We love our permanent deaths and our constantly changing level structure. But I can’t help but wonder if this has been one of the best years ever for the roguelike genre. Sure, folks like to debate til they’re blue in the face on what make a “true roguelike” but we decided to just slap a list together of our absolute favorites that dare to self-classify as “rogue.” Be gentle with us, we’re taking some liberties!

Downwell

downwell

Jump down a well. Blast enemies below with your gunboots. Downwell is not a complicated game, and that’s it’s strongsuit. It’s also got a consistent roguelight progression system, so you’re constantly dialed-in even if you’re not making it terribly far down the well. Simple and effective platforming controls ensure a level of precision and active control that’s practically unheard of in other iOS-friendly platforming games. We’ve heard of just as many people finishing Downwell on Steam with a controller as we have people finishing the game on their iPhone — which is super impressive in a world where everybody’s trying to do virtual controls on iPhone well. It’s mostly because the controls are so gosh darn simple. Jump and shoot are the same button. And all you have to worry about besides that are left and right.

Jose said it best in his Indie Haven review of Downwell, “Downwell is right up there with the Spelunky, Rogue Legacy and other great games in this genre, but doesn’t hijack your life like the others do. The game doesn’t give a good reason to stop playing, but is okay to stop because it only takes but a few seconds of playing to find a rhythm with it.”

Downwell is action-roguelike-gameplay at its best and is only well-met by the following game.

Nuclear Throne

nuclearthrone

Thanks to some of the most refined top-down shooting out there, Nuclear Throne shows us that a fast trigger finger and permadeath go together like mutated cheese and half-edible ham. Er, well, better than that. It’s tasty despite having a grody and chunky aesthetic.

Pick your mutant and get ready to start shooting. This game goes fast, and can be over even faster thanks to some super-punishing difficulty and characters who have smart trade-offs and balancing for health bars. It often doesn’t take more than two hits to expire, but it’s that quick-retry button that keeps me in it for another round. I’ve never made it past the third level, but even right now my trigger-finger is itching.

The Swindle

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The Swindle came with a compelling promise of being a stealth heist game about breaking into steampunk houses and cracking safes with Deus Ex-like cyber tension. It delivered, but it also came with a punishingly hard metagame of reaching a seemingly impossible monetary goal within 100 runs. Imagine somebody told you to rob poor people’s houses and raise $100,000 within a hundred days! Oh wait, no. A hundred thousand pounds, not dollars.

Anywho, my point is that The Swindle is bloody hard, even without the inscrutable metagame challenge. Nevertheless, those of us who played it had fun times with it. Our Robert Edwards said, “As with the best roguelikes on the market, The Swindle leeches your time from you with a moorish mix of harsh but fair mechanics and near-endless replayability.”

Pick it up if you don’t think most stealth roguelikes are hard enough. Speaking of, that brings me to the next game.

Invisible, Inc.

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Invisible, Inc. is a masterful tactical stealth game. You’re cast into a pair of sneaky sneaks with just enough tools to get in, get the goods, and get out in record turn-time. Turns being the operative word, here. We had the opportunity as early adopters to follow the game through the early access process and see it have a dozen different outfits before getting all swanked up. And it should be noted that the final build smoothed out a lot of the over-harsh edges that made the game seem a little impenetrable (difficulty-speaking).

Invisible Inc. is the kind of game we could see ourselves continuing to tinker with for a long time — and that’s before the Contingency Plan expansion. However, our own Robert Edwards wasn’t super-keen on the game. But he’s British, so we have a feeling that the game’s absence of tea mechanics has something to do with that. Fortunately, that got solved with the next game.

Sunless Sea

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Sunless Sea has tea mechanics. And by that, we mean it allows you to take the helm of a trade boat that allows you to trade tea, though a terribly disgusting type of tea that we can’t imagine anybody would actually want to drink. The game also uses the best brandline in seafaring video game history, “LOSE YOUR MIND. EAT YOUR CREW. DIE.” And with that, the game’s tone is set. It’s awash in the macabre and perfect for Brits who like good tea with their gross games.

Sunless Sea doesn’t sit comfortably in the roguelike genre as combat takes the back seat (or maybe the poop deck) in favor of good trade routes, story swapping, and well-written characters. But for those who like a rich world awash in lore, atmosphere, and permadeath, this is your hole away from home.

I found myself going mad with the slow pace and manic fear of running out of fuel more than the fear of giant terrifying sea creatures (though they came too). The real terror in this one is when you run out of supplies and have to eat your crew to stay alive. I had to do that almost right off the bat. It was not an appealing start, but it was the foundation for my longest run in the game. So that’s something.

Galak Z

galakz

Galak Z’s trailers might be a little bit disorienting with how they show-off the kinetic laser-filled drift-battles with momentum-rich trick shots. The real game is a little drier than that, which a huge emphasis on space-stealth which mostly means killing your thrusters so you can drift by some nasty space pirates.

The 1980s anime vibe rips straight out of Robotech with a rich Saturday morning TV vibe. Characters flow with personality-rich animation and voiceovers, but the story itself is relatively slim thanks to the procedural level design and loose structure. Each of the five “Seasons” can be approached with true “Rogue” permadeath or a more chill “Arcade” vibe that lets you save in between levels. You still retain your health and progress between those saves, but it’s nice to have a little bit of grace in this punishing structure where one little space-battle can easily result in a Game Over screen.

The spaceship takes a bit of a back seat when you get the mech-mode unlocked, as it’s typically just a whole lot easier to turn into a robot with a sword, shield, and grapple beam than to just line up your shots and do a lot of dodging. But the core momentum of the game is what keeps this alive. It’s that floating through space, trying not to be seen moments that fill with tension and explode when you’re seen and have to shoot your way out with lots of explosions, lasers, and giant space robots.

Crypt of the Necrodancer

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I bought a DDR dance pad just for this game when it first came out on Early Access. I may have shredded some belly fat, but the best way to play this game is definitely with a controller as it’s just too fast for my feet to keep moving all the time. The key to this tactical turn-based RPG is that each turn is tied to the beat of the music, which never relents. It’s this dance-tactics hybrid that works especially well in this traditional roguelike world. And it’s the songs themselves that really get inside of you and help this game to come alive.

The smartest part about Necrodancer is how it incorporates an actual dance component to the combat. Each enemy is best attacked with a certain ratio of dance steps towards them and away from them. And some enemies are only best attacked with certain loadouts. This game absolutely excels if you love dance and timing, but it has enough grace to the movement that left footed folks like me still think we’ve got rhythm.

I’m not the only one who loved this game on-staff. Jose also had some glowing things to say about Necrodancing when the game exited Early Access back in May.

Speaking of Early Access, Early Access games probably shouldn’t be considered for Year End lists, but there’s a worthy exception:

Darkest Dungeon

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January 16th (Darkest Dungeon’s official launch and PS4 release) is close enough to slip this one under our GOTY radar in my opinion, especially considering Darkest Dungeon should have been awarded for being the Most Complete Early Access Game in Early Access History.

Darkest Dungeon’s strengths lie not only in an extremely competent turn-based party combat system but in how the game factor’s stress-management into the overlying adventure of plunging dungeon depths. Our crew couldn’t stop writing about the game. Liam Padfield said, “Darkest Dungeon keeps pulling me in again and again, something an early access game usually has trouble with.” But probably the best write-ups came from our Erin Hyles when she said, “I Got My Party Wiped in Darkest Dungeon and It Was Awesome.

It’s for this reason and more that Darkest Dungeon would easily take our pick for Best Roguelike of 2015, should you allow it, you picky-snarky reader, you!

We hope you enjoyed the list. It should be noted that Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth was an extremely well-deserved expansion to Rebirth that satisfied the longings and desires of many people. It totally deserves a nod. So consider this a nod. As for the rest of this list, we’re excited about how it turned out and hope you find something you like — or at least some validation on your choices. Let us know if we missed anything in the comments below!