We’re so often painfully reminded in games with roguelike qualities that death is the end. It’s invariably engrained in our psyche that all of our hard work, all that gold, all that loot and all that progression can be flushed down the toilet on account of an errant controller press. Rogue Legacy though, aims to teach us another lesson, namely that death is not the end and that your quirky descendants can resume where you left off, with traits, qualities and difficulties all of their own.
As much a magnificent take on the Metroidvania genre as it is a wholly refreshing riff on roguelike gameplay elements which can so often alienate folks, Rogue Legacy is simply one of the most polished and effortlessly enjoyable games you can play on a PlayStation platform right now.
A 2D action RPG, Rogue Legacy’s setup should be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a Metroid or Castlevania title. Simply, the player guides their swaggering hero through a foreboding looking castle and the areas that surround it and engage in the murder an increasingly challenging variety of monsters and bosses, all the while collecting treasure and leveraging their platforming skills to reach difficult areas and avoid a multitude traps.
From the start it’s clear that developer Cellar Door Games has absolutely nailed all the fundamentals of the Metroidvania genre with supreme confidence. Controlling your hero is nothing less than instantly responsive with pixel-perfect jumps, mid-air adjustments and dodging enemy projectiles while deftly cutting a swath through their monstrous ranks, all proving to be easily achievable for both newcomers and genre veterans alike.
Elsewhere, the game’s slick adherence to such timeless gaming DNA shines through as Rogue Legacy also nails the combat side of the equation with exemplary execution. With a primary melee attack, a secondary spell attack which consumes precious magic points and a variety of enemies and attack patterns to learn, Rogue Legacy feels every bit a worthy heir to the Castlevania’s and Metroid’s of yesteryear.
If Rogue Legacy were just that; merely a supremely confident Metroidvania title which managed to capture and perfect the basics of the genre, the game would arguably prove to be an easy recommendation. However, developer Cellar Door Games has built upon its strong understanding of these fundamentals with a number of innovative features which allow Rogue Legacy to transcend its classic inspirations.
Unlike other roguelike games, Rogue Legacy allows you to keep all of your gold, stats and equipment each time you die. Crucially, the gold which manages to endure even when your character is separated from their mortal coil can be used to purchase new equipment, enchantments, stat upgrades and even entirely new classes to play as.
It’s a notable deviation from the usual punishment that we expect from roguelike games, but it’s one that is put to good use as there is a real sense of progression even when your hero kicks the bucket for the umpteenth time. Proving no small feat, the developer achieved the unlikely by making the player feel confident and eager for another try instead of ending up dispirited enough to stop playing.
Another way in which Rogue Legacy subverts traditional roguelike gameplay is with an NPC called the architect. When bought, the architect can freeze the layout of the castle and prevent it from shifting in exchange for a share of your earnings each time you journey into the castle while it remains in its fixed state.
The key benefit of enlisting his services of course is that it allows players to practice on the game’s multitude bosses. A group of screen-filling nightmares that cause the room to swim in projectile-inducing death, Rogue Legacy’s bosses are cruelly powerful adversaries that call upon every ounce of player skill as well as the best traits and equipment in order to be victorious.
Rogue Legacy’s biggest flip of the script however, comes in the form of the descendant system that forms its namesake. You see, after each death an important choice must be made. Specifically a choice to decide which descendant will embark on the quest to conquer the evil cloistered within the castle.
Here, the player can choose from a trio of markedly different descendants. These offspring will not only represent a cross-section of the character classes that have been unlocked but crucially, they’ll have their own traits too. With traits ranging from colour-blindness to I.B.S and ADHD, these conditions while imbued with the lip-curling wit seen elsewhere in the game, carry real gameplay ramifications for whichever each descendent they happen to be assigned to.
The O.C.D trait for instance, gives the player magic points in return for every item of furniture that they smash, the far-sighted condition makes everything around the character super blurry and hard to see, while the vertigo trait flips the world upside down and makes play insanely difficult as a result. When taken in tandem with the varying classes that each descendant encompasses and the procedural generated levels, it ensures that every playthrough is both thrilling and refreshingly unique.
If there is one crack in Rogue Legacy’s otherwise formidable armour it’s one which lies in the melee combat itself. While the act of vanquishing foes up close and personal is always nothing less than satisfying, there just isn’t much variety in the tools that you have to do it.
Regardless of whichever class that your descendant portends to be, the primary weapon of choice is a sword. Sure enough, a new sword might do more damage than the one equipped previously and be visualised in a different shade of grey, but in reality it still handles identically and as such makes you pine for something a little different. It just seems like a missed opportunity really, especially as each class could stand to have their own thematic weapon; wizards could have used staves and shinobi could employ kunai for example.
Beyond such relatively inconsequential niggles though, Rogue Legacy ably impresses in the value stakes. Not only will your total playthrough time be in the double-digits by the time you make a half-decent run at the game’s first boss, but the game also supports cross-play too, meaning that the player can resume their generations-spanning struggle across three different PlayStation platforms.
Make no mistake though, Rogue Legacy is perilously addictive and the ‘one more go’ hook is as strong here as it has been in any game that has been around for the last few years. As such, the developers should be praised for creating a roguelike that rather than punish the player with every death, instead empowers them and makes them want to continue again and again.
Much like the improvements that each generation of hero in Rogue Legacy possess over their forebears, so too have Cellar Door Games transcended their own classical DNA.
Operating at the apex of the Metroidvania genre and both brilliantly subverting and embracing the best roguelike game mechanics, Rogue Legacy stands as a towering achievement and an easy recommendation to anyone not put off by the idea of near-endless, social-life destroying fun.