Game Name: Rogue Legacy (2014)
Developer: Cellar Door Games (not much else, unless you count “Don’t Shit Your Pants”)
Platform: PS3, PS4, Vita, PC, XBOX ONE (reviewed on Vita)
Categories: Platformer, Rogue “Lite”, Retro, Simple, Repetition, Unlockables, Random Dungeons, MetroidVania, Single Player, Bite Size Gameplay, Multi-Death, Hard
May Appeal To: self flagellators, braggers, the trendy, Indie supporters, Steam collectors, OCD driven perfectionists
May Repulse: depth divers, Indie loathers, the undedicated, the frustrated, seasoned gamers, the hard to please, and I’ve-seen-it-all-beforers
Comparable To: any single level of Castlevania, less charm than Guacamelee!, less adventure/mystery than Spelunky, more claustrophobic than Risk of Rain, harder than Megaman maybe, better graphics than Terraria, less satisfaction than the original Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, throw in a smidgen of Darkest Dungeon regarding the castle build screen, potentially a little Axiom Verge in the retro-platformer revival movement
Learning Curve: Jump, Strike, Cast, Repeat. You got this.
Game Length: 20 hours or less
Difficulty: Four castle areas exist and they’re always the same difficulty: Cakewalk, Pastry Stomp, Stale Pumpernickel March, and Day Old Crouton Death Crawl
Mastery: oh, you’ll master frustration in minutes
Story: Through “Prince’s Journal” snippets and a final monologue, the game alludes at a storyline bigger than its own telling. For countless generations, a family is obsessively drawn to the grinning maw of some perilous castle, the expedient death inflicted on each branch of the genetically misaligned [or favored] family tree results in a tireless stream of offspring paying the toll and throwing themselves at its mercy. A poisoned king is involved, a long-vanished assassin, a curs-ed tower of predictably punctual evisceration, and of course the freakish, conflicted/afflicted bloodline of misfitted lemmings you trade out faster than some snotty pubescent boy burns through tissues behind a locked door.
Presentation: The game is clearly designed to be played in small doses, even for reasons other than the identical music welcoming a nearly identical character to an identical foyer in front of identically rainbow-hued enemies in rooms vaguely resembling ones you’ve perished in 5 minutes prior. I didn’t find the game addictive enough to forgive the flamboyantly goose-stepping sprite (didn’t do the Nazis much favor either) nor did so many projectiles being fired off camera lessen the fury of literally forgetting what build of character I controlled in the heat of battle. Indeed, all “children” you command represent a smorgasbord of genders, sexual preference, heights, occupations, ocular maladies, secondary weapons, pyschoses, and varying degrees of irritable bowel syndrome though they literally all share hand-me-down armor and the overused chopping attack.
The grunting player, the trilling MIDI music, and puffs of evaporating enemy *fluff* as your one-handed longsword whooshes upon them draw no particular attention to themselves and could’ve been livened up with an organic cackle of a skeletal warrior, varying musical tracks, or a different pitch of the primordial caveman utterances assumedly echoing from your own face hole. Regarding repetition: weapon sprites like a whip, thorny sword, a bo staff, sai, morning star, or even a flaming spear made of uncut fingernails would’ve been preferable to seeing the same god damn sword wielded by a Lich, a Japanese Warrior, a giant bearded Dwarf Woman, or a Medieval Midget hurling obscenities. (If the proposed weapons were made the same visual length, I don’t see how it would have corrupted the core gameplay either.)
The presentation just grates hard after a while.
Unique Features: A character’s death merely propels inheritance (gold, runes, equipment) down the progeny line so inevitably/hypothetically the game’s difficulty becomes manageable over time. Unfortunately, the double edged nature of this mechanic is that you’re not intended to beat the game for a hundred lives or more. Despite this, it is still an interestingly thematic idea that suits the game well. (For reference, speedruns were accomplished with a single character and in less than 30 minutes.)
Gameplay: Tweak your loadout, storm the castle, sidestep an enemy’s attack only to get grazed by a stray bullet, die, purchase fractions of useful skills, pick your next character from a selection of six laudably atrocious combinations. Not so much a mechanic as it is amusing, your single-sworded combatant comes equipped with a couple mana guzzling skills that leave your reserves dry, though posits the question of what sort of bonuses/afflictions your shallow gene pool has trapped in that filthy water filter. Hear me out. Ranging from obsessive/compulsive disorder to near-sightedness to hypochondriac to glaucoma to ectomorph to dementia to color blindless to alzheimer’s to Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, your character will often be subjected to no less than two hinderances or boons that have interestingly subtle influences on gameplay. In fact, I had more fun figuring out what each of the 50 traits *did* on my own than farming gold to equip the best runes in order to take down the ultimate boss secreted away behind a door with four seals. I admit a certain amount of mirthful smirk when my 9 foot tall, bald, assassin stumbled his way past vases he couldn’t help but break due to the “clumsy” attribute, or the psychedelic walls throbbing and wavering in pastel colors since my character was ubiquitously labeled “the One”, referencing the Matrix purportedly.
Additional Comments: The map, family tree screen, and castle construction bits are all pleasant to look at and functional. It’s so particularly smooth and segues well enough that it’s easy to gloss over the fact that this interface is sharp and easy to navigate. You use gold to build stone tower wings to your existing keep and this allows for 5 to 50 levels of roughly 20 skills, ranging from fractional influences on resurrection chances, a reduction in Charon’s dungeon entry fee, unlockable classes and their special skills, modestly small increases to carry weight, attack, defense, bounce damage, and many others. Gold is also spent at the pre-foyer villager camping…. thing to “unlock” runes, helms, and armor you’ve already discovered in your plodding quest for mad lootz. So basically you do the footwork to find them *and* shell out exorbitant currency in order to use said discoveries. Chafing though the act is, my gold ain’t going to spend itself!
What I Liked: There are dagger/axe throwing mini-games that are a lot of fun and even obscure culture references (like Weird Al’s “UHF”) in a challenge of pick-the-box. Too bad the mini-games are few and far between (and unselectable from the game’s start menu). The controls are tight, the customization is moderately engrossing, and the Legacy mechanic was a welcomed spin on this genre. Also, it’s neat that they embedded the game’s production artwork into framed set pieces that adorn the castle walls.
To state again: the character traits really don’t have much to do with the game’s success criteria and don’t alter the tactics or goalposts required to accomplish anything, though these were all some of the most enjoyable parts in my experience. Traits are uniquely representative of the underlying humor the game possesses, which goes a bit understated in this review I’m afraid. Rogue Legacy doesn’t take itself too seriously though the act of subjecting a player to such repetition will counterbalance the levity to be found in a ridiculous walking animation or the soothing blats of your raging colonic gas kicking in. I mean, Dark Souls never crushed your spirit over the course of 15 hours and then told you a knock knock joke, so the pixelated analogue here seems distinctly off key.
To give an idea of the game’s refreshing self awareness and deconstruction of what we may consider entertaining in the first place, I pulled this next quote straight from the developers’ game pitch. (It’s a pretty accurate jab at Rogue Legacy and various genres of gaming on the whole):
“Over 60 different enemies to test your skills against. Hope you like palette-swaps!”
What I Disliked: Dat walking animation! Also, despite having “10 classes to master” they all look, feel, and play identical. I’m well aware of the subtle differences in stats, but when you’re balls-out rushing past tired environments in the same general order for gold runs, you may not be too concerned that the near-sighted mongoloid you chose takes 6 hits to kill vs 5. The secondary boss challenges you get after killing them the first time weren’t terrible, though I’m a bit peeved you must access these from within a playthrough and not offered the opportunity as start menu challenges -also, they’re bleedin’ hard, man. Watch some pro YouTuberances to appreciate the split second timing and near exact frame reactions needed to pull off victory. Finally, there is ultimately 5 hours of content spread out over double, triple, or even quadruple the amount of hours it takes to beat. (So sue me; maybe I suck at this game.)
Glitches Experienced: None. Nice job, Cellar Door.
Hours I Played: 178 Children in 20 hours
My Personal Reaction: I’m just glad I finally beat it. A couple bosses were punishing (I’m looking at you, both tiers of the final confrontation) and I was simply not in the mindstate to invest much more time than I did. For every hour I spent traversing these random corridors, it feels like I could have wiselier invested them in a conventional Castlevania…. and gotten more enjoyment out of it probably. On the subject of alternatives, a review on Axiom Verge will be forthcoming.
No disrespect to Rogue Legacy at all, it just didn’t have the long-term entertainment value I was hoping for with a design that was so obviously crafted to distill the quirky collaboration of a family reunion banding together to finally buck an age-old curse. In so many good ways it emulates and imitates the genre, walking that fine line between homage and plagiarism. For better or worse, this game really stands on its own multitude of genetically similar feet, though a better balance could have been struck on what keeps the gamer engaged or coming back for more. Difficult drudgery only gets you so far.
Noob Tips: Most hero types have one special ability or stats designed to exploit a specific boss or situation: Hokages hit hard and are great at one-shotting each in a swarm of enemies, Barbarians sustain large amounts of hits, Lichs can be powered with low level enemies prior to tackling a challenge, spelunkers have headlamps for *that* darkened quarter dungeon, and most mages or spellswords have magic that -with practice- can effectively give you the edge with a swirling wreath of fireballs or by conveniently stopping time. Allocate your money wisely and have end-game builds in mind. Once your character is reasonably leveled to beat a boss and you die in the attempt, lock the castle’s layout in place so that you may warp to its doorstep to try repeatedly without hassle.
Depth and Replayability: This game’s depth is intended to be sustained by replayability.
Suggested Value: Sells for $15; I’d hit as close to $5 as possible
Where to Buy: Humble Bundle, http://www.cellardoorgames.com/roguelegacy/
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