What happens when you die? Well, according to some of the games in one of our favorite and most unforgiving genres, you start all over again. Today Gamer’s Almanac takes a look at five of our favorite recent games inspired by the rogue-like genre to uncover what it is about these classic and challenging titles that keeps us coming back for more.
For newcomers to the genre, in rogue-like games death really does mean the end, as you lose all progress and have to start from the beginning. Rogue-lite games are the genre’s gentler counterpart, which are often made more forgiving through the use of checkpoints, level-progression that stays with you, and other mechanics that don’t start you from scratch upon death. These games are known for their difficulty and their learning curve, and when playing them it is essential that you learn from your mistakes if you’re to survive. The games truest to the genre feature procedurally generated levels, character classes, and difficult combat in an often dungeon or medieval themed world. It’s a long standing and classic genre often defined by retro themes and gameplay elements that can be traced all the way back to the arcades of old, but these five games have taken elements of the rogue genre and given them a fresh update for the modern gamer.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
Crypt of the Necrodancer doesn’t just have dangerous monsters, it’s got a trademark killer beat. You play the game as Cadence (or one of the other characters you can unlock along the way.) As you send skeletons tumbling back into their graves you’re also dancing along with an addictive soundtrack and an opera-singing (and life-saving) shopkeeper, because if the stress of having to slay a band of thriller rejects isn’t enough, now you have to do it to the beat. Dying in this game doesn’t mean perma-death, though, it just means you’ll have to restart that level of the dungeon. Crypt of the Necrodancer utilizes a lobby to serve as a starting point where you can access any level you’ve unlocked and purchase upgrades with diamonds you’ve collected from your previous run. These upgrades aren’t something you can charge into battle with, but you can find them in chests as you explore.
What keeps us coming back? That music. Crypt of the Necrodancer’s unique dance-along mechanic certainly takes getting used to, but you aren’t the only one constrained by the melody. Once you unlock some good gear, learn your foes’ moves, and get the hang of keeping in rhythm, the game starts to feel much less intimidating. This title also falls under the ever-expanding category of procedurally generated games. As a result, replaying a level doesn’t feel tedious because you have a new map to discover each time. On top of that, every time you go up a level you’re gifted with a new environment, new set of enemies, and a new beat.
Want our hot-tip on staying alive? Learn how the enemies move by practicing counters in the lobby.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is developed by Brace Yourself Games. It is available on Steam (for PC, Mac, and Linus,) PS4, PS Vita, iOS, and most recently Xbox One for $14.99.
Brut@l doesn’t just update the classic gameplay of the rogue-like genre, it also recreates old-fashioned ascii graphics—with a twist. Unlike the others on this list, Brut@l ventures into the third dimension. However, all of its monsters, items, and procedurally generated dungeon levels are made up of 2d letters, numbers, and symbols, giving it a high-contrast and unique look. Brut@l has a more extensive UI, weapon, inventory system than any of the other games on this list, and its combat isn’t as difficult, but in many ways it is truest to the rogue-like genre. Brut@l also incorporates class, crafting, and weapon specialization systems that are reminiscent of rogue-like and RPG games and allow you to approach the challenge of reaching the bottom of its dungeon in different ways.
What keeps us coming back? The Style. Brut@l is a fresh looking and feeling homage to classic rogue-like and ascii games. The game’s art-style is clean and polished, which can help you cut through the chaos of hordes of enemies. While it might not be as fast-paced as some of the others on this list, it draws on some of the most engaging aspects of rogue-likes to create a unique gameplay experience.
Want our hot-tip on how to survive? Watch out for the environment. You might be great at taking down enemies, but sometimes it’s falling off the edge of the dungeon that will spell your doom.
Brut@l is developed by Stormcloud games. It is available on Steam and for PS4 for $14.99.
Kingdom (& Kingdom: New Lands)
Even before Kingdom expanded with its updated version Kingdom: New Lands, it was hopelessly addicting. In it you rule as the monarch of a new kingdom in a wild and dangerous wood. You start with only a few gold for recruiting citizens, and eventually expand across the map by erecting walls, rebuilding shrines, and bribing every wanderer you can find to join your kingdom—that is, if you can survive. The game’s sidescroller mechanics are simple, but holding onto your crown is anything but. Though your game saves after you survive the night, the moment a demon steals your crown from you the game is done, the kingdom is ruined, and the cycle begins again. The original game suffered from a lack of a win condition (but a very clear loss one) and a limited map, which meant that even after you destroyed the portals from whence the demons came and conquered every inch of territory you weren’t entirely sure if you’d won. Kingdom: New Lands was released a few months later and expanded the map with different islands, added a win condition and a few more features, but those of us who played the original Kingdom will never forget the unfiltered brutality of the original game (which is still available for purchase as Kingdom: Classic.)
What keeps us coming back? Raw determination. There’s nothing like being bested by a stubby demon with no face that makes you feel like you’ve failed. Sure, it can be demoralizing to discover that even on top of a magnificent steed you’re as vulnerable as the rest of your citizens, but there’s royal blood in you! The game has a proc-gen map, but it’s always simple enough to not make you feel overwhelmed, especially when paired with its pared down and soothing art and music. Because a lot of your success relies on your citizens and defenses (and you can essentially cower in the center of your Kingdom when the going gets tough, sacrificing the commoners,) this game differs from many rogue-likes in that you don’t have to rely on your own fighting ability. As a result it becomes about strategy, which is something you can learn and improve upon. Every run teaches you something new about how to build your kingdom better the next time, helping you avoid the sense of futility that more unbalanced rogue-likes can suffer from.
Want our hot-tip on staying alive? Get your castle walls for free by spending money on upgrading your Kingdom early on. That way, you can use the savings to recruit everyone you see and bait your borders with gold to keep demons at bay.
Kingdom: New Lands is developed by Noio and Licorice. It is available on IOS, Android, Steam (PC, Mac, and Linux,) PS4, and Xbox One for $14.99.
In Reigns, dying isn’t just expected, it’s inevitable. No matter how good you are at the game, no matter how well you rule your kingdom, old age can catch up to you and end your life. But that won’t end the game—not yet. In Reigns you play as every ruler in a long line of kings. Your soul is cursed to die again and again until you can trick the Devil that cursed you. Every time you die, that king’s reign is marked on an expanding timeline. The story continues through this timeline, and sometimes things that you learned as a previous ruler might come in handy as you play the next generation. The timeline only resets if you fail to trick the Devil over a certain amount of time, but you have plenty of time to die over and over again before that can happen. Though you can come across a dungeon crawling sequence, Reigns lacks many of the trademark rogue-like qualities, with the main exception of perma-death. Instead, it sets itself apart with a unique choice based mechanic that relies on strategic play. In order to stay alive and in power, you have to carefully balance the Church, The Economy, the Military, and the Happiness of the people. If any of those four forces gain or lose too much power, you risk being overthrown and your reign coming to an abrupt end. Every choice you are presented with has an effect on one or more of these forces, and as you play and see some of the same choices presented to you again you learn what choices have what consequences.
What keeps us coming back? The unique gameplay and sharp wit. Reigns’ gameplay is comfortingly intuitive, as all you have to do to decide the fate of your subjects is swipe left or right (making it ideal for mobile play.) The focus of this game is playing strategically and learning from your mistakes. The game’s encounters range from outlandish to morally abhorrent, but they’re all injected with well-written gallows humor. While it’s true that the cards repeat themselves through your playthrough, reacting to them differently will reveal different outcomes and unlock achievments so they don’t get stale. Even if the gameplay wasn’t addictive, the comedy would keep us playing.
Want our hot-tip for staying alive? Follow Rex to the orange mushroom to get some clarity.
Reigns is developed by Nerial and Devolver Digital. It is available for Steam (PC, MAC) IOS, and Android at the unbeatable price of $2.99.
Ruin of the Reckless
Ruin of the Reckless is a forthcoming rogue-like slated for release on April 26th. You play the game as Stargrove or Stella (or as both, if you can recruit a friend to join you in your deadly ascent,) and try to fight your way to the top of a procedurally generated monster-filled tower where the lost souls of the reckless are bound. It features a fast-paced gameplay with elements of the rogue-like genre, and is also influenced by twin stick shooters, brawlers, and classic retro RPG Legend of Zelda. If you can reach the top, legends say you’ll be granted a wish.
Though we can’t talk too much about our experience with the game yet, it fits right in with these other classic titles. Ruin of the Reckless is challenging and requires you to fight for your survival and learn from past experiences. It also features a system that lets you customize your dungeon experience, similar to the upgrades available in Crypt of the Necrodancer, to make the gameplay more or less challenging. To find out what keeps us coming back and for more information on Ruin of the Reckless, keep an eye out for an exclusive interview with the developers and a review closer to the game’s release.
Want our hot-tip on staying alive? For now, it’s just three words: Gotta go fast.
Ruin of the Reckless is developed by Faux-Operative games. It will be available on Steam (PC) and Itch.io on April 26th for $14.99.
These five games under 15 are just a few of the reasons why we love seeing aspects of the rogue-like genre still being used today. Though the difficulty can be maddening, making your way out alive is all the more satisfying because of it. If you’re looking to get into this genre then prepare to fail more than a few times before you get the hang of things. So it’s time to ask yourself: are you ready to face death?
Thanks for reading this article! Do you have a favorite game that utilizes elements of the rogue genres? Contact us or comment below and let us know your thoughts!