By: Matthew Striplen
You made it. You killed every minion thrown your way and scaled every platform. Now it’s time to defeat the final boss. Great, but what next? That’s the question that Roving Rogue asks players in this 16-bit hardcore platformer. Join Kurt the Righteous, a rogue with teleportation powers, on his quest to recover his lost memory and rediscover the true meaning of his quest.
Roving Rogue‘s controls are… enigmatic, which is surprising as it’s a platformer. Most of the challenge comes in the fact that when Kurt moves, it takes him a moment before he reaches full speed, like Sonic games in the ’90s. Unless you’re already familiar with this type of movement, it’ll take a while to get used to it. Jumping is also a little weird, mostly because it happens so slowly. Kurt launches himself super high, and then slowly gains speed before landing. However, sometimes the game doesn’t respond at all when the jump button is pressed.
The most important ability by far, is teleportation. Kurt can teleport in the four cardinal directions, including NW, SE, etc. Additionally, he has two distances to choose from, but selecting the desired one can be tricky. The only way to get the short distance is to press and release the teleport button extremely quickly.
Long teleports are much more manageable, as they allow the player to alter their direction. The brief time required to perform a short teleport proved to be a constant issue. Aiming the teleportation crosshairs was also difficult, as the game tends to change the teleportation target at the last moment, regardless of whether the d-pad or analog stick is used.
Part of what makes retro-inspired games magical is the mastery designers have over pixel creation that their predecessors lacked. Unfortunately, Roving Rogue looks like a 16-bit game that could have been released in the ’90s. Only a few instances show what the developers were truly capable of.
Roving Rogue also uses what sounds like a 16-bit sound generator, but again fails to take advantage of the progress made in chiptune music. Only a few tracks are used in the entire game, and most of them sound pretty much the same. Plus, the music restarts from the beginning of the track after every death, which happens frequently, meaning players rarely get to hear the complete song.
After reading the premise for Roving Rogue, I was quite intrigued as I’ve never heard of playing a game in reverse. Unfortunately, the developers squander their opportunity for great storytelling. The plot is delivered by way of short blurbs at the beginning of each level, complete with hashtags and cringe-worthy jokes.
More plot can be uncovered by collecting the “amnestatuette” figurines scattered through each level, which contain Kurt’s lost memories. Each amnestatuette unscrambles part of a journal entry that shows players the whole story. Collecting all amnestatuettes is also required to access the second quest. The story, however, ends up being boring and unfunny, using emojis and hashtags to compensate for a lack of imagination.
Roving Rogue starts out slow; each level blurring together since they almost all have the same music and backdrop. The difficulty ramps up pretty fast, especially if you’re going for all the amnestatuettes. More enemies and game mechanics are added as things progress, but not fast enough to keep the levels feeling fresh.
One of the biggest culprits is the fact that each stage features rising lava or fallings rocks that force the player onward. The final world, and especially the final stage, offered the most depth in the entire game.
Technical problems run rampant from start to finish. The jumping glitch mentioned above is the worst offender, but frame rate drops are also commonplace. Sometimes Kurt will fall straight through platforms, get stuck in them, or gain the ability to walk through walls.
All stages pan either right to left, or vertically. The vertical stages often require quick downward falls, which the camera struggles to follow. It can take up to a few seconds before Kurt becomes visible again, which often spells defeat.
Multiplayer is also featured, but at a serious price. Roving Rogue only has one save file, but it does not inform the player of this. If you decide to play with a friend, the game will erase all progress made in single player without notifying you first. Requiring gamers to forfeit their save file to play multiplayer is unacceptable for any title made in 2015, especially when the erasure takes place without the player’s knowledge or consent.
After you mourn the loss of your old save file, multiplayer doesn’t offer much. Players work through the same levels as the single-player version but lack the ability to cooperate. Since Roving Rogue doesn’t use items, there’s no way of helping, hurting, or interacting with each other.
Roving Rogue is one of my biggest disappointments in 2015. The wasted story potential and technical problems mar what could have been the next big indie game. Plus, the lack of innovation in level design prevents players from fully engaging in the experience. Worst of all is the forced and unannounced file deletion for multiplayer. Ultimately, Roving Rogue proves to be its own worst enemy by undermining the fantastic premise with its multitude of problems.