As the name suggests, Rogue Legacy is a 2D roguelike game in which you fight your way through a procedurally generated castle, playing as many, many different people, all continuing your legacy. These characters each have traits, classes and spells, and you'll never see the same combination twice! There are many things that will entice you into Rogue Legacy, making you come back time and time again, despite the many deaths required to progress.
First and foremost is the constant changing of your character; you won't last long in the castle (one that branches out to a lower dungeon, a forest and a tower) and whenever you die, you will have to select the next sibling to continue your lineage. You can get up to 2 traits per selection, these range from being big or small, to having vertigo, making everything upside down. Some are perks, others aren't, others are just for fun, things like colour blind, making the game black and white. As simple as this mechanic might sound, it makes every time you choose a new character interesting and very different, you have to decide whether or not a detriment is worth having if that's the only one of the three that has the class you want.
Classes are an even more crucial part of your decision, there's the typical aspect of some are more powerful but can take less damage, however, Cellar Door Games have made some unique classes that change the gameplay quite a bit. The Miner for example, is able to get 30% more money from the gold you pick up, yet he is both weak and fairly defenceless. Forcing you to play more conservatively, maybe you want to skip past most enemies to get to the chests containing all the gold your miner desires!
After you select your class and such, something that only becomes tougher over time as you unlock more classes and upgrades for them. You will be allowed to upgrade various things in a talent tree format, represented by a manor. This isn't limited to abilities though, you also get entirely new classes this way, as well as a blacksmith and enchantress. All of this is essentially what you progress the most in the game, whenever I had a good run through a castle before dying I couldn't wait to get back into the game and spend my gold on a ton of upgrades. Actually, it's very rare that you find enough money to allow you to upgrade all that much, making a single upgrade feel like a big impact to the game. What makes choosing what to buy more personalised (and daunting) is the fact that all upgrade stick, once you've spent your gold it's gone for good.
Oh, and you'll want to spend ALL of your gold, because as soon as you go back into the castle, any remaining change will be taken from you by 'Charon'/the money reaper. Later on in a playthrough, this means that even if you've returned with just over 300 gold, there may be nothing to buy and in turn you forfeit that money. It's a sad state of affairs whenever that has to happen, but it pushed me to want to do better in further runs of the castle. The procedurally generated nature of which is half of the fun... and frustration.
What does this mean?
Well you may find a dungeon with a layout you despise, I died in the fourth room of one of them because of the precarious layout of spikes, platforms, and enemies. This can lead to sad times when it happens to a fighter you adore the class and traits of. But you'll be back, they always come back.
I found myself incredibly determined to do well enough to find a castle mapped out to my pleasing, or at least one I enjoyed getting around. When you do find one like this, it's possible to lock it down each time you re-enter, at the cost of 30% of your gold. This adds an element of strategy that was completely unexpected: did you see a part that only a dwarf can enter, but wasn't one? What if you didn't have a dwarf as a selection when you 'respawned'? You could challenge one of the bosses you may have found or continue exploring, but as you upgrade and get more classes, the chances of you getting a dwarf trait appear to lower. Is it really worth going through this same castle over and over just in the hopes of getting to that one secret, when you could be getting 100% gold if you start anew? The choice is up to you.
This randomly generated castle isn't without it's flaws; there are times when enemies will spawn inside walls, making them pointless, tiles are commonly cut off in the top corners of rooms. Other than that I haven't come across any other problems in my time playing Rogue Legacy, it's a solid game, and it feels like one. At least when you play it with a controller, for a PC title, the PC controls don't feel good at all, you can rebind them though. Although with a 360 pad, or whatever you choose, the controls are tight, responsive and feel like they were designed with a very specific feeling in mind. Nothing is out of place, every death is your fault, no matter how much you'd like to blame the random dungeon.
By rewarding you almost every time you die with the option of upgrading, Rogue Legacy avoids the trap of becoming too laborious a task to wade through. The gameplay is fun and satisfying as you improve killing and avoiding lethal blows, meaning that the game has what makes others in the same genre fun and rewarding (albeit to a lesser extent), on top of the more clear progression system in the manor. One that has clear rewards and relies on gold rather than grinding the same enemies for hours on end.
Speaking of enemies, the variety in them could be better, what's there is good. Yet, it gets to a point where it becomes more noticeable that they're simply re-skinned knights, skeletons, casters etc. that perform different and more powerful attacks. This is more variation than many games that feature procedurally generated levels provide, though it doesn't make the fact that it can become tiresome to fight the same enemies. This is due in part to the high level required to venture to the forest, dungeon or tower areas – which all contain some new adversaries, with a few reskins here and there.
Only two things stay consistent in Rogue Legacy: money after you die, and the armour and abilities bought with that. The constant change in layout, placement of chests and secrets make running the castle time and time again an absolute joy. With you almost always progressing in one way or another, getting to (and eventually beating) each of the four bosses in order to unlock the door at the start of the castle is incredibly addicting.
I found that this is a great gem to play whilst you have a podcast or video going on in the background or on a second monitor, and when that finishes your face is more than likely going to be glued to your screen. That's not to say the music or sound effects aren't any good, they all serve the retro style of the game and are appropriate to the protagonists and antagonists. Although I wish there were more tracks, what Cellar Door Games have made is enough to satisfy, especially when you consider how catchy they are.
Special mention must be given to the joyful pixel art of the game, that and the humour infused throughout, mainly in the trait descriptions, do wonders in making you enthusiastic enough to continue your quest. The retro-vibe has been done to death, but when done right, it can look just unique and give off enough charm to make it worth while. A lot of attention to detail has been put into each model and environment in the game, making each random castle feel fairly cohesive.
In conslusion, Rogue Legacy is the most addictive roguelike I've ever had the pleasure of playing, unlike FTL or Binding of Isaac, I kept on coming back to it. Why? Well I wasn't forced to start all over again, I could lock down the dungeon, and if I didn't then it just meant that more treasure was abound, more upgrading, more fun! For $15, the amount of playtime you'll get out of it and the New Game + if you decide to persist is insane. A few flaws don't detract from the overall enjoyment you'll receive from Rogue Legacy.
Written by Ben Lucas (@TheYouthfuls) read