Rogue Legacy Review: A Stellar Cellar Door Game
I had first heard of Rogue Legacy through a recommendation from a follower on Twitter, who told me it was the type of game I might like. Apparently, my Twitter followers know me really, really well. Rogue Legacy is a game that is brimming with fresh ideas that invigorate the 2D action adventure genre and provide gamers with one of the most rewarding gaming experiences of 2013.
Developer: Cellar Door Games
Publisher: Cellar Door Games
Released: June 27, 2013
Rogue Legacy, developed by Cellar Door Games, is billed as a “Rogue-lite,” a play on the roguelike genre that typically consists of games that have randomly generated levels, permadeath, and brutal difficulty.
While Rogue Legacy does have randomly generated level layouts and can definitely be considered brutally difficult, the main aspect that sets it apart from other games in this genre is its unique approach to death, which I’ll get to in a little bit. First, let’s just talk about the overall structure of Rogue Legacy.
When you begin the game, you enter a large castle made up of randomly generated rooms and enemies. Picture Castlevania mixed with Spelunky and you’ll get a good idea of what Rogue Legacy is all about. Like Castlevania, you move from room to room, clearing enemies and collecting loot as you explore deeper, though there are no areas locked off that require abilities you obtain later on. Every room of the castle can be explored from the start. Whether you’ll want to explore rooms way outside of your level range, though, is another issue. Hint: You won’t.
The castle itself is divided into four areas. The base level is the starting point: to the north is the tower, to the east is the forest, and to the south is the dungeon. As mentioned before, you can head to any of the areas right from the start of the game, but there is definitely a recommended order in which to tackle them.
Each of the four areas of the castle is guarded by a boss, and only by defeating all four bosses will the door to the final boss open. On paper, this seems like pretty standard procedure for a 2D sidescrolling action/adventure game, right? Well, crumple up that paper, because here is where things get interesting.
When you die in Rogue Legacy — and you will die — all of your progress in that particular castle is lost. You’ll be brought back to the title screen and asked to begin your journey again. Only this time, you’ll be able to choose between three heirs to your legacy. Each of the three characters will have their own randomly generated classes, traits and special ability. It’s up to you to take all of that into consideration and select an heir that is best suited to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish in your next run.
The starting classes include a knight, a sorcerer, a barbarian and a knave. Knights are a good all-around class with decent stats across the board, sorcerers are glass cannons that focus on magical spells, knaves have weak stats but great critical hits, and barbarians have low strength/magic but a ton of health. There are more specialized classes that can be unlocked later, and while some are more useful than others, each has its own specific role that they fill.
Traits are a little more interesting. These range from the useful, like “ADHD,” which allows you to run faster; to the detrimental, like “Ambilevous,” which causes you to throw your spells backwards; to the straight up strange, like “Vertigo,” which forces you to play the entire game upside down. There are a ton of these traits and you’ll want to try them all, even if they do end up leading you to your death at times.
Fortunately, not everything is lost upon death. Your gold carries over to your next of kin, and you can use it to purchase permanent stat upgrades, open up NPC shops, buy new classes, upgrade existing classes, enhance your abilities, and much more. Each time you buy a new upgrade, more upgrades become available, leading to some tough decisions of whether you want to buff your character now, or purchase upgrades that might not be as helpful, but will unlock newer and better upgrades for the future.
Once the shops are unlocked, you can also purchase new equipment, abilities, or passive buffs after first finding the corresponding blueprints or runes. The decisions that you make while shopping are critical because once you decide to head back into the castle, you must forfeit the remainder of your gold. You won’t be able to simply stockpile gold and wait until you’re able to afford the big upgrades.
And you’re going to need these upgrades because Rogue Legacy can be insanely hard for the unprepared. Entering a wide-open room full of enemies feels like opening the doors to a bullet hell shooter as you’re blinded by a storm of colored dots to avoid. Fortunately, the game’s controls are simple, precise, and more than up to the task of enabling some pretty narrow escapes, especially once you have your full range of movement abilities. Just make sure to play it with a controller.
One ingenious addition that will surely prevent unnecessary frustration is the architect. The architect is an NPC that you can purchase once you’re a good portion into the game, and for the price of 70 percent of the gold that you collect during your next run, he can keep the same castle layout as the previous run. So for example, let’s say after much hardship, I finally made it to the boss of the forest. But because of my low health, I don’t stand much of a chance and die. In my next run, if I use the architect, I can lock the previous castle layout in place, use a teleporter to get right back to the boss, and try again with a character at full life. The trade-off here is that the boss will drop substantially less gold, so it becomes a question of whether to take the risk and try to get to the boss on your own, or give up a chunk of your reward and get a free extra shot against the boss with a healthy character.
This feature pretty much single-handedly saves Rogue Legacy from ever becoming too frustrating, and I can’t stress enough its importance for those who are having trouble with one of the game’s extremely tough boss battles.
Rogue Legacy is a game that is full of interesting ideas, and the rare thing is, they all work. Sure, the random nature of the game can lead to some frustration when your three potential characters each have a crappy trait, but part of what makes Rogue Legacy fun is trying to make the best out of a poor situation. There’s a certain unique satisfaction you get when you perform better than you thought you would with a character you had low expectations for, based on his or her class and traits.
It’s not for everyone, and I’d hesitate to recommend Rogue Legacy to those who get discouraged and frustrated easily. But for those who are looking for a challenge, Rogue Legacy is a must-play and a steal at its $15 price tag.
- Challenging old school sidescrolling gameplay that mixes the exploration and combat of Castlevania with the randomness and charm of Spelunky
- Tons of upgrades, equipment, enhancements, and character classes to purchase, making each failed run of the castle still feel like a little victory
- Large variety of enemies keeps combat fresh and exciting whenever venturing into a new area
- Great soundtrack
- New game+ for the hardcore adds even more value to an already value stuffed package
- The randomness sometimes creates frustration when trying to beat a boss and all of your character choices are poor
- Some classes are less useful than others
- Only one save slot
- Brutal difficulty may be a turnoff to those who get frustrated easily
Final Score: 90/100
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