Rogue Legacy: Tolerable

Expect to see this screen a lot.

Expect to see this screen a lot.

Rogue Legacy: Tolerable

This is Rogue Legacy, not the 1980 game Rogue. Sorry, Mike Ricca! Hope your controller works ok.

Rogue Legacy is a 2013 2D platformer Metroidvania quasi-roguelike mish-mash of a game by Cellar Door Games. (1) It has a randomized procedurally-generated map that is different every time you play the game. The player avatar is a deliberately cliché knight that holds his/her sword at a 45 degree angle and swipes it like some fantasy protractor. You must navigate the pseudo-random castle and seek out fights, loot, and four bosses to open the path to the end battle.

It’s a lot of fun running around, hacking up enemies with the tip of your sword’s hitbox, looking for money and equipment recipes. This game is hugely challenging. Healing is tremendously scarce and enemies feel like they deal six times as much damage as they ought to. Expect to die very many times (2) while you figure out what you’re doing. And each time you die, you can pick from one of three (six with a powerup) new characters, each with their own class and traits.

These classes look good on paper: slow with lots of HP, fast with low HP but strong attacks, magic user, skeleton that acts like Magikarp, etc. I’ve looked at various reviews and discussions of Rogue Legacy and few can agree on what the best classes are. Assassins are useless at first but grow significantly stronger after putting a lot of points into the critical hit skills. Spelunkers gather more gold but are extremely weak; staying alive by picking a class better at killing will probably result in more money. Archmages seem like Spellswords except weaker (they regain mana by killing whereas Spellswords regain it by simply striking enemies). It’s all terribly inconsistent. If you roll a Spellsword with OCD and Crow Storm, you can beat just about anything with little effort, but you’ll usually get crap.

And this one.

…and this screen, too.

Many of the traits your characters can have are simply useless. I realize that all of them are that way on purpose, but it results in too much randomness and I fail to see the humor in arbitrarily making the protagonist bald, the backgrounds monochrome, or seeing everything upside down. It adds nothing to the gameplay and results in a lot of unusable “heirs” that are often unplayable. Lots of them are worthless or at least inefficient, often leading the best course of action to being run your pathetic nearsighted hypochondriac spelunker who farts all the time right into the nearest spiked pit. Sure, you could also randomly get something useful like OCD or No Foot Pulse, but that just means that skill keeps getting taken away from the equation. You could play NetHack as any class you want, any time you want, so why not here? Maybe it’s to hide the fact that some of them are laughably overpowered.

The levels change each time you start a new character unless you talk to a guy in the town who can lock it to what the map was on your last run (teleporters and all, but with any open treasure chests still empty) at the expense of reducing the value of gold to 70%. This is a great option that opens doors for players who just want to practice against bosses or to continue without having to die in the opening area dozens of times for no reason.

But not all of the rooms are interesting. Some rooms offer nothing but a book with flavor text or literally nothing at all, whereas some rooms will be so jam-packed with creatures that make a beeline straight for you (or even worse, stay put and launch projectiles at you) that some class/spell combinations will be entirely unable to proceed. Much like The Binding of Isaac, you should eventually learn at a glance what is worth fighting for and when it’s better to skip a room. Rogue Legacy tests your skill but it unfortunately does as much to reward grinding as your ability to actually play it.

Pro tip: If you get the Vertigo trait, you lose the game.

Pro tip: If you get the Vertigo trait, you lose the game.

Equippable items are too uniform, as well; you can choose from several different types of swords, armor, boots, etc. (after finding the plans throughout the castle) but aside from the capes they are nearly identical in application. You’d think that the weapons you can pick might have some special abilities, but they only have the same bonuses to stats that you’d get from bracers of the same name. It reminds me of the selectable weapons in the Soul Calibur games and how they are much less creative than those from the original Soul Blade. Another opportunity missed, though maybe future updates will add some variety.

One thing that roguelikes (and similar games, leave me alone) aren’t supposed to have is tedious grinding. A player should–given an effectively unlimited amount of skill and knowledge–be able to beat the game without having to work for all of these unlockables. If you don’t mind dodging bullet hells with perfect precision and smacking basic enemies twenty times each before they die, then sure you could do this. But for us mortals, in Rogue Legacy you must play not only to improve your ability at playing the game but also to jump through enough hoops and increase your stat numbers enough that you can handle enemies with more health, damage, critical chance, etc. The work you have to put into grinding to fill out the equipment and skill trees is a common hook to keep you playing but it is as dreary as it is unfair.

If you do manage to beat it, Rogue Legacy offers a seemingly endless cascade of after-games, which is a nice touch. In a lot of games that offer a New Game+ you are merely presented with enemies that have higher numbers, but Rogue Legacy gives you not only stronger enemies but it pulls monster types from future areas and places them earlier in the map. And all of the tougher monsters throw extra projectiles at you, not to mention the game’s wonky hitboxes. If you want to experience the thrill of literally dying in two hits, this is the mode for you.

One thing I like without reservation: the bosses are great, and easily the highlight of Rogue Legacy. There are six of them total and not all classes are made equal in your struggles against them. You need to practice quite a bit in order to defeat the bosses and it feels like a great accomplishment to conquer one of them, even if you did cheese your way through with an overpowered character. In New Game++ and higher it’s generally believed that the best thing to do is skip the regular enemies and go straight for the bosses.

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The art in my opinion doesn’t have a lot of character (except for the protagonist’s memorably dorky diagonally-held sword) but nothing stands out as especially ugly. Enemy hitboxes are often unintuitive but at least their physical appearances clearly indicate what you’re up against: skeletons throw bones, floating wizards shoot stuff, knights bash away with their swords and polearms. It’s functional, and the bosses look better than the rest. And the soundtrack has the best use of coins jangling for musical purposes since that Pink Floyd song.

I encountered a bug while playing that slowed the game to the speed of molasses going downhill in winter. It would go away if I alt-tabbed and clicked back in, but it would return every two minutes or so. A Google search said that this is due to using a USB controller and that a new patch would fix it, but I had no luck even after updating.

There are no guides for Rogue Legacy as of this writing but there is a wiki and that should reveal everything in case you want to spoil yourself (which might actually be a good idea so you don’t get stuck after buying the wrong stuff).

Rogue Legacy is respectable on its own merits and I had a lot of fun in the short time I played it. But the grinding is monotonous it seems more like a bonus challenge to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night than a complete game. It has too much reliance on randomness, a lame sense of humor, and many of the character options might as well not exist. It’s not truly a bad game but it contains many flaws. Rogue Legacy is good for a short burst of entertainment, but it lacks the lasting greatness of Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac. I wanted to like it more, but it wouldn’t let me.

———-

(1) You know what? I’m just going to go ahead and call Rogue Legacy a roguelike. All the semantic wanking from the alleged PC master race over what qualifies as a true roguelike is petty and stupid. Words have definitions, sure, but if you’re so pedantic that you want to rave on the internet that Merriam-Webster should not besmirch the sacred name of roguelikes because your arbitrary definition only allows for text-based turn-based American RPGs, you’re probably sperging too much even for Dwarf Fortress players. Give it a rest.

(2) My first win: 174 children, 11:27. Terrible, to be sure, but I did do a lot of exploring/experimenting and I ripped through descendants like toilet paper.

About Lee

Lee Laughead writes stuff about video games. Read his Twitter at https://twitter.com/Mesarphelous even though Twitter sucks.

Exploring Stuff, Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Metroidvania, Platformer, Roguelike, Video Gaming

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