I absolutely love the mechanics of Rogue-like games; the thrill of loot hunting, the artificial freshness of randomised rooms. Even being forced to start from scratch once I’ve eventually crapped out at some embarrassingly early point reminds me of good times in arcades. But through some cruel twist of fate, I am woefully bad at them. If only I could actually finish one for once. If only they would make something like a Rogue-like but….lighter?

Enter Rogue Legacy, a Rogue-lite. Same harsh policy on death, randomised loot and rooms, but with half the sugar. Well, not quite, the totality of death isn’t exactly the same this time. The reason being that you start off in the prologue as a legendary knight, Johann, tasked with upholding all that is sacred to the realm. Then you off the king for some reason. Once the game begins proper you play as one of three possible descendants of Johann, all with different traits and classes, searching the castle for…something. The plot is a bit thin, but little journal entry nuggets throughout the game reveal enough scant details to pique an interest. Once your first feeble knave falls to a flying picture frame or a spike trap, you start again as one of their offspring, along with whatever cash they found lying around inside (presumably sent via carrier pigeon with your last breath). With this you can buy armour and stat upgrades, the sweet lifeblood of Rogue Legacy, and what makes it different and far more accessible than most others in the genre.

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Rogue Legacy doesn’t smack you in the chops and tell you your thumbs aren’t fast enough like its cousins, instead it cuddles you and offers the tiniest hint of progression. You get to keep the levels and armour of your predecessor (maybe it was a carrier Hawk or Pteranodon) and buy runes to add unique stats to your loadout. All this goes a long way to alleviating some of the pain of having to start over, though sometimes I still ended up banging my head against a wall. Especially after particularly unlucky runs where I failed to bring home enough gold for my son/daughter to buy a better sword to avenge me. But eventually I started to feel the improvements, when flying wizard robes fall in one hit where they used to take an afternoon of jumping and dodging to conquer. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of that left to do in the other areas of the castle.

Though the castle and rooms are fully randomised at every entry, it still has a vague structure to it: Forest to the right, tower above, dark depths below. Each has its own enemies and boss, and defeating them all gains you entry to the mysterious final door, constantly mocking you with its secrets every time you enter the castle. This, combined with the fun of fast-paced combat means I’ve never felt too disheartened to have to trudge my way back in, handing over all my unspent gold to the doorman on the way. Part of the reason I’m having trouble is Rogue Legacy also combines another genre I’ve never held hands and skipped merrily through the park with: Bullet hell. Cellar Door Games, the developers of this family tree funhouse are quite proud of their journey to this point, to the ends of keeping not just the mechanics of their previous games (including Bullet Audyssey, a bullet hell) but also displaying them proudly in portraits on the walls of special rooms you come across every now and then, along with the journal entries, treasure chests and shrines to pray for assistance in the form of temporary powers.

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These on-the-spot blessings are different from the inherent congenital traits your latest blood relative has to put up with. For one, those granted from statues are more likely to be…useful. See, the traits, much like the vast majority of genetically-inherited surprises, are usually detrimental to your dungeon crawling abilities; with the exception of Peripheral Artery Disorder (your feet have no pulse to set off spike traps) and a couple of others I won’t spoil as discovering them is half the fun. However most act as cumbersome weights to a playthrough, Vertigo in particular flips the whole game upside down, further ganking the controls.

I say further here as, despite a willful admittance of my inability to do the jumps and be the dodge, there are still some iffy control issues that would also affect less incapable players. Like the way your knight-of-choice has a fairly long attack animation. Not such a difficult problem to overcome with some adjusting, except for when you’re approached from behind and immediately hit attack – in preparation to turn around and let the sword swing do its grisly business – only to be stuck facing the direction you hit attack in. Also the jump is nice and lofty when you need to clear an entire screen in a single bound, but not so great when a flying eyeball has positioned itself just above the arc of your sword, but low enough that your lightest tap on the jump button sends you careening into its cornea.

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Speaking of the enemies, while there are a huge number of them, they’re not exactly original. So far I’ve encountered at least eight different flying wizard robe dudes, each with a different name sure, but all the same recoloured, re-sized sprite. Their attacks are barely distinguishable too, mostly coming down to the size of the fireball they fling, or the number of them, or how fast they move. Understandably, for an indie game, costs had to be cut somewhere, but it surely couldn’t have hurt to find budget for just four or five extra enemy types to spread the load.

Wrap Up

By this point you’ve noticed the only flaws I’ve pointed out are nothing more than minor quibbles, and that’s for very good reason. This game is magnificent. I’ve never been so pleased to be so bad at a game, because I can actually feel myself getting better and it feels great. Rogue Legacy can be frustrating at times, but never too challenging and that makes it the most fun genealogical knight simulator you’ll play this year. Possibly every year.

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About The Author

News Editor

Chris has always been, and always shall be, a gamer. He sometimes does not enjoy that label, but he does enjoy games so it's mostly accurate. He likes rain, Adult Swim cartoons and T-shirts with obscure gaming references. He dislikes mushrooms, bigotry and speaking in the third person. You can follow him @higgyc if you should so choose.

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