I seem to have a few issues with my gene pool. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve sired a long list of warriors, and I’m proud of each and every one of the countless members of my bloodline that have mindlessly charged towards their death in the same castle, but something has gone a bit…wrong. Be it brave Sir Wizzerl IV who suffered from crippling alektorophobia causing him to scream in terror every time he sees a chicken or Lady Stephanie II who suffers from gigantism and is a bit of a hypochondriac, there seems to just be something a bit off with members of my lineage. Perhaps I’m not quite the genetic jackhammer I envisioned myself as, but I’m extremely proud of all of them. Rogue Legacy has broken a long standing Neeler family tradition of hating your children, and that’s only the beginning of the magic to be found.
Rogue Legacy is a really interesting take on the Rogue-like formula. Instead of playing through the game as a single hero, you’ll play through the lives of one of the members of your bloodline when they inevitably die a horrible death. When each one finally succumbs to the castle, you’ll get a chance to upgrade your manor, as well as buy new equipment and unlock runes that make the trip easier for your ancestors. This is absolutely crucial if you want to make any progress through the game since it can get fairly brutal pretty quickly.
The manor is exceptionally done, and offers a plethora of options for you to choose from. You’ll be able to increase your health and mana pools, up your strength, unlock new classes, and even unlock the chance to cheat death. Buying equipment is a fairly straightforward affair, but adding a few points to armor or your attack could be a major factor in how far you can progress through the game. The runes, on the other hand, offer a great chance to customize your personal style of character. Each piece of equipment has a series of runes that can be unlocked, adding everything from the double jumps to the ability to drain health from your foes.
After each failed attempt, you’ll choose between three possible offspring to sprint towards their death. There are a few different classes to choose from, although only four will be available from the start. These classes are really well balanced, each one offering a unique play style that you need to adapt to. A barbarian has a massive health bar but not much in the way of defense as opposed to, say, the Shinobi who does almost double the damage but with just over half of the health reserve. It will take a bit of experimentation to figure out which classes work best with your personal play style, but if you’re willing to change up your strategy a bit, they all have something to offer.
As well as differing classes, each of your offspring will have a few different traits. This is one of the things that really helps the game stand out. Some of the traits are just minor changes, such as suffering from irritable bowel syndrome which does nothing more than causing your character to have a bit of gas, while traits such as dwarfism renders your hero half the normal size which in turn unlocks a few new paths. There is no such thing as the “best class” here as there’s a ton of room for experimentation, but there are a few that I have realized I need to avoid like the plague. Some of the more visual based perks really did a number on me while trying to play through, and having the entire game flipped vertically by a sufferer of vertigo was enough to turn my stomach just a bit.
The dungeon itself is split into four separate areas, each with a unique boss battle. The areas themselves are fairly distinct and offer varying levels of difficulty based on enemy levels. You’ll get a few new enemies in the different areas, but for the most part they’re just slightly different versions of ones you’ve already encountered, which was pretty disappointing truth be told. There was so much room to keep adding things here, but it felt like the developers just ran out of steam.
Finding your way through the dungeon is up to you as the game only gives a few hints on what you should be doing via journals you find on the way. While there is no “wrong way” to play through Rogue Legacy, trying to take a low tier hero through the more advanced areas is a sure fire way to die pretty early on. You’re going to want to grind some areas a few times to build up on cash to get crucial upgrades, as well as find a few Fairy Chests which hold crucial runes.
Rogue Legacy is a Rogue-like game, which means that when you die that character is gone forever. You’ll keep the cash they earned before their demise, but you’ll have to spend it right away, as you’ll have to fork over your savings if you want to try your hands at the dungeon again. While this may scare away a few people, it’s really not as taxing as you’d first think. It really feels like you’ve accomplished something when you unlock new perks or equipment, and once you get the hang of it you’ll be able to whip up some cash pretty quickly.
With each new hero charging in, the dungeon will be completely remade with a brand new map layout and new enemies waiting to take your life. It’s a great little twist that ensures you’ll always have something new to explore and new challenges waiting for you. You’ll see room layouts get reused of course, but it wasn’t until I was near the end that the game got even remotely predictable.
The 16 bit visual style is really charming, and while there were a few quirks here and there, it was a pretty smooth endeavor on the whole. Hit boxes may be slightly bigger than you thought, and enemies may sometimes spawn in walls, but other than that the game runs well.
The sound is damn near perfect too. Each of the tunes is catchy without getting grating when you hear it for the thousandth time, and the sound effects are on point. It’s perfectly understated and is really a testament to what a good indie developer can do.
Rogue Legacy is one of those games you keep playing after you’ve powered down your system for the night. Even now, the hardest part about writing this review is refraining from loading up the game for just “one more try.” It’s an absolute time black hole, and it’s a game I can see myself going back to for months to come. Had the game had a bit more variety in enemies and cleaned up just a few more of the glitches, it would have a strong case for a perfect score, but as it is it’ll have to suffer the scorn of being an amazing game that is, at least, a strong contender for indie game of the year. Somehow, I think the guys at Cellar Door Games will be ok with that.
This review is based on a Steam version of the game that was given to us for review purposes.
Although it falls just a but short of being perfect, Rogue Legacy is an absolute blast to play. There's no real excuse not to pick this one up.