Review: Rogue Legacy

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As suggested by the title, Rogue Legacy is a game that features a series of randomized dungeons, or one big dungeon that randomly changes every time someone enters it, where one hero will pass along a legacy gathered in the dungeon(s) to his or her heir. Players will take the helm of a dynasty of mighty warriors and mages tasked with entering a haunted castle to find a fabled cure for a king recently attacked by an assassin. The hero could also be trying to exterminate all of the monsters inside the haunted structure as it is a five second walk from the good castle and is seriously bringing down property values. Despite a bare bones story, which does not rear its head beyond the bookends of the game and a few journal entries randomly encountered, Rogue Legacy is a great twist on an old formula.

The style of game is very similar to the Castlevania games: The hero will run, jump and swing a large sword in an exaggerated, overhand swing to kill skeletons, floating eyeballs, animated suits of armor and other staples of 8-bit castles. Secondary weapons like straight-line thrown daggers and arching axes also make an appearance. The main difference is that there is no reason to go back and explore old areas of the castle. Alucard might have to wait until he can transform into a cloud of mist to go through grates, but the hero of Rogue Legacy can jump his way from the starting room to the end chamber, assuming he does not get taken down by monsters or a trap and can manage to take down all of the bosses lurking in each area of the castle. No additional moves required. It is probably more accurate to say that it plays like the Castlevania games that came before Symphony of the Night, as the hero will navigate a series of connected 2D rooms filled with enemies and treasure looking for the door that will lead to an area’s boss. The look is also significantly less gothic, distinct and playful monsters inhabit the castle, and at no point does it seem that the game is taking itself too seriously. Knocking over candelabras and torches will often produce nothing, but sometimes will yield coins or life giving chicken wings. As with all things, eventually the brave and bold hero who slew many skeletons, leapt more spikes than found in the most prolific prickle, and amassed a fortune, will die. And that will be it. No respawns, no checkpoints, nothing.  He’s dead. Game Over. Enjoy the Title Screen.

At that title screen players will be allowed to Continue their Legacy by choosing one of three heirs. The bright new lads and lasses will go forth into the castle anew and take up the torch of progress dropped by their sire’s untimely death. Due to the roving chaos magics that invest the castle, its layout will change so that what was once a long corridor connecting two large rooms is now a small dead end room that holds a treasure chest and a named, overly powerful version of a regular enemy standing in front of it. And should that hero fall in battle or get impaled on a spike, his or her heir will continue on with the quest. The game will go on like this, generation to generation, evil castle to complexly new evil castle, ad infinitum, until eventually someone manages to complete the family’s quest. Depending on how unlucky the various family members are, this might take hundreds of generations.

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As the castle changes, so too do the warriors. When choosing an heir, the next hero that will brave the dungeon, players will be able to see his class, size and additional weird inherited trait. All of these characters look fairly similar–they are related after all–but they are visually distinct enough to know at a glance what their specialty is. The wizard is good at magic and has a long, flowing white beard, barbarians with their extra hit points tend to be beefy, and the fast ninjas sport a headband with a metal plate in the center (Believe it!). The various classes also have a special ability to help differentiate themselves. Ninjas can teleport short distances, paladins can block attacks with shields and barbarians can shout to knock enemies about. In addition to all of this each potential heir has a strange quirk. These can be sort of funny–nearsightedness causes the edges of the screen to become blurry and dyslexic causes text to become jumbled–or can actually affect how the game is played. For example gigantism causes the character to become huge, lugging around a massive sword that can hit far further than a regular castle climber, but because the afflicted freak is so massive she can’t fit down some secret passages and is much easier for enemies to hit. These types of quirks and the random nature of how classes show up–it is possible to go several generations without seeing a particular class–leads to characters that will always play a little different.

Like most roguelike games the primary thing to find in the castle is money. Gold coins are the only things of substance passed down through the generations other than royal DNA. Would be heroes must give all of the gold in their pockets to the castle’s gate keeper Charon to enter, and since banks have not been established in the kingdom, every time a hero will enter the castle the inheritance will be set to zero. To counteract this loss of progress heroes can improve their ancestral home by purchasing wings and putting additional levels onto their own castle which causes everyone that hails from the manor to have greater magical aptitude or improve one of the special abilities of a class. In practice this means that provided your last castle run generated enough money, you will be able to purchase static upgrades that will improve every character that follows. This, in turn, means that the 47th prince will be much stronger than the first one. Some upgrades cost far more than others, but there are so many that it is usually possible to afford at least one between runs.

In addition to cash boxes the castle also contains special chests that contain blueprints for different swords and armor, as well as runes to enchant them. After these plans are found they can be purchased from the blacksmith and fortune teller who will appear on the short walk from the good guy castle to the bad guy one (assuming the upgrade to have them show up was purchased). The gear is straightforward: Better swords hit harder, and the runes can change the hero’s mobility by making him faster or allowing him to jump more. Some chests are there for the taking and some have special requirements. One might require players to navigate to it without jumping, go though an obstacle course without taking damage, or defeat the army of enemies in the room. Should the special rule be broken the chest will shut forever, making their appearance daunting. Later in the game heroes will be able to lock the castle down for their run so that its rooms do not change and these special chests unlock, though all treasure will only yield a fraction of what it normally would. The incentive is to always keep the castle random unless you are trying to open a particular special chest which might not even appear again if the castle was generated anew.

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This game can be very addictive, but also a little frustrating. I found myself at times running through heir after heir to try and get all of the passive bonuses available. Between needing lots of gold to upgrade the family manor to get these bonuses and the cash to buy new gear, there is a great incentive to make each run last as long as it can. The controls are snappy so it makes multiple playthroughs a joy. Between the very pricey upgrades that affect how much money can be generated when gathering coins and the relatively commonplace stat bump upgrades, it almost always feels like you are progressing in the game, even if one hero doesn’t manage to make it out of the initial dungeon tile set. Frustration with Rogue Legacy will set in if a few heroes in a row happen to die too early and find no new items or do not make enough money to buy any upgrades. Even if a sire’s bequest is one coin short of the next upgrade, all of that money will go out the window upon reentering the castle. This was annoying when it happened once, but after a few runs like this streamed together, I wanted to uninstall the game in a rage as all I had to show for my efforts was stress and a dog who was as upset at the monitor as I was yelling at. Thankfully this only happened a few times and the barking dog managed to not wake the neighbors. There were more good runs strung together than wasted ones, though the prospect for bad times remains.

Rogue Legacy is a fun game that is worth playing for anyone that likes challenging action games with a sense of progression. Cellar Door Games had a basic idea, a two-dimensional action game that plays sort of like Castlevania with randomized levels, and executed it very well. After about eight or ten hours or so with it most players will wish that there was some mechanism to speed up the progression as there is not much genuinely new content to experience beyond the bosses, but at that point the end of the game should be in sight. It might take a long time to either get there or to unlock all of the upgrades, but at least it is a joy to play in getting there. The dungeon layout at times can seem poorly planned or tedious, clumps of rooms not having any meaningful challenge or treasure, but that is just the nature of a roguelike game. Whether for short bursts or longer, multi-heir sessions, Rogue Legacy is a great game to keep installed despite occasional frustrations. If nothing else, since the castle has a different layout every time, it is possible to put the game down for a few months and then pick it back up without missing a beat. Something that can’t be said of the Castlevania games of the last decade.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Classic combat with a new twist
+ There is often something meaningful to do
+ Can be genuinely funny

Cons:
– Progression can slump
– After beating the first boss, it can take a while to get to the next zone

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: Cellar Door Games
Developer: Cellar Door Games
Release Date: 6/27/2013
Genre: Roguelike 2D Platformer
Players: 1
Source: Game purchased by reviewer

About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.