This week, PlayStation gamers of its primary three platforms (PS3, PS4 and PS Vita) were granted a new indie game called Rogue’s Legacy. Unlike a lot of indie games coming to PlayStation platforms, this game is not offered as part of a PS+ promotion, and costs the full price for all. This may act as a deterrent for some – it shouldn’t. Rogue’s Legacy, like the recently released Shovel Knight is an example of a totally stereotypical indie game rising above its peers and showing us that indie games are worth a second glance. Today, I’d like to highlight this utterly addicting 2D dungeon crawler since it’s consumed much of my free time since Tuesday.
Like the aforementioned Shovel Knight, in many ways Rogue’s Legacy is the epitome of the indie movement. It uses retro-style graphics and gameplay in order to accomplish its goals. This is underscored by a soundtrack that would have been at home on either the NES or early SNES games. This is usually enough for a good portion of the gaming population to lose interest, and, admittedly, the presentation is weak. However, it isn’t the graphics or style that makes Rogue’s Legacy so good – it’s the gameplay. The gist of the game is that there is a single dungeon that you will be trying to explore so you can kill four bosses to unlock the door to the final boss. These bosses reside in four different, though mostly similar areas and are guarded by a series of monsters and traps. That sounds pretty basic, right? How about the fact that the difficulty curve is sky high and dying is permanent. That’s right, if you die, and you will die, that character is lost forever. In its place, you will get to pick one of three of that adventurer’s descendants, each with a different, random class and set of traits. If that weren’t tough enough, the castle is randomly generated every time you enter it, meaning that no two trips will be the same.
This is where the addiction starts. As you explore the castle, you will find money from beating enemies, breaking open objects and finding treasure chests, as well as equipment blueprints and rune blueprints. When you die, you can invest this money into new stat increases, classes, general upgrades, or buying equipment from the list of blueprints you found. All of these purchases are permanent across all generations, meaning that every time you die, you’ll get just a little bit stronger and a little bit better able to deal with the horrors within the castle. It pushes players to make “just one more run” so you can upgrade your Lich class, or get enough money to buy that Slayer Sword. It’s this exact constant reward mechanic that makes multiplayer games like Call of Duty so damn addictive and it works excellently here.
Of course, it’s only so addictive because of how fun the general gameplay is. Basically, you can slash your sword and jump, with magic attacks being mapped to the circle button. Magic is varied and can include a Castlevania-style overhead axe throw to a circle of flame, or a room-wiping murder of crows. Your attack never changes, though you can pogo downwards (this is generally ineffective, and not fun in the way that Shovel Knight or Duck Tales’s pogo attack is). This is the basic move set. This differs greatly when you take into account class-specific abilities. Each character will be of a random class. You start out with access to the Knight , which has 100% stats and upgrades to have a shield; a Mage with bonus MP, intelligence, but a negative strength and health, which upgrades to be able to cycle between three different spells; and finally a Barbarian, who has massive health, but low strength, which upgrades to have a Skyrim-referencing shout that pushes enemies back. As you explore the castle and grab more money, you’ll unlock more classes, which add even more variety to the gameplay.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the general movement abilities in this game. You’ll unlock runes, which can give you special abilities. Among these are the ability to double, triple, quadruple, etc. jump as well as dash, and even limited flight. These give the player a massive boost to movement abilities, and, along with various traits, and abilities that affect movement speed, allow player to move through the castle in a flash and greatly impacts how a gamer will approach each deadly situation. And you’re going to need the movement abilities. The randomly generated castle is a maze of spike traps and enemies that want nothing more than to kill you on the spot. Level design, though random, is decadently sadistic. One moment you’ll be in a room with the floors and walls spikes, desperately hopping between platforms as a mage enemy hurls a barrage of fireballs at you, the next you’ll be hacking through a series of ever-splitting gel enemies as you try your best not to get hit by the rockets constantly fired at your feet. It’s punishing, and it’s fun.
All of that and I haven’t even mentioned the best part of the game – the traits. As mentioned, when you die you get to select one of three descendants. Each will be a random unlocked class and each will have a random spell attached. However, these are not the only factors you have to take into account when selecting an heir to play as. Each character has a random assortment of traits, and these can completely change the game. One Knight, for example, may have ADHD, allowing for faster movement, which is good. Unfortunately, he may also be near-sighted, meaning further enemies and landscapes will be blurred. The traits aren’t simply gameplay handicaps, they are also very funny. Baldness does little, but make your male or female heir bald and change the “building” loading screen to “balding”. Some traits will drain the colour or stop you from seeing in 3D (actually has an effect even though the game is in 2D). Perhaps my favourite is the fear of chickens, which turns every roast chicken (the basic healing pickup) into a live chicken that you must kill in order to get its sweet health-refilling goodness.
Overall, Rogue’s Legacy is a game that keeps sucking you in. You may go into the castle with the hopes of being there only a few minutes, but before you know it, the entire night is gone and you’re still rearing to play. Its a difficult game, but never so much that you ever at any point want to stop playing. Instead, you want to keep pushing a little deeper, so you can beat the final boss and unlock New Game + and ++ and +++, etc. where the challenges just keep growing.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer