Cellar Door Games
My sons and daughters will remember my struggle: Rogue Legacy, the “rogue-lite” game about ancestry
Lady Shanoa VI: The Divine Lich Queen was the best of my line, the 38th generation of hero to assault the castle. No one who came before or after her was able to match her achievements. No hero delved as deep into the castle and no heroine slayed as many beasts. Certainly not Lady Antoinette the Feeble Knave, third of my line.
But then again, it's not really a fair comparison. Lady Antoinette the Feeble Knave was afflicted with Vertigo, a condition which caused her to view the entire world upside down, as though she was running on the ceiling and jumping downward.
By contrast, Lady Shanoa VI the Divine Lich Queen was a born hero. She was afflicted with gigantism, causing her to deal massive damage with her strikes. She was also a Lich, meaning she stole the life force from the enemies she killed, gaining stats and life as she ventured further into enemy territory. Oh, and she was also bald…if anyone cares. She certainly didn't seem to.
Rogue Legacy is similar to many other action platformers. The fundamental gameplay borrows from the structure of previous games like Castlevania, but the difference here is that Rogue Legacy asks you to think about each character as a generation in a line of heroes.
Every time you die your character is dead forever. You are then given a choice between three potential progeny, each with different character traits, class, name, gender etc. This system ensures that not only is the dungeon different each time you enter it, but your character itself is never repeated. Even if you choose the same character class with the same traits a few generations later, you'll still have grown in stats and skill.
These character traits are the soul of the game, and they can play a big part in determining the course of your play. The character with Vertigo mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review wasn't a joke. She literally saw the world upside down, which meant that I had to play with the level flipped and her running on the top of my screen. I've had characters see the game in black-and-white, I've had characters gain a movement speed buff from ADHD. I've even had characters that were afraid of chickens…which caused the game's health powerup, a chicken drumstick, to literally run away from me.
The dungeon in which the player spelunks will change completely as well. You wont see any of the rooms or enemy encounters more than once as they'll all have moved around and changed position. The only thing that wont change are the boss monsters, although the entrances to their lairs are moved to a different location each time.
Killing those boss monsters is the ultimate goal, and Rogue Legacy allows you to lock down the castle and prevent it from changing in order to get back to bosses quickly, although this comes at the cost of reduced gold gain. This seems to be a theme in Rogue Legacy; the creators don't like calling it a “roguelike” because Rogue Legacy isn't quite as brutal as many true roguelikes. It seems to go out of its way to try to provide a more user friendly roguelike experience.
Rogue Legacy is also a surprisingly funny game. Stick around long enough and just about everything will become a joke eventually. The game's initial brief loading screen in which the new dungeon is loaded usually says “building…” but play long enough and sooner or later it'll say “balding…” instead. Why? I have no idea, but it gave me a chuckle and I think that was the whole point.
Everything about Rogue Legacy is open to self-effacing mockery occasionally. It doesn't ruin the vibe of heroism, but it sets the mood for a game that doesn't take itself seriously and doesn't seem to want you to take it too seriously either. I found Rogue Legacy was at its most compelling when I just left it open on my PC taskbar throughout the day and routinely jumped in to play a few heroes for 30-45 minutes or so every couple hours. Play too long and you'll start to feel the stat grind, but take frequent breaks and you'll find the right balance.
Before you know it you'll have plugged 10 hours into this unintimidating journey only to find that you're only halfway through. It's a funny game, but it takes gameplay seriously, and there's more than enough here to absorb you into the adventure of a lineage of heroes building themselves up over the eons to assault this dungeon.
It's a larger game than a 2-3 person indie project has any right to be, and the gameplay is as refined as the genre classics from which it draws inspiration. It's a game that is fun, funny, but brings enough polish to be taken seriously. Rogue Legacy is the roguelike genre reimagined through the eyes of designers who really seem like they just want you to have a good time.