By: Casey Curran
Rogue Legacy is a game that should not work. Its entire concept is based around taking two conflicting methods of game design and combining them into one. Yet, thanks to some smart design choices, the game not only feels both fresh and addicting, but it also proves to be one of the best indie titles available. Maybe even the best.
Rogue Legacy offers very tight, smooth controls. “X” is used to jump, square attacks, circle conjures (Castlevania inspired) magical attacks and triangle unleashes the character’s special ability. The shoulder buttons, meanwhile, are used for a dodging ability that is purchasable on the upgrade tree. Character classes, perks and abilities offer different senses of speed, making most new characters actually feel different from the last one. This adds a new level of variety as characters will each have just enough differences to feel different from the last.
While many retro-inspired indie titles attempt to emulate 8-bit games, Rogue Legacy looks more like an SNES game. Backgrounds are both busy and gorgeous while character and enemy models are inspired and well animated. Bosses, however, lack creativity as they are merely larger versions of common enemies. This is especially disappointing since the normal enemies are so diverse and numerous; as such, one would think the bosses would be especially fun.
Music and sound effects are both heavily inspired by Castlevania. Both of these capture the spirit of the franchise very well, offering some catchy beats and noises, which both sound creepy and fun.
Rogue Legacy combines roguelike and “Metroidvania” level design. The game is based around entering a castle and gathering as much money and loot as you can until you are powerful enough to face the four bosses scattered around, which unlocks the door to the final boss. Dying in the castle means starting with a new character and spending whatever money you have before losing it all to start a new, randomly generated castle.
The combination of these two styles of level design should contradict one another. After all, roguelikes are about the game creating something new itself so the player will be unprepared while Metroidvanias are based around a carefully constructed level the player must find abilities in to access new areas. Rogue Legacy, however, makes the new powers used mostly for Fairy Chests, which hold new armor and abilities.
With this hurdle out of the way, Rogue Legacy is able to create sizable castles while also constantly offering a new one, letting the game feel fresh and fun. The areas are mostly randomly generated, yet there is a large amount of variety between different area types so that the game rarely creates a sense of déjà vu.
The game offers literally hundreds of upgrades, always giving you something new to strive for. These range from extra health and attacks to new classes and double jumping. I was stunned by how many upgrades the developers thought of for this game. Getting new ones proves incredibly addicting, as I always had a sense of motivation whenever I would enter the castle again.
Plus, upgrading never felt like grinding as entering the castle again costs the player any remaining money. Rather than chugging away at enemies until you can afford something shiny and new, every upgrade acquired feels like something you earned, especially the expensive ones. The choice might seem like a small one, but it makes Rogue Legacy all the more satisfying and fun because it prevented any way to grind.
This goes hand in hand with how unforgiving the combat is. Most combat encounters will prove perfectly manageable without losing health, yet they require much caution and smart use of your abilities to do so. The large enemy variety also keeps combat fresh, as each requires a unique plan to overcome, which needs to be rethought in the presence of other enemies.
The character classes also help keep the game fresh. These can have simple differences such as higher attack, magic or health, or creative ones like a low health character who acquires more maximum health with each kill. Characters also have their individual quirks, some of which help, some hinder, some don’t do anything or only offer aesthetic changes. These quirks are rarely spelled out, instead offering an explanation and letting the player figure out what that means on their own. This was a nice touch, as it had a fun new sense of discovery.
The only issue worth noting was that occasionally entering a new area would immediately be met with unavoidable damage. Granted, this was a very rare scenario, but it’s still worth mentioning since the game is so unforgiving.
Rogue Legacy is an absolute must play, especially for Castlevania fans. The combination of mostly fair but unforgiving gameplay, a fun sense of humor and a deep, addicting upgrade tree create an incredibly compelling game. Whether played for five minutes or five hours, Rogue Legacy just works.