a fantastic mechanic as it allows you to retry the same map through multiple generations, learning the movement patterns for different enemies and gives you the chance to retry boss fights with new classes/equipment. This game is difficult, not impossible.
Once you are finished with your purchases you can re-enter the castle, but only after handing over the remainder of your money to a sinister-looking NPC who blocks the path. This interesting feature amps up the difficulty another notch. It forces you to think critically about how best to purchase upgrades. It can also be a cause for frustration if you don’t earn enough to buy any upgrades as you have essentially thrown away any tangible earnings making your castle run seemingly pointless. But despite that you still never feel like you have wasted your time. Though you might not go through a run of the castle with any money, you may have managed to learn a new enemy movement/attack pattern or possibly found a new rune/blueprint. While difficult, Rogue Legacy makes a point to encourage further playthroughs by making permadeath more of a learning experience than a punishment.
Classes play an important role in Rogue Legacy. In the beginning of the game you are only given a handful of classes to choose from, as you upgrade your manor you will unlock a wide variety of new playable roles (ninjas, miners, and liches oh my) as well as special abilities for the classes (shouts that knock back your enemies, damage blocking shield). All of the classes are quite well-balanced. While each have their own strengths and weaknesses (barbarians have high HP but low strength and MP), it’s really up to the player to decide which specific class will best fit their play style; whether you want to run past your enemies like a ghost in the night, or slaughter everything in sight (rhymes make everything better).
When picking a new child to throw into the thresher maw that is the magic castle, you might notice that along with class and gender each have their own special characteristics. This is one of the more creative features of Rogue Legacy and my personal favorite. Each new child has a chance to draw anywhere from zero to two random traits that will, in some way, affect your experience with them. These can be small, superficial characteristics like Irritable Bowel Syndrome which causes a small cloud of ick to slip out when jumping or dashing. Or they can be truly game changing like vertigo which mirrors the entire screen upside down while keeping the controls the same (as if this game wasn’t difficult enough). There are also some beneficial traits that will actually come in quite handy (ADHD lets you move faster and characters with dwarfism have a smaller hit area and can fit into small nooks and crannies).
Rogue Legacy, by sheer nature of being a roguelike, is highly replayable. Though after beating the final boss and achieving the end cinematic you do have the option of simply deleting your save and starting over from scratch. Given the large number of customizable upgrades you can earn and the expansive level randomization, I would definitely say that anyone who can put in enough time to beat the game through a single playthrough could enjoy multiple runs.
I adore being challenged by a game. The necessary focus, the adrenaline rush as you get close, even the occasional bouts of frustration. It all culminates into the grand experience of the game. Rogue Legacy is a tough game, but it is especially so at the beginning. The learning curve is incredibly steep and many players who try it may be turned away by the seeming lack of progress. It took me at least a dozen deaths before I started making any kind of tangible progress. I was on my fiftieth generation by the time I defeated my first boss. Though not for everyone, if you enjoy the challenge of a game and don’t mind some mild to severe frustration, then I can’t recommend this game highly enough.
Rogue Legacy for the PC: 5/6
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