Rogue Legacy made some noise back in 2013 when it dashed straight on to PC. With the help of PlayStation’s ever-expanding indie programme, the roguelike found its way over to Sony’s arsenal half-way through last year. The Cellar Doors-developed game was welcomed with hearty fanfare by a torrent of enamoured console gamers. It’s rare that an indie game gets the attention it deserves, but Rogue Legacy quickly proved to be an exception.
For the next few weeks, Twitter became awash with screenshots of the title’s congratulatory end screen. The PlayStation community couldn’t stop raving about demonic bosses, angry flying paintings and irritable bowel syndrome. I was intrigued to say the least. That’s why I’m ashamed to say I promptly forgot all about Rogue Legacy until it fell into my lap earlier this month. Somewhere between life, work and Minecraft PS4, I forgot all about Cellar Door Games’ bite-sized pixel party.
Praise the PSN; for it was PlayStation Plus that shoved Rogue Legacy right back into my periphery. Frankly, Rogue Legacy is the most fun I’ve had on my PlayStation all year. I’m obsessed. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself taking any opportunity to mash in an extra few minutes of familial desecration. Why? Because Cellar Door Games have articulated one of the most compelling progression systems I’ve ever experienced. A simple loot system drives all levelling; gold is the name of the game as you find chests and massacre nasty after nasty in the hopes of aggrandizing your future ancestry. All loot goes straight into the family manor, governing (somehow) your stats, skills, abilities, enchantments and weaponry.
Death in Rogue Legacy is permanent – kind of. Every life lost will see your character pass on the cumulative family legacy to their progeny, repeat ad infinitum (get it now?). And that’s why I’ve barely been able to put Rogue Legacy down. The disappointment of death is immediately reconciled when you get to splash your hard-earned cash. Every death offers an insatiably tangible taste of progression. This consistently powerful sense of instant gratification neatly tapers Rogue Legacy’s – at times – crushing difficulty level.
An expansive levelling tree quickly opens up. Nothing is handed to you on a platter, mind you. Upgrades become steadily pricier the further you climb. Worse, every time you re-enter the game’s randomly generated dungeon your purse is reset to zero. That means banking for pricey upgrades isn’t allowed: you have to earn those big numbers every single run. Levelling comes to feel more and more satisfying as you roll higher and higher.
Things get even more ropey as you begin to poke beyond the game’s starting environment. Three more locales play host to even tougher enemies and even better rewards. The aim is to beat each area’s constituent boss, and from there players can enter into a showdown with the end boss. These feats are invariably easier said than done; newcomers will find tens of hours’ worth of levelling looming if they hope to see credits roll.
Veterans, however, could theoretically banish Castle Hamson of all its evils in a single life. Herein lies the genius of Rogue Legacy: it truly rewards skill to a level few games can match. Upgrades aren’t essential, they’re simply expedients. The better you are, the fewer you need; every slip up, every wasted opportunity, every death is completely on you. Need a beefcake because you have the reflexes of a senile coconut? Go ahead, then. But it’ll take you about 50 hours to get there. Or, if you happened to be raised on Battletoads and Ninja Gaiden, you could ostensibly trounce the game in a curt 30 minutes. It’s all incredibly organic. Rogue Legacy quite ingeniously demands every ounce of skill its players can muster, and nothing more. It’s one of those rare titles that I’d recommend to almost anyone, regardless of skill.
Even those not satisfied by the title’s dextrous demands will find that the end credits are only the beginning; new game plus is its very own beast. Keeping one’s hard-fought affectuations is the player’s only solace as the difficulty is amped up to eleven. This is where Rogue Legacy really gets its legs. Proceedings quickly get crazy hectic as enemy presence and levels skyrocket. Such cacophony frequently left me feeling exhilaratingly overwhelmed. The campaign became reupholstered into a thrilling grind fifty-plus hours in the making. Thrill seekers and dextrous-types will be pleased to hear that things only get worse from there, as the game sports an additional new game plus, plus mode for those that have no respect for their mental well-being. There’s hundreds of potential hours to be carved out of this package; not bad for 15 bucks.
All of this is wrapped up in a killer aesthetic. Presentation consists of the classic pixelated indie fare. Vibrant colours pop nicely, parading charming animations and sinister baddies. Better, though, Rogue Legacy boasts a delightfully sardonic sense of humour. Defining ‘traits’ serve to distinguish every family air from the next. Sir Useless the Third, for example, might be hampered by an unfortunate case of vertigo. Rogue Legacy’s logic dictates that players will have to proceed playing Sir Useless the Third’s entire run with the screen flipped 180 degrees. Meanwhile, alektorophobia – a fear of chickens – will somehow see cooked chicken legs (the game’s healing currency) animated into enraged cooked chickens, who will most certainly attack you. This fantastically zany sense of humour runs throughout. It’s surprising how far a few unexpected laughs can go to really make Rogue Legacy stand out from the pack.
That said, not everything is quite so rosy. You’ll soon get very, very familiar with the game’s sparse selection of randomly generated rooms and challenges. What’s more is that, though distinct, there aren’t all that many enemy types. Even the game’s central bosses are simply souped-up versions of your standard sword-fodder. It is criminal, however, that in a game which so intently demands skilled precision, controls aren’t always as sharp as they should be. Jump height awkwardly scales according to how long you hold down the button. The game’s downward strike function often feels stubbornly resilient to player input. And, oddly, your hero won’t always face the attacking direction you intend them to. These and more have led to far too many unwarranted deaths during my time with Rogue Legacy.
Perhaps one of the best things I could say about the title, though, is that none of this was every really enough to make me want to stop playing. Tight core mechanics and enthralling progression suites simply overshadow what little is rotten. For a studio with little time, and an even smaller budget, Rogue Legacy is a tremendous triumph in inventive game design; one that deserves to sit proudly amongst games like Shovel Knight, The Last of Us and Resogun. If, like me, you missed out on Rogue Legacy the first time around, do yourself a favour: scoop up a digital copy and start your very own bizarre lineage toward mastery.
A satisfying spot of roguery.