Review: Rogue Legacy

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I think I only got a few hours into Rogue Legacy the first time before I shelved it. Platformers lean heavily on how you move and what you can do with those moves, and the mish-mashed castle of aggravating traps and meaty foes to hack through wasn’t ticking the right boxes for me. I had something of a breakthrough when I returned to it, though, a new way of looking for upgrades and building my manor. Before I knew it I had beaten it, and my reward was a new perspective on what Rogue Legacy accomplishes in its tight designs.

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If nothing else, Rogue Legacy gets points for having probably the best setup for a roguelike possible. You hail from a long line of adventurers delving into the ever-shifting halls of a forgotten castle, and when you die you take on the role of one of your children. This means your successor (you pick one of three offered) is fully randomized, from class to skills to quirks like flatulence and vertigo. The story fully utilizes this setup as well, which is really cool when (if) you reach the end and see how it all ties together. It would be a shame if that hook was wasted, but luckily the game is a pretty solid platformer and roguelike to boot.

Before each run, you get the option to upgrade your manor which serves as a sort of skill tree for your characters. Cash can be spent on stat boosts, new class unlocks, or a few special effects that alter the way you play. You’ll also drop gold on new gear and enchantments which need to be found in the castle first and offer dramatic gameplay enhancements like lifesteal attacks, difficulty bumps, and multiple air jumps and dashes. The last option offered is locking down the castle layout for your next run, allowing you to explore the same halls as your last hero did at the cost of most of their gold. It’s an interesting feature that’s not common among roguelikes, adding a layer of strategy that gives you a better shot at finding specific upgrades or reaching bosses by sacrificing your other treasures.

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The actual platforming inside the procedurally-generated castle is probably the weakest part of the game as I mentioned, but by no means bad. The trade-off for randomization is very simple room layouts, mostly spruced up by liberal application of breakables and traps. There are special challenge rooms, miniboss rooms, and stranger secret rooms to find as well which do help keep exploration fresh. However, the game can be pretty aggressive about murdering you with its elaborate traps and vicious enemies. Each of the four wings of the castle has a general difficulty level but it can be hard to tell where exactly you fit at the moment, especially if the place has not been kind with upgrades. My first dozen generations passed without finding a new sword, for example, which contributed to me punching out early in my original attempt at the game.

There’s a certain attitude to Rogue Legacy as well, one that I can’t say I appreciated much. It stems from the particularly punishing design of a lot of the trap-based rooms, many of which withhold their rewards if you get hit before reaching the end. These rooms will happily trick you into failing them with cheekily-placed monsters and spikes in what feels like some rather spiteful design. NPCs also enjoy berating you for failing at nigh-impossible tasks, and though they’re not a huge part of the game they do contribute to the atmosphere. Still, this is offset by the cartoony graphics, the energetic soundtrack, and the raw fun factor of chugging through the challenges once you get the hang of them. If you stick with it, learn to synergize your gear with your class, and grab all the treasure you can, it’ll end up being one of the more rewarding games to complete.

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