Whether or not you’re a fan of the genre, it’s impossible to say that roguelike titles haven’t been making a comeback as of late. After a slump period where games, while still fun and innovative, weren’t quite challenging, roguelikes have been leading the charge for difficult titles to reclaim their spot in the hobby. Although Rogue Legacy leans closer to its RPG roots than tougher roguelikes do, it still asserts itself in the genre by adding a few twists that make it more accessible to newcomers while keeping it a blast for veteran fans.
Simply put, Rogue Legacy takes all of the excellence out of a few genres and blends them together to create a game that is so hard to put down you’d think the controller was soldered to your hands. While it’s not incredibly deep or revolutionary, it does so much right that it continues to feel enjoyable and fresh even after you sink days into it.
Although it brandishes many of its roguelike tendencies on its sleeve, Rogue Legacy is undeniably an old-school action/platformer at heart. Much like the Castlevania series, players will be guiding a knight through a daunting castle and other locales while battling an assortment of classic enemies through vertical tunnels, spike pits, spike traps, and, of course, secret rooms. You can run, jump, attack, and use magic to make your way through the shifting landscape, and it all feels comfortably retro for gamers who still dust off their Super Nintendo every now and then.
The roguelike elements come into play when you die: rather than restart as the same determined knight, you choose from one of three randomly generated heirs, complete with silly names and character traits. In familiar RPG fashion, each heir has a class of their own, ranging from Barbarian and Mage to Lich or Miner, each with their own perks and upgrades available. The castle you storm is made up of randomly generated rooms and enemies that ensure a different experience each time you run through.
However, the true genius comes in the feeling of progress instilled throughout the game. While storming the castle, your hero will collect gold which is used to either upgrade a castle that houses base stats for all characters, to buy new weapons and armors from a blacksmith, or to obtain runes that offer various bonuses when applied. Gold can even be used to lock the design of the castle from one hero to the next, meaning that if you’re comfortable with one layout, you can pay to keep it that way next time in hopes of destroying more enemies or discovering more treasure than the last time. Once you reenter the castle, though, a shadowy figure named Charon will take your leftover money, meaning each run through the castle begins with no gold. It’s a tiny, genius idea that really makes Rogue Legacy work to keep you hooked.
It’s this permanent progress that puts Rogue Legacy a step above more straightforward roguelikes. Although the game is still incredibly difficult and death occurs in a handful of minutes (sometimes even seconds) after entering the castle, you still have a feeling of progress when you use your gold to up base stats and return stronger and more prepared the next time. Rather than take the usual roguelike layout and wipe away every ounce of progress after each failure, Rogue Legacy makes you feel like every single death served a purpose.
The cartoonish art style gives the game a humorously retro feel, and it’s full of tiny winks that will get a ton of laughs. Every hero you guide into the castle storms in with their sword held high and a look of silly determination on their face. The enchantress in particular has a few good lines and the descriptions for just about everything elicit chuckles. This is especially true of character trait descriptions, which also marks one of the more creative departures from formula. When choosing your heir, each will have a few hereditary traits that range from extremely useful, like having giganticism, to less than helpful, like dealing with glaucoma or IBS. Some don’t have any effect, like being gay or bald. These traits lend each hero a ton of personality, and it makes it easier to retell stories of triumph and failure when you can call your hero Lady Taco, the gay assassin with dwarfism.
Ultimately, the goal of Rogue Legacy is to storm the castle, fight through four different sections and defeat four bosses before taking on the final boss. While it sounds impossible at first, each time you defeat one of the four bosses, your progress is saved, meaning that each time you restart after that, the boss will stay defeated. Again, that feeling of progress makes the game much more tolerable and addictive than other roguelikes, emphasizing short, successful runs over trying to get everything done with one character.
As much as I’ve praised the game, though, it’s definitely not perfect. Enemy variety is severely lacking, with different stages just replacing previous enemies with larger or stronger versions of the same thing. The four bosses are also the same, serving as gigantic versions of monsters already fought. Furthermore, some levels depend on your ability to cross huge spike pits on platforms that only open up when you attack them with a downward stab, but the stab doesn’t work that well. Rather than leave the sword out facing down, you’ll take a quick stab down and replace your sword in a second. This makes crossing those nasty pits a decently hard challenge, but only because you’re wrestling with the controls the entire time.
Also deserving of scorn are the enemies who disguise themselves as portraits. Sometimes, when falling through a room to escape danger, you’ll bounce into a ton of these spawns of the devil without having time to tell them apart from regular, harmless portraits. Once that happens, they begin their obnoxious attack pattern that, when multiplied by a few portraits, easily becomes the most annoying and frustrating thing in the game.
However, small annoyances aside, Rogue Legacy is still a near-perfect game in my eyes. Its design is pure genius, it’s incredibly fun to play and it is honestly one of the hardest games to put down. After each death, you’ll be thinking “just one more run” until you’ve run ten more heroes to their death, and you’ll still keep going from there. I’ll also admit that I am one of the least patient gamers out there, especially when it comes to indie titles, but I never felt frustrated or annoyed for more than a second or two while playing. Yes, the game is difficult, especially towards the beginning, but the experience is so lighthearted and engrossing that you’ll be having too much fun to be angry.
Although it’s not a hardcore roguelike like fans may be used to, Rogue Legacy is still worth checking out for its excellent blending of genres and genuinely fun gameplay. It may not be a triple-A title, but I guarantee you’ll be playing it for months to come, even once you beat it. Just try not to let those songs get stuck in your head.
This review is based on a copy of the game on PlayStation 4 given to us for review purposes. Please note that this is a Cross-Buy title across PS platforms.
Taking cues from multiple genres like RPGs and roguelikes, Rogue Legacy is an insanely creative, fun and addictive game that's full of humor and challenge.