Indie Gems: 3 Indie Game Rogue-Likes To Start Your Journey

Indie Gems is an ongoing feature in which we highlight small groups of similar indie games, often united by a single theme, that are worth your time and attention. Think of this as your weekly Indie Game Playlist.

Rogue-likes are a notoriously difficult genre to get into. They offer extremely rewarding and complex interactions to the player, but often do so through labyrinthine interfaces, esoteric mechanics, and sloppy controls. Starting with a dedicated, popular rogue-like such as Nethack or Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup often frustrates players into never playing a rogue-like again. It’s an important genre to try at least once, though, as it has far-reaching influence on games like FTL or Spelunky. Thankfully, there are a few special non-traditional rogue-likes that push the boundaries of what a rogue-like can be, and they are extremely easy to get into to boot! So put on your robe and wizard cap, or perhaps your body armor and grenade bandolier, and get ready for some extremely satisfying games.

Developer: Brian Walker

For traditional rogue-likes, the most confusing aspects are usually stats and item management. Juggling your basic attributes while working with an ever-growing inventory can be incredibly confusing to the end user. What if it was a lot simpler, though? What if all you had to worry about was being strong? That’s the question Brogue asks, and the answer it gives is quite satisfying.

Brogue is, at heart, a very traditional rogue-like. All of the typical complexities of the genre – unidentified items, complex monster behavior, confusing levels – make a showing, but they don’t feel overwhelming. This is because Brogue hinges its entire experience on drastically simplifying the mechanics of item use and combat. Instead, the focus is on putting the player into situations that require more brainpower to get out of. Your only attribute may be strength, but you’re no musclehead, and surviving requires more thought than simply hitting everything over the head. Although you can certainly try!

Brogue is especially unusual in that it is an ASCII-based game that uses alphanumeric symbols in some extremely creative ways. It’s a pleasure to look at without a tileset, which is extremely rare in the world of rogue-likes. There are special effects – such as gas propagation – and a line of sight system keeps exploration interesting by denying you vision past objects you can’t really look beyond – like trees, or the aforementioned gas clouds.

If you were to pick one game from this list and play it, Brogue is the one to choose.

Rogue Souls
Developer: CA Sinclair, Sheldon K

Dark Souls is often compared to rogue-likes in terms of difficulty and punishment. After all, the slightest mistake could result in losing a significant amount of progress. Rogue Souls takes that principle to its logical extreme: It turns Dark Souls into a true rogue-like, ASCII art and all.

Rogue Souls plays much like a normal rogue-like. Move around a grid, explore rooms, and fight enemies. Where it differs is in the implementation of a stamina system. This system governs everything you do, from moving to attacking, and if you use too much stamina you will be unable to perform any actions for a short while. If you are familiar with any of the slower paced action games of recent memory (Dark Souls, Dragon’s Dogma) you’ll feel right at home. The advancement system of Dark Souls – find a resting spot, use souls to increase attributes – is also present. The current art is placeholder, but some nice new tilesets are on the way for those that aren’t interested in looking at low-resolution sprites.

There is currently no win condition for Rogue Souls, but it is being regularly updated by the developer, with a new update (including some slick new art) due in the next few days. It’s definitely a game to keep an eye on.

Developer: Kornel Kisielewicz, Derek Yu

Not every rogue-like has to be about hacking and slashing. Some can be about shooting! DoomRL takes Doom – everyone’s favorite classic shooter by id Software – and gives it the rogue-like treatment. The result is a game that manages to twist the definition of a rogue-like while remaining true to both of its core principles: replicating the Doom experience, and providing a distinctly rogue-like challenge.

DoomRL, unlike most rogue-likes, is almost entirely based on ranged combat. Just like Doom itself, you have a stable of weapons that you must use to eliminate the demonic hordes. Each weapon has different attributes – such as firing speed, projectile spread, penetration, fire modes, and so on – and mastering the use of each one for specific situations is essential. Unlike a traditional RL, damage you take in combat can’t be regenerated by waiting. Instead, you have to find caches of armor, ammo, and health to continue your assault through the demons. It’s a very faithful rogue-like representation of the Doom experience, which is extremely unusual.

On top of the classic, albeit altered, Doom gameplay, there is also an interesting metagame to work through. Your progress through DoomRL is marked by milestones reached by your characters, such as clearing certain special stages, performing achievements, or finding certain items. These milestones don’t unlock much, but they act as fun bragging rights and as a way to keep you coming back for more. Assuming you don’t already continue playing because it’s so well-designed.

Know of an indie game worthy of our attention, either rogue-like or otherwise? Let us know in the comments!

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