It seems that the last few months have brought us a slew of “roguelike” video gaming titles. For those not familiar with the term, it is adapted from the 1980 game Rogue, which contained procedurally generated levels, permanent death, and a heavy fantasy element. Eager to continue the latest trend, Sony has worked with developer Cellar Door Games to bring the 2013 PC hit Rogue Legacy over on the PlayStation Network. The game includes the crossplay feature (so data is saved across the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita) so progress can be made whether you’re at home or on the go. Did this port make the cut, or is it another indie game that will be lost on the virtual store shelves?
Rogue Legacy is, at its core, an action/adventure side scrolling adventure. Players take control of a character that has a basic attack, jump, and magical spell ability. These characters are class based, including (but not limited to!) the heavily armored knight, the weak but magic-intense wizard, and the life-stealing lich. Each class has its own advantage and disadvantage, making certain parts of the dungeon a breeze whereas others are painfully, rage-quitting difficult. As each dungeon is randomly created (more on that later), death means uncertainty in the next play through. Death will occur at a rapid pace early on, as your hero is weak and cannot take much punishment. Later on, upgrades such as sprinting and double jumping will make traversing the game a bit easier, but in the early going, expect to die… a lot.
There is a catch to this system, however. Each character death means a new hero will take the mantle. Players will be allowed to select from one of three heirs from the previous hero. They will come with their own character class, will keep all of the previous gear and money from their lineage, and will be born with a random set of character traits. The character traits are where the fun (and frustration) can occur. Dwarfism means your character is half of a normal character’s size. This may mean you can crawl through areas not otherwise accessible, but it also means you’re weaker. Near-sighted characters will find the screen to be blurry on the edges, and characters with muscle spasms will rumble the DualShock 4 controller randomly. There are a slew of traits that are useful (or downright silly) which will have a great impact on your adventure.
Of course, since there is no real penalty in death, it is easy enough to brick your character on the first monster or trap you encounter, and hope for a better roll the next time. But that will only take you so far, as character advancement is done through a gold system which in which unspent gold is forfeited to Charon, the castle guard, before entering the castle again. Each monster you kill (and each treasure chest you find) may contain gold pieces. This universal currency is used to advance your character abilities. They include such staples as more health, more gold find, and more critical hit damage. They also are used to unlock new character classes altogether, such as the shield-wielding Paladin or the extra-gold finding Miner. Each upgrade requires more gold for the next upgrade, so this task gets expensive quickly.
Gold can alternatively be spent on your blacksmith, enchantress, or architect. Hidden plans are hidden throughout the castle, which can be built by the blacksmith. These pieces of gear have additional properties with them, such as vampirism (life leech on hit), increased magic, or additional armor value. The enchantress will allow you to unlock new abilities, such as the ability to move faster or temporarily fly. As with the other upgrades, they get more expensive on each purchase. Remember how I said the dungeons were randomly generated? The architect can fix that for you, for a price. For a flat 40% reduction in all findings, he will lock the dungeon for you. It’s a great way to try to complete known challenge locations (carnival games, chest challenge rooms, etc.) but at a steep cost. This is why finding a character, and learning to overcome their negative traits while earning large amounts of gold in a a single life, is important for progression. There is no worse feeling than investing some time with a character, deep diving unknown parts of the castle, only to be killed before hitting the next financial milestone, and watching all of your hard earned gold be given back to Charon, unspent.
This is where most players will either absolutely love or hate the game. The fans (myself included!) will appreciate the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment upon unlocking a new class or forging a new piece of gear. This is a game about grinding, so the detractors will be turned off by sometimes steep ramps in difficulty or cost to upgrade new pieces of gear. This game doesn’t allow you to simply throw time at it to solve problems. Gameplay is responsive and fair enough that each challenge can be completed, but with the understanding that you must clearly pass a goal entirely, as there is no do-over or half-way respawn point. As a veteran of Spelunky, this was a welcome challenge to me; but players with little patience may wish to steer clear of this title. It’s single player, so don’t expect any help from your overpowered friends, either.
As the time of this writing (two days since the official PlayStation 4 launch), I would guess I’m not too far into the game. I’ve beaten the first boss, have upgraded my character accordingly, and begun venturing into the forest, but ultimately am coming up short. The joy for me is getting to that next major area, finding that next blacksmith plan that will change the game, and earning enough gold to pad my health bar just that extra bit. If you’re up for a great adventure, full of risk, reward (and the occasional laugh!) then this title is definitely for you.