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roguelike

Fighting games and roguelikes are my personal school of hard knocks

May 26 // Nic Rowen
Titles like The Binding of Isaac, FTL, Nuclear Throne and (my latest obsession) Darkest Dungeon make it their business to stymie and frustrate your futile attempts to get to the credits screen. They delight in throwing a wrench into the works, tearing apart promising looking runs or dungeon crawls with a few merciless rolls of the RNG. They move around the win conditions and goalposts from the traditional idea of “I gotta get to the end and dunk on the last boss!” to “oh God, please just let me survive a little longer this time.” Victory isn't just marked by, well, victory, but by discovery and learning. Seeing a new enemy, figuring out a new trick or strategy, and learning to avoid whatever awful thing killed you last time. Those small successes are what dubs a run a win. It's tough to turn that switch that demands progression off in your brain. It has been dutifully conditioned by years of games where victory is the expected outcome. But it's those wild unfair swings in a roguelike that completely mess you up that makes them so satisfying. The emotional roller-coaster of suddenly losing a beloved party member, or picking up an item that completely gimps your current build, or getting screwed by a few unlucky rolls that leave you facing almost certain doom. These factors that push you out of your comfort zone and force you to come up with new strategies broaden your horizons, you have to think about the game and really consider all of your options rather than relying on one or two recipes for success. Those runs that truly are hopeless? Well, they just let you appreciate the good ones a little more. It took me a long time to realize it, but fighting games are much the same when you get right down to it. While you always want to win a fight, just adding more notches to your W/L ratio isn't, and shouldn't be, the goal. What you really should be aiming for is learning. When Street Fighter IV came out, I was very hot-to-trot for some online play. I remembered dominating at SFII in grade school, all the hours I sunk into collecting every ending in Alpha 3 on the PS1, the times I used to rush through Marvel Super Heroes on one quarter in the arcade. I thought I was good at fighting games, and was looking forward to a chance to prove it. I swagged online like I was O'Hara from Enter the Dragon, obnoxiously breaking boards in front of Bruce Lee like it meant something. My fights ended up going about as well as his did -- Boards, and CPU opponents, don't hit back like the real deal. [embed]292757:58670:0[/embed] I'll be completely honest, I almost quit playing fighting games at that point. Nobody likes to lose, especially when you're losing at something that used to be a point of pride for yourself. Thankfully, despite its rough and tumble exterior, the fighting game community actually has a great attitude about these things. EVERYBODY loses. It's what you take away from those losses and how you come back from them that defines you as a player. Shortly after SFIV came out, I was introduced to David Sirlin's Playing to Win, a book that is all about the philosophy of fighting games and is as close to a bible for the fighting game community that exists. I remember when I first read it I distinctly thought “this guy is an asshole.” Playing to Win can be a very abrasive read if you come from a background of playing fighting games for fun. If you ever thought your next door neighbor was cheap for constantly sweeping in Mortal Kombat 2, or angrily called someone a “spammer” for repeatedly tossing out fireballs from across the screen, or think there is such as thing as too many throws in one round (a philosophy I can no longer recognize except in direct reverse), Sirlin's opinions will probably rub you the wrong way. These self-imposed rules and ideas about how the game should be played are the foundation for what he considers a “scrub mentality,” a mental framework that will always limit how far you can go in fighting games, and ultimately, how much joy you can derive from them. Embarrassingly, I saw a lot of that “scrub mentality” in myself. The way I'd get angry at “coward” Guile players for tossing endless sonic booms, or frustrated with people constantly choosing the blatantly over-powered emperor of Muay Thai, Sagat, for easy wins. But when you stop looking at what other players are doing as “cheap,” and start looking at your losses as learning experiences rather than straight out defeats, a lot of that frustration evaporates. It takes real effort and time, but when you internalize that outlook, fighting games become less stressful, more enjoyable, and infinitely more beautiful. Of course people are going to throw sonic booms as Guile, he's a machine made by the Air Force to do exactly that. It may be true that Sagat (or whatever character) is over-powered and easier to win with and disproportionally popular as a result, but how can you blame people for making a choice that will tip the odds in their favor? You have that choice and opportunity too, and if you decide to stick with a different character you'll just have to make peace with the fact that you'll run into tough matches and try and develop a strategy to deal with them. You can either get frustrated, stomp around, and quit/uninstall the game forever, or you can thicken your skin. Learn how to roll with the punches, and take something away from the mistake. Either figure out ways to avoid it in the future, or come to peace with the idea that sometimes things are out of your control. These are not new concepts, ideally we should always be trying to find the positive side to a set-back or learn from a mistake. But to me, at least, nothing else crystallizes the idea of learning from a loss into a rock hard truth than pitiless rougelikes and fighting games. And after spending so many years immersed in both genres, I like to think that I've been able to take those lessons and apply them to other areas of my life. It's not always easy, and I won't claim to be some kind of Zen master who never gets frustrated, but I know I'm definitely a more patient person now than I was five years ago.
Learning from failure photo
Learning from my (many) failures
The last few years of games for me have been all about defeat. Constant, unending, expected defeat. I think I'm better for it. It wasn't always like that. In fact, for most of my life, games have been all about completion, vi...

Rogue Legacy photo
Rogue Legacy

Xbox One owners can explore Rogue Legacy on May 27


Sword or whip?
May 05
// Jordan Devore
I'd like to use a time machine to, among other deeds, dissuade Brett from using the headline "Xbox One inherits Rogue Legacy" so that I might use it right now in this post. Hate coming up with these things. But, really, savin...

Space Beast Terror Fright is still my favorite Aliens game

May 04 // Rob Morrow
[embed]291473:58423:0[/embed] It's a nicely balanced starting point and does a very good job at maintaining a creeping sense of uncertainty each time you board a ship, while ensuring you have enough tools to stay alive for the time being. Battery life, motion tracker capability, and ammo count appear to be constants at the beginning of each run; however, the one inconstant I've noticed is the required number of DataCores you'll be tasked with finding and downloading. The required number changes for most every new run -- sometimes the number is as few as six, at other times it can be as many as 20 or more. At the beginning of each run you'll leave the security of the ship's airlock and enter into the infested vessel. You'd do well to stay on your toes from the very outset in SBTF, as you never know when or where the first wave of bloodthirsty killing machines is going to spawn. I've had rare experiences where I was blindsided within a few moments of exiting the airlock and I've also played through sessions where I didn't get my first contact until several minutes into a run. In some instances the alien spawns feel triggered by the player's proximity, in others, they give the impression that they may be set to occur after a certain amount of time has passed. As such, the spawn points and spawn times feel strikingly unpredictable, which helps a great deal to ensure that every run feels different from your last. I've mentioned the basic tools the game starts you off with, but one of the most useful assets in increasing the odds of your survival is the ship itself. Its numerous hatches can be sealed off strategically to prevent attacks from the sides and the rear, as well as to create multiple layers of security by locking down several hatches in a corridor; however, it should be specified, these are only temporary lines of defense. Once the hoard begins attacking your hatches you'll need to start planning your escape route as the aliens will quickly cut through the barriers. Alongside the sealable hatches, the ship also features powerful, AI-controlled turrets, which can be found scattered throughout the map. Once activated, these can be incredibly helpful allies in a firefight as well as competent sentries that will stand watch over sections of the map. As touched upon earlier, the central mechanic to progression in each run is the collection of the downloadable DataCores that are randomly spread throughout the floor of the ship. These serve two purposes. The most obvious is that they provide a framework for measuring your progression in the level and the second is that they are the means with which you'll be adding vital upgrades to your suit and equipment. The rewards for downloading DataCores are selected at random. You could luck out on your first download and pick up a helpful map that displays the layout of the floor you're exploring or you could get something relatively minor, like a slight increase to your light's battery. However, if you're really fortunate, you might get one of the most helpful upgrades you can have early in a run, the DataCore Pathfinder. Even without a map, this powerful upgrade is incredibly helpful for efficiently directing you to the nearest DataCore and is much better than the primitive positioning technology you start out with. Even if you don't get one of the better drops at the beginning of a run, more often than not, you'll get something fairly useful when downloading a DataCore. Whether it's a marginal but useful boost to battery life, an increase to the rifle's ammo carrying capacity, or an incremental upgrade to the suit's download speed, something usually drops to maintain the feeling that the character's abilities are improving. As you explore the ship and begin collecting the required DataCores, your HUD will alert you when breaches are detected and when sealed-off doors are compromised. While the information won't give you an exact fix on where your foes are located, it is a very helpful early warning that trouble's not far away. Your basic motion detector can also help out when enemies get close to your position. While the stock version of the detector won't show the aliens' precise location, it will tell you roughly how many meters away from you they are; so, by checking each of your possible exit points against that information you can make an educated guess which doorway might be your best bet for escape. The most beneficial upgrade to have in these stressful situations is the one for your motion tracker. If you happen to have that installed, enemy movement will be displayed on the map as pulsing white blotches, giving you a very good idea on where they are, where they're going, and where you should be moving next to avoid them. Once you've collected all the necessary DataCores, your positioning system will switch over from locating them and begin guiding you to the ship's reactor. Hopefully by this point you've acquired a good deal of the game's more helpful upgrades, because getting the reactor shut down and making your escape can be the most difficult part of the run and every little advantage you acquired up until this point will be needed. After locating the vessel's reactor, you'll need to activate a switch so that the protective walls surrounding it will begin to rise, exposing the four control panels necessary for disabling the system. At this point in a run, things usually start to get dicey. While you're preoccupied with deactivating the panels, this gives the space beasts that have spawned throughout the ship ample time to make their way to you, so be prepared to hold your position and keep the panels deactivating. If you move away from one for even a moment, you'll have to start the process all over again. If you've survived long enough to deactivate the four control panels, the ship will start an anxiety-inducing countdown timer letting you know how many seconds you have left to shoot your way through the hoards as you race back across the ship to the airlock. It's an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride of a finale and feels tremendously satisfying once you finally make it to the extraction point alive. The Early Access build of Space Beast Terror Fright is everything I loved about the original demo and much, much more. Since coming to Steam the game now sports local 1-4 player local co-op (online is currently in the works!), new level styles, adjustable muzzle flare brightness, and a slightly less ball-crushing game mode to ease in the newer players. Space Beast Terror Fright is priced at $14.99 and is available for PC.
Space Beast Terror Fright photo
I got 99 problems but a breach ain't one
[Disclosure: The developers put my name in Space Beast Terror Fright's random name generator along with a bunch of other people who showed interest in the game early on. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, ...

Review: Crypt of the NecroDancer

May 04 // Patrick Hancock
Crypt of the NecroDancer (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Brace Yourself GamesPublisher: Brace Yourself Games, KleiRelease Date: April 23, 2015MSRP: $14.99 It would be a criminal act to not immediately mention the music in Crypt of the NecroDancer as it plays a starring role and deserves the first-paragraph treatment. This is mostly due to the fact that music is interwoven into the gameplay itself. The player can only act in time with the beat, which is also when the enemies act. Said beat has a visual representation on the bottom of the screen to help players get accustomed to it, but after a short while most players will be acting based on the audio cue, not the visual. When done correctly, the music, movements, and sound effects line up to create something that can only be described as "groovy."  In a game where music is at the core of the experience, the soundtrack could have easily made the game fall flat. Thankfully, this is not the case. There are three soundtracks built into the game. The default music is by Danny Baranowsky, and it is amazingly brilliant and brilliantly amazing. The tunes for each level are varied, yet all of them are catchy. The other soundtracks are a metal remix by FamilyJules7X and an EDM version by A_Rival, and also assuage the eardrums. Regardless of music preference, players are bound to dig one, if not all, of these versions. It's also possible for players to import their own music for people who don't like good music, or just want to work with something different.  The game isn't just about boppin' along to some great music, though; there is a story at play here. There are cutscenes for characters between zones, and paying attention to them, as well as some in-game hints, alludes to a pretty big overarching story. It's split over multiple playthroughs with different characters, so it will take some time to reveal the whole thing. The lore is legitimately interesting, something many players may not be expecting.  Every action is mapped to the arrow keys. In fact, the game can even be played with a dance pad! There's a specific mode for dance pad play, which makes the game a bit easier since the control method is inherently more difficult. This also serves as an easier mode to introduce players to the game who don't feel they are up to the full challenge quite yet. When playing with a controller, everything is mapped to the face buttons, which can also be remapped to the player's liking. [embed]291156:58414:0[/embed] Attacking is as simple as pressing the direction of the enemy. Items and spells are also available, and are used by pressing a combination of two arrow keys. For example, to use a bomb, players must press down and left (by default) on the beat. Various weapon types will alter where enemies can be killed in relation to the player, and it is of the utmost important to know a weapon's attack range. When moving, the game will check if anything can be attacked first. So if a player is expecting to move forward but an enemy is within attack range, the attack will happen. This means the character will remain stationary, which can be bad news in certain situations. Knowing these attack mechanics is crucial, and thankfully there is a weapon range in the game where players can try out all the different types of weapons and learn them inside and out. I recommend doing this at least once, especially for the whip. In addition to weapons, players have access to a shovel for digging through walls, a consumable item, a torch, armor, a ring, and a spell. Armor is split up into head, chest, and feet, making there a lot of items to equip for a full "set." The items found are random so make sure to pray to RNGesus before each run! Many items must be unlocked before they show up in chests within the dungeon. Unlocking items is permanent and costs diamonds, which can be found in the dungeon itself. Any diamonds not spent in between runs are lost forever, giving the player all the incentive in the world to spend them on something. It's the perfect system of progression in a game that otherwise has very little, ensuring that even the "terrible" runs can usually yield some sort of good news and contribute to the greater good. The dungeon is split into four distinct zones, each with its own atmosphere, enemies, and randomly generated layout. The first two are on the simpler side of things, but the third and fourth zones introduce new tile mechanics and are completely unique. It's amazing how fast confidence plummets after beating one zone and entering another. It's easy to be on a bit of a high after beating a boss for the first time, only to be introduced to a brand new area where players know basically nothing. It's a kick in the pants, and it feels so good. Speaking of the boss fights, each one in NecroDancer is incredibly memorable. Each one has its own theme and executes it perfectly. My favorite is definitely Deep Blues, which puts the player against an entire set of chess pieces as enemies, who move according to the chess ruleset. Seeing a boss for the first time usually results in a bit of laughter followed by an "oh shit" as the gravity of the situation sets in. Then death, of course. Some bosses are definitely easier to comprehend than others (I don't want to use the term "easier in general"), and the boss fights at the end of zones one through three are randomly chosen, which exacerbates the feeling of luck that's inherent in the roguelike genre. There's likely going to be some aggravation from time to time, simply because of bad luck. This frustration is lessened because of the diamond system, but the feeling of futility is occasionally hard to fight back, especially when there's nothing left to spend diamonds on. While each zone shares some common enemies, the enemy variety in each zone is largely unique. Some weapons may feel overpowered in one zone, and completely useless in another simply because of the change in enemy behavior. This makes the "all zones" runs that much harder. Some enemy types will be "buffed" in later zones, adding more health or variants on the original behavior. After completing the four core areas, there is still plenty to keep players occupied. Crypt of the NecroDancer also supports mods, and they are dead simple to use. All you have to do is download a mod from the Steam Workshop, then activate it from the pause menu. Many of the mods are currently music changes or skin changes, but only time will tell how far they go in the future. Different characters are also unlocked by accomplishing certain goals, and these characters are way more than just re-skins of the main character, Candace. The Monk, for example, can choose any one item from the Shopkeeper for free, but will die instantly if he lands on gold. Considering gold is dropped by literally every enemy, this forces a huge change in playstyle. I couldn't even get past the first zone! In addition to the standard dungeon, which can also be tackled with two players in local multiplayer, there is a boss fight arena, an enemy behavior trainer, a codex for advanced skills, a daily challenge, and a level editor. Beating the game once is really only the beginning. There are enough variations on the basic playthrough to keep players coming back for a long time. Crypt of the NecroDancer accomplishes what few games even attempt to do. It merges together two completely different genres: rhythm and roguelike. The frustrations of both come as part of the package, but some intelligent design decisions help to alleviate the issue. For those looking for the next gaming obsession after the likes of Spelunky, Binding of Isaac, or Rogue Legacy, look no further than Crypt of the NecroDancer. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
NecroDancer review! photo
Tunes from the crypt
Dance Dance Revolution was a large part of an earlier era of my life. Going though dance pads year after year until I finally convinced my parents to get me one of the "big boy" pads for a lot more money. Eventually I gr...

Isaac Eternal Edition photo
Isaac Eternal Edition

Binding of Isaac: Eternal Edition update is a free helping of torment


The Devil's in the patch notes
May 03
// Nic Rowen
A free update for the original Binding of Isaac has been released today for anyone who has the Wrath of the Lamb expansion. The new Eternal Edition will let you relive all of the glory of the original game's choppy flash base...

Review: The Weaponographist

May 03 // Chris Carter
The Weaponographist (PC)Developer: PuubaPublisher: MastertronicReleased: April 29, 2015MSRP: $9.99 The Weaponographist is designed to be a lot like recent "roguelikes" (whatever that term means these days), and I'd like to think of it as a mix between The Binding of Isaac and Rogue Legacy. The setup this time around for constantly going in and out of random dungeons is by way of a witch's curse, forcing the hero (who is a bit of an asshole) to rescue a town. He's cursed to fulfill his obligations, and after death, will constantly respawn in town until he succeeds. It's a cute setup, but that's really the only neat thing it has going for it. With plug and play controller support, picking up Weaponographist is easy enough. Each face button will attack on its respective side, and as part of your curse, picking up weapons constantly is key as they'll break over time. If you don't have an item handy you can use your fists until you find another one, pick it up, break it, and repeat. This is the cookie-cutter formula for pretty much every modern roguelike, but unlike a few recent hits, it gets stale after a scant few runs. Townsfolk will have a few upgrades for you here and there, like better fisticuff training, more complex weapon combos with specific armaments, and spells -- a small mechanic that allows you to occasionally bust out fireballs and the like. The problem with the upgrade system is that it's not sexy in the slightest. There's only a few boring purchases available at any given time, most of which passively increase your stats in a non-visible or menial manner. I like the way combat is handled, at least in theory, as you need to constantly kill things in rapid succession to increase in power, and the "break, find" items force you to experiment and get out of your comfort zone. Ultimately, the Isaac comparison ends at the top-down boxed dungeon aesthetic, because it's much less inspired than Edmund McMillen's masterpiece. Every room functions like an arena, with very little in the way of exploration or hidden secrets. There's simply not enough variation, and the amount of time spent in individual rooms is way too long and the end result is grindy combat. As a hypothetical free PlayStation Plus title, The Weaponographist would have some room to flourish as a mindless hack and slash game with a poorly implemented, but nonetheless existent, reward loop. But as it exists right now in its sole PC incarnation, there are many more titles worthy of your time -- including that 1000th run of Isaac you've been putting off.
Weaponographist review photo
As cursed as its hero
When The Weaponographist was described to me as "a speedrunning hack-n-slasher dipped in a bit of rogue sauce," I barfed a lil' bit. Playing it didn't do much to assuage my illness.

Royals photo
Royals

'You have died at 30 as a lowly peasant and will be forgotten'


And we'll never be royals
May 01
// Jordan Devore
That headline -- quite the game over message, huh? Royals, a new game from Threes designer Asher Vollmer that is not at all like Threes, pins itself as "an optimistic peasant simulator." You set out to become a king, a queen,...
Phantasmal Early Access photo
Phantasmal Early Access

Lovecraft-influenced roguelike Phantasmal creeps onto Early Access


Sanity-eroding survival horror meets procedural generation
May 01
// Rob Morrow
New Zealand-based indie studio Eyemobi has released its Kickstartered survival horror roguelike Phantasmal: City of Darkness onto Steam Early Access. If you're unfamiliar with the project, Phantasmal is d...
The Binding of Isaac photo
The Binding of Isaac

Check out The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth on the Wii U GamePad


23 glorious seconds
Apr 29
// Zack Furniss
When The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth came out last November, I got sucked back into the dark, dank basement full of doo-doo for a good two months. This video of Isaac on a Wii U GamePad is enough to get me thirs...
Nuclear Throne photo
Nuclear Throne

Nuclear Throne nets one million in revenue while in Early Access


Y.V. knows what's up
Apr 28
// Ben Davis
Nuclear Throne, the indie game where you run and gun as a colorful cast of mutant creatures in a radioactive wasteland, has reached one million dollars in revenue, Vlambeer's Rami Ismail announced yesterday. That's an impress...
Roguelike Sale photo
Roguelike Sale

Surrender your will to the pitiless RNG with Steam's roguelike game sale


I wasn't doing anything with my life anyway
Apr 23
// Nic Rowen
From now until April 27, Steam is slapping a discount on a wide selection of roguelike games. You can get 20% to 80% off titles like Abyss Odyssey, Risk of Rain, Spelunky, FTL: Advanced Edition, and more. If you were ever cur...
Desktop Dungeons photo
Desktop Dungeons

Desktop Dungeons gets new free content, mobile versions incoming


New classes, new quests, and a daily challenge
Apr 20
// Darren Nakamura
Reminder that Desktop Dungeons exists is not what I needed right now. Last time I played I got really into it, to the point where I needed to quit cold turkey in order to enjoy other aspects of life, like eating solid food o...
Free Tower of Guns photo
15 codes to give away
After a month of PC availability, the first-person shooter roguelike combo Tower of Guns has just made its way to Xbox One and PlayStations 3 and 4. It's available for free on the latter through PlayStation Plus this month, ...

Tower of Guns photo
Tower of Guns

The console ports for Tower of Guns are pretty all right


Raised my tower for sure
Apr 14
// Jed Whitaker
The roguelike first-person-shooter Tower of Guns recently launched on Xbox One and PS3 / PS4 as a PlayStation Plus title after last month's PC launch. You're tasking with traversing a tower literally made of and filled with g...
Tower of Guns on console photo
Tower of Guns on console

Tower of Guns available on Xbox One, PS4, and PS3


Free for PS Plus members for the month of April
Apr 10
// Rob Morrow
If you're looking for a little something extra special for your current-gen console of choice, I've got some exceptionally good news to share with you. The outstanding, previously PC-only FPS roguelike Tower of Guns has laun...
The Swindle preview photo
The Swindle preview

The Swindle perfectly balances roguelike mechanics with approachable gameplay


The people's roguelike
Mar 12
// Rob Morrow
On my last day covering PAX East, I had the chance to sit down with the inimitable Dan Marshall from Size Five Games to have a look at his gorgeous, stealthy, steampunk-centric burglary simulator The Swindle. We’ve...

Review: Flame Over

Mar 11 // Robert Summa
Flame Over (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Laughing JackalPublisher: Laughing JackalReleased: March 10, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Set up as a twin-stick shooter with randomized levels and a persistent upgrade system, Flame Over doesn't seem all that challenging. I mean, just look at it. It presents itself as a fun, lighthearted romp where you put out fires, save people and rescue cats. You know, the normal shenanigans that firefighters experience on a daily basis. However, Flame Over quickly dispels that belief and smacks you in the face with its difficulty. Your first obstacle to overcome will be to nail the controls down. You can shoot water with the right bumper and use an extinguisher with the left. The initial difficulty comes in realizing you can use both rather interchangeably and that your movement is directly affected by their application. [embed]288880:57716:0[/embed] There is no real tutorial, so you are pretty much left to figure it out for yourself: there are tips you can enable, but who needs those. As is pretty standard, your time within a given level is limited. It seems rather tame at first, but once you realize how long it takes to put out a fire or how much you need to refill your water or extinguisher, time suddenly seems to slip away fairly quickly. You can add to your running clock by rescuing random people scattered about, but their availability and willingness to follow you can vary -- for instance, they would stop following me if I ran too far ahead and there was an object between us. Similar to Spelunky's ghost, when you run out of time, the figure of death will appear. He'll chase you down (albeit pretty slowly), but if you touch him, game over. While he does move at a casual pace, it gets harder and harder to dodge him because of the walls of flames and tight spaces you can find yourself squeezed into. Of course, in most roguelikes, game over is a way of life. This is how you learn. So just like other titles, you accept it and move on. This is an area I would have liked to see be handled a little better. Roguelikes really work when you can restart your game fairly quickly -- as in, I push X and I restart right away. While it's not a slow process in Flame Over, it's not as fast as some other roguelikes you may be used to. This can add to a bit of frustration already built up from your previous failure of a run. It's not a big deal, but something that should be refined for a game like this to really shine. It really is a pretty straight forward and rewarding game. While it's in no way perfect, it's a completely serviceable roguelike for its price and for the Vita. If you can't get enough of this genre, then by all means consider Flame Over. Even though it doesn't really set itself apart from the crowd, it's got enough there to garner a following and perhaps deliver on future iterations or changes to improve upon the established formula. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Flame Over photo
Sound the alarm
Roguelikes suck. They don't suck as in they are horrible to play. They suck for me because they're so damn hard. But in this genre, that's part of the challenge. For whatever reason, our gamer brains desire to overcome the im...

Harebrained Schemes nails it once again with Necropolis

Mar 10 // Rob Morrow
Another noteworthy difference between the games is the absence of a rolling mechanic in Necropolis. The analog in Harebrained's title is the dash ability -- once tapped, your character will hop back a short distance. By limiting the character's ability to quickly roll out of the way of danger, Necropolis' combat feels riskier to me. Obviously, you can use the dash to escape from danger, but the distance you travel is much shorter, so it may take a few stamina-draining hops to get far enough away from an enemy to avoid its attacks. Before I move on to discussing the game's environments, I wanted to add one last thing about the combat systems that I found intriguing, and that's what the team refers to as its "living ecology of threats." I'd read about it before but with scant details available at the time and wasn't sure what to make of it. In the demo, however, its use was made very clear -- the Gem Eater, or as we've described him, the Shark Man -- has an insatiable appetite for (you guessed it) gems. And, as it happens, the Grine creatures mentioned before are composed of a crystalline substance that the hulking monster finds irresistible. [embed]288700:57694:0[/embed] Mike McCain, art director for the project, tipped me off on this, suggested that instead of going toe to toe with the brute that perhaps I should use him to my advantage instead. McCain pointed out a nearby mob of Grine and advised me to kite the beast in, letting him do what came naturally. As soon as he spotted his prey, he forgot about me entirely and began battling my foes for me. This opened up a wonderful tactical opportunity as I could swiftly and safely move in for a few strikes, gradually chipping away at his health before inevitably having to face off with him by myself once he was through with the Grine. Where Necropolis really sets itself apart is outside of combat, however. As you can see in MMORPG's footage of the PAX demo above, the procedurally generated environments have a stylish and clean look to them, standing in stark contrast to the oppressively gritty-looking From titles that helped inspire it. Necropolis' gorgeous low-poly environments look almost dream-like in their abstract, geometric structure and layout. It's quite impressive, really. For a title that's going for such a minimalistic design, the effect is paradoxically lavish when taken in as a whole. The game also differentiates itself from typical roguelikes in its approach to level design. Harebrained Schemes manages to trick the eye in the way that it handles the procedural elements; the end effect looks more like preplanned environments than randomly assembled rooms tacked together. If you didn't know that the levels were being procedurally generated with each new game, it would be easy to come away thinking that the layouts you'd just played were static. I'm not sure if it's the utilization of wide-open spaces where you can look out into the distance or stare down into an abyss that makes it feel so, but in any case, the effect works very well. Out of all the titles that I saw at this year’s PAX East, it was a no-brainer to choose Harebrained Schemes' stunning new action-roguelike as one of the two games that I would select for my editor’s choice awards for the show. Its elegant and thoughtful combat, both familiar and new, was an absolute pleasure to experience firsthand. For fans of third-person action games, especially those who enjoy From Software’s titles, Necropolis is one to fix firmly on your radar.
Necropolis preview photo
Murderous beauty
As I explored the opening area of Harebrained Schemes' third-person action roguelike Necropolis at PAX East 2015, I discovered an inviting treasure chest. Upon opening it, I realized too late that I wasn’t alone in that...

Heat Signature is the best game I saw at GDC

Mar 10 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]288833:57687:0[/embed] Heat Signature (PC)Developer: Suspicious DevelopmentsPublisher: Suspicious DevelopmentsRelease Date: When it "feels ready" If you look at Heat Signature, it’s not difficult to see a through-line between this game and Gunpoint. There’s a lot of opportunity for emergent gameplay in both titles, with an emphasis on improvisation. I often found myself cracking up whenever something went wrong. Rebounding from a mistake never felt impossible. Here, you play a little dude in a little ship. That’s all I know for sure; there’s currently no story attached to the game. Francis is dedicated to feature locking before he starts writing a story around the mechanics, but there will be some form of narrative component in the final product. Your ship is designed for boarding, so your only form of interacting with other ships is smashing into their airlock and hopping aboard. The build of the game I played had three different kinds of missions: steal an item, assassinate a crew member, or hijack a ship and fly it back to a certain spot. They’re simple enough on their own, but the missions take on a whole new life when things start going wrong. For example, I accidentally blew up part of a ship during a mission. I had to kill a target in a different part of the ship, but the corridor I was supposed to take was in pieces, floating through space. So I docked my ship in the blown-out part of the mining vessel, creating a new airlock, only to find a locked door. The only option? Spawn more explosives and make an even bigger mess. I never actually got to my target, but I could have hijacked a nearby ship with actual weapons and blown my target to smithereens, if I were so inclined. So many games claim to offer open problem solving, but Heat Signature actually delivers (much like Gunpoint). For example, in the build I played, it’s possible for your breaching ship to be destroyed. So, in lieu of a breaching ship, you can launch yourself out of an airlock towards another ship’s airlock, steering yourself with a gun. Even the death state feels exciting and improvisational. If you get killed while on a ship, you have to remote control your ship in your direction before you bleed to death. Since your ship has realistic thrusters (e.g: the only way to slow down is to thrust in the other direction) as opposed to being able to turn on a dime, you’re forced to master the controls if you want to keep a particularly lucrative run going. This also factors into the game’s title. Running your engines heats up your ship, which causes your *ahem* heat signature to become visible to enemies. I often ran my thrusters at full blast for a second, launching me across the galaxy but keeping my ship cold. However, this often caused me to slam against the hull of the enemy ship, causing me to careen off in the opposite direction. Closing the distance between you and your quarry -- a simple mechanical loop in any other game -- feels like an adventure unto itself. And that’s Heat Signature in a word. It feels adventurous. It feels big. It captures the imagination. Maybe it’s unprofessional to express this level of enthusiasm, but I’m not going to sit here and lie to you about how I feel. This game is awesome. I can’t wait to play the full thing.
Heat Signature GDC photo
What's cooler than being cool?
Gunpoint ultimately had very little to do with guns. It was a smartly designed puzzler with an immensely satisfying core set of mechanics and witty dialogue. But the title never came into play; pointing guns at people always ...

Fancy Skulls photo
Fancy Skulls

Modern art meets roguelike FPS in Fancy Skulls


I like my skulls fancy, how about you?
Feb 27
// Rob Morrow
Fancy Skulls is a challenging and visually striking first-person shooter that features random level generation, permadeath, and a distinct art style straddling the line between looking like Foster's Home for I...
Sublevel Zero photo
Sublevel Zero

Sublevel Zero is your new 6DoF roguelike shooter


Grab your dramamine and hold on to your hat
Feb 27
// Rob Morrow
Sublevel Zero is England-based studio Sigtrap's new roguelike reimagining of the first-person, six-degree-of-freedom shooter. Influences on the game's design swing from classic 6DoF titles like Descent to modern ro...
Flame Over photo
Flame Over

Flame Over fires up the Vita this March


Time to channel your inner Kurt Russell
Feb 25
// Robert Summa
The Vita means life. And what a life it's having. Even though its overall sales pale in comparison to the likes of the 3DS, the system is an indie lovers dream and is home to some of the most underrated games in the past few...
Weird animals in space photo
Weird animals in space

Space shooter Captain Forever returns with weird animals and a bubblegum mutant little brother


Sit this one out, Fox
Feb 19
// Jordan Devore
Oh, wow, Captain Forever -- that brings me back. The last person to cover it on Destructoid was Anthony Burch. (He so would.) It's a wonderful game about destroying spaceships and stealing their parts to cobble together a su...
Paranautical Activity photo
Paranautical Activity

Paranautical Activity sold to Digerati Distribution


Returns to Steam as the Deluxe Atonement Edition
Feb 17
// Rob Morrow
As I'm sure some of you are aware, Code Avarice's delightful, drum and bass-infused FPS roguelike Paranautical Activity was pulled from Steam last October after one of the game's creators took to Twitter ...
Neptune, Have Mercy photo
Neptune, Have Mercy

A sci-fi submarine roguelike? Neptune, Have Mercy!


Damn, this looks cool
Feb 12
// Jordan Devore
Neptune, Have Mercy has a lot going for it. This is an "action exploration roguelike" set not in a fantasy world full of dungeons, but underwater on Neptune's largest moon. Players control a customizable submarine with a cla...
Seaworthy photo
Seaworthy

Seaworthy: It's like FTL, but with pirates


Well, blow me down
Feb 09
// Jason Faulkner
I always wanted to play a more brutal game centered on pirates, but as the years went by I was continually disappointed. Sid Meier’s Pirates was an interesting ride, but it was too lighthearted for me. Seaworthy, a rea...
Overture photo
Overture

Overture melted my face, has a free demo on Steam


Why yes, you CAN play as a devastatingly powerful Pope!
Feb 04
// Rob Morrow
Overture is the latest retro-inspired offering from Black Shell Games, the talented development team behind the ASCII RPG SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition. It's a charming game, with an adorably chunky pixel art style and an infe...

In Darkest Dungeon, what doesn't kill you only makes you more peculiar

Feb 03 // Rob Morrow
[embed]287116:57147:0[/embed] Some side effects of the stresses you’ll endure exhibit themselves as temporary buffs for set periods during the game (such as while in a dungeon, or until you make camp), while others manifest as long-term positive traits, offering helpful stat boosts and situational bonuses. However, most of the time, the changes affected by the horrors you’ll encounter will present themselves as negative personality traits; hindering your party’s performance, and in some instances wrenching your control over your character’s actions, if only temporarily. It is the wild card, a psychological roll of the dice. This part of your character’s development is mostly out of your control and the results can vary a great deal, ranging from characters that gibber like lunatics in the heat of battle, passing up their turns, to heroes-turned-cowards pushing their way to the back of the ranks, forcing your back-row characters to fight in their place. In some instances I’ve even had members of my party attempt to commit suicide on the battlefield, or self-flagellate in an unsettling display of masochistic ecstasy. When I say mostly out of your control, I feel I should clarify this by adding that you can remedy some of the afflictions and psychological maladies your party will inevitably suffer, but this treatment will come at a hefty cost. Once unlocked by progressing a bit further in the game, you’ll gain access to some of the different buildings within the village that specialize in offering treatment options and pleasant distractions for your disturbed party members. There's a dingy local tavern where gambling, drink, and prostitution offer a brief respite, and serve to reduce the ever-increasing levels of stress your characters carry. If vice isn't of interest, there's also an old abbey you can visit if your characters are so inclined which offers a quiet place for meditation and prayer. Lastly, there is the local sanitarium, offering medieval treatment options which can remove some of the bothersome quirks your party can become afflicted with. As mentioned before, all of these remedies come with a substantial cost. The treatments and amusements aren't cheap, and if you do happen to have the gold to spare, those who elect to cure their various ailments will also have to sit out during the next expedition, requiring you to swap them out for an inexperienced adventurer if you don't have anything better in your roster. It’s a classic risk-and-reward situation. By investing the money to remove the negative traits that are affecting your party’s performance you may find yourself coming up short on funds when you next need to purchase vital exploration gear such as torches, rations, and medicine. There’s also the maintenance of your character’s personal equipment to keep in mind when budgeting for treatment and stress relief. Upgrading armor and weapons as well as the character’s individual skills all cost a good deal of money. Needless to say, Darkest Dungeon will force you to make some very hard choices as you progress; but, that’s all part of fun and challenge the game has to offer. If you’re feeling concerned that the Affliction system will detract from the experience of what is an incredibly solid turn-based RPG, you can rest easy. On paper it may seem like it may be more than you want to deal with, or that the odds are stacked unfairly against you. But once the game’s in play, Red Hook’s experiment in role-playing game design feels like a natural evolution of the roguelike subgenre, and was never frustrating during my time with it. Instead of the mechanical RNG-based, slot machine-like feel of other roguelikes, Darkest Dungeon adds a human element to the equation. While still procedurally generated, the game manages to cleverly disguise that fact somewhat by creating unique characters to explore its world with, each one endowed with their own particular flaws and virtues. The tragic heroes almost feel alive in a way that even scripted characters in narrative-driven RPGs can’t manage to recreate. Darkest Dungeon Early Access launches today on Steam for $19.99.
Darkest Dungeon preview photo
Early Access impressions of Red Hook's impressive gothic roguelike RPG
“If I am mad, it is mercy! May the gods pity the man who in his callousness can remain sane to the hideous end!” – Howard Phillips Lovecraft, The Temple As you might be aware by now, Darkest Dungeon is a vis...

Out There: Omega Edition photo
Out There: Omega Edition

How long can you survive in Out There: Omega Edition?


Mi-Clos' roguelike reminds us how insignificant we are in the universe
Jan 29
// Rob Morrow
Out There: Omega Edition by Mi-Clos Studio is certainly a pretty little thing. Don't let its eye-catching pulp-comic appearance fool you, though. It's a difficult game. Think Oregon Trail meets FTL and you'll have a goo...
Oblitus photo
Oblitus

Oblitus is coming soonlitus


That's about it
Jan 27
// Robert Summa
Adult Swim Games has officially announced that their fantasy 2D roguelike scroller Oblitus is coming soon. How soon? Hell, I don't know, and I guess Adult Swim doesn't know either, since they're not telling us. At the very least, the trailer has some decent music and the art that has accompanied the game appears to be cool as fuck.

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