Two thousand and twelve has been a phenomenal year for a lot of things: Getting a politics, doing the stock market on a thing, punching people on your way to best buy. Itís all great and varied and disgusting and human. But one thing this year has thrived in a big way for me, the Rogue-like. That mysterious sub-genre of strategy/action rpg quick fire heroin that has skirted in and out of the mainstream since the early nineties.
Having begun years ago with games like DnD, and the game from which the genre name spawns, ďRogueĒ itself, weíve seen leaps and bounds graphically, and in terms of content and style of gameplay. I personally would rank this SUB-genre above many other genres over allÖ like MoBAs andÖ Rhythm Games. Displaying a level of audacity as to throw death in the players face across many generations and platforms is a fun and exciting process to watch, but only in the last year have I really been able to sate my thirst for the magnificence of randomized levels and slowly unlocking player classes to die as.
As it stands though, within the realms of the infamous rogue-like genre, death is not wall in your journey. Death, is a doorway. It takes you by the hand through a dungeon or deserted Tokyo fairway and says ďCome. I am but only the beginning.Ē Also while itís saying this itís doing an impression of famed jewish comedian, Gilbert Gottfried, so itís well funny and all that. Anyways, so Gilbert takes your hand and you die, be it by way of goblin, or walking totem pole, or devil goat. Then you get up, only you can get up as an assassin this time, because you killed forty elves. Killed them right on their stupid face. It is for this reason that to me, death is put right on its head in a rogue-like, and it becomes difficult in those genres to ever feel like you really failed in any significant way.
So let me introduce to you, my top five Rogue-likes of the past few years. I have wasted many a life throughout the denizens of these dungeons, cities, and plains. I hope you get to as well.
Desktop Dungeons (PC)
First up is a lil number called Desktop Dungeons. I can tell you right off that this is actually the very first rogue-like that I was exposed to. I was at the 2011 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. I happened to be touring the IGF booths where each of the shining stars for that yearís indie line ups are all greasily throwing xbox controllers at people and swapping slips of paper with their name and phone numbers on. I stumbled up through the crowd to a game where an avatar of a bright-eyed baby-faced monk was staring off the screen into my vacant eyes.
It was a turned based tile-control scheme and I moved him forward one space right next to what looked like a super intense meatboy knockoff (which the game constantly brings up). And I died. That was my first death, and Iíll never forget it. I was really disappointed at first, and wanted to just walk over to Bastion who was stationed right next to it at the time, but instead I determinedly ignored the person behind me who wanted to play (much sooner than they deserved to have a turn) and I chose the warrior. I got a lot farther that time, and by the end of the night, I had downloaded the freeware version at the hotel and wound up playing it three hours straight. Needless to say Iíd had my first lick of the mouse-button-grease lollipop and I wanted more.
Realm of the Mad Gods (PC)
Next up we have a game that got itís start from the meager flash-based universe: A platform widely known to have propelled some of todays most talented and prestigious indie devs to the forefront. A pretty straight forward take on the rogue like, OH EXCEPT ITíS A GODDAMN (topdown) MMO. So while youíre playing as your stupid tiny lil wizard guy, hundreds of other badass Templar knights and warrior monks are rushing past you with their pixely weapons of godlike justice. Itís an interesting take on the formula for sure, especially when you consider the mechanics it adds in regards to teaming up with other players and taking on the larger more challenging bosses towards the end game.
One thing as well that I love is that the leveling system is so indepth throughout the classes. Each one is given a set of tasks that you can perform throughout the game and while most RLís would have you try and tackle a specific enemy to make your keep, the world of Realm of the Mad God is so expansive and varied that trying to target any one creature would take hours. So reaching level caps, gaining certain abilities, or knocking out different goals on the list can be an original and exciting experience every time. The only thing Iím not super fond of is the free-to-play model, but I know thatís a WHOLE nother beast for a WHOLE nother beast hunt.
Spelunky (PC and then later on XBOX 360)
So Iíll start off by saying that I didnít like the original Spelunky. Before it had controller support it was near impossible to play for more than a few minutes without wanting to punch my monitor through the wall. Once it got some elbow grease, shoe shine, and other things that you polish stuff with (bat guano) applied to it, it shone like the brightest star. Rewarding careful gameplay and tentative controls, this was my first real brush with a live-action combat RL. Varied and exciting characters and graphics coupled with enemies as deadly as they were cute concocted some hilarious and enticing experiences. It could be said that the hand painted style of the game is what drew me in from the beginning. Especially that big ass nose.
Really though, the game play throughout Spelunky diverged from the Rogue-like formula so much that you sometimes found yourself feeling frustrated. Never TOO frustrated, and never for a bad reason. If you died, you knew it was on you and your lazy ass for getting impatient and jumping over that ledge you didnít bother to see what was at the bottom of. Iíll never forget obtaining all the stupid effed up stuff the tunnel man makes you get to unlock a path to the temple stages, only to die literally on the level right before I get to the door simply because I didnít take the time to check where I was going and ran straight off the edge of the level. Gutted.
Also I didnít do a fantastic job of explaining what you do in this game so Iíll just sum it up by saying youíre a side scrolling Indiana jones making your way down into the depths of an ancient temple collecting treasure and killing bats.
Tokyo Jungle (PS3)
An instant classic, this game drew me in simply from the ad marketing I saw online. You run through the streets of an abandoned Tokyo downtown as any number of wild animals. And when I say ANYÖ I mean it. Weíre talking Giraffes on down to mother-licking Velociraptors. Though it was fairly limited in exposure, and now only probably has a rather tiny cult following, the concept couldnít be farther from mundane. The idea that as a Pomeranian puppy you can attack a wild adult lion in the streets of post-apocalyptic Tokyo is something I want more of. I want more if it like I want more Oreo Oís cereal.
In a world inundated with zombies and themes of Armageddon that have been played out since practically the dawn of time now, the fresh coat of paint on this concept made it shine to me like a super shiny diamond made of reflective mirror sauce. Itís a shame I didnít get that much time with it before I had to sell my PS3. If you have fifteen bucks or so laying around, check it out, because I want those developers to release something like that again, but this time, in space or something.
Donít Starve (PC)
This game isnít even out yet and Iím already in love with it. Iíve been playing through the beta content as it gets patched in. Hailing a style similar to that of Tim Burtonís classic illustrations, or Edward Goreyís Victorian style gothica, you play as characters that are basically commanded to survive in the wild by a figure who could only be SATAN. At leastÖ I hope thatís what Satan looks like. If you donít create a source of light by night time, you die. Itís as simple as that. In between fighting off spiders and chopping down trees, you spend your time chopping off your beard hair. Itís a pretty cutesy game despite the grim nature of its graphics and I canít wait to see it as more features become available.
What makes this Rogue-like a little bit different is that every time you die, you rank up an experience meter which eventually unlocks a new character for you to play as. Each of these characters have different abilities and specializations, such as being a pyromaniac, or a science wiz. Iím excited to see this through to its eventual final product and needless to say, though it has a thick layer of mascara over its eye lashes, the future looks bright.
And that is my list of top 5 Rogue-likes as the genre stands today. There are plenty of other honorable mentions to hand out for games like Dungeons of Dredmore, and FTL. Some things Iíd love to see in the future from these games hitting the mainstream is more of an emphasis on futuristic themes and less dungeony-swords-n-sorcery going on.
Iíd also love to see more live action stuff. Personally, these are my favorite style the game takes on (points at the fact that only one on his list is a turn based iteration) The game feels ten times more engaging when the characters are in control through your hands and mechanically differ every time you die.
Over all, I canít wait to see what happens in this genre no matter what it is. Itís a sort of sleeper-hit after sleeper-hit catalogue that I hope gets more exposure the further we progress into the future. Before you know it, who knows, maybe weíll have a ďCall of Duty: Dying over and over again OpsĒ or a ďGears of War: Active Reload or Die EditionĒ!
So, are there any games under this genre that you felt were done the utmost in travesty towards having not been put on this list? If so, let me know in the comments and we can go round-n-round about it. Either way Iíd love to hear about new and different RLís which Iím unfamiliar with.
Also here's a little sketch I did of my newest favorite game I made up in my head.
As always, thanks for reading!