Sunday, September 7, 2014

REVIEW - Rogue Legacy.

Rogue Legacy is a retro-styled action-platformer with an old-school feel to its gameplay but some nicely modern design sensibilities.  You play as the successive, randomly-generated spawn of a family cursed and blessed with the task of conquering the constantly-shifting dungeon/castle nearby, and each (doomed) attempt tends to enrich and empower the next generation of your line.

You may have heard that this game is excellent.  You heard right.

Accurately billing itself as a “Rogue-lite,” Rogue Legacy maintains the punishing, satisfying difficulty of its namesake while granting far more accessibility and intuitiveness than your average Roguelike.  It achieves this in three ways.

Each time you die, you choose your successor from one of three randomly-generated heroes.  A color-blind midget Lich King, perhaps?  Or a Barbarian Queen with gigantism, a beard and an inability to aim spells correctly?
Your call.

First, it is an instantly-comfortable 2D action game.  The part of you that played Ghosts N' Goblins or Mega Man back in the day will feel right at home the moment the game begins, and quickly become quite fond of Rogue Legacy's remarkably sharp, sensitive controls.  A moment later, the game will kill you in response to your hubris.

Second, as in any action game and any Roguelike, experience is the greatest teacher as the player becomes familiar with the precise spread of this enemy’s projectiles and the precise nature of that enemy’s defenses – knowledge which permits them to work their way a bit further into the constantly-shifting haunted castle than the last doomed hero you played as - crucially, earning a bit more gold in the process.

It's almost Dark Soulsian, in that regard.

Third, that gold can be spent upgrading your home fortress, which grants everything from a greater chance to land critical strikes to higher health points to a wider variety of more-specialized classes that may be randomly-generated each time you die, and choose a successor.  You can buy game-changing runes that allow you to double (or triple, or  quadruple) jump, runes that let you fly or drain your enemy’s hit points.  You can invest in all-important armor and new weapons, and all of these upgrades remain unlocked and freely available for all your subsequent generations.

As you get better at it, Rogue Legacy slowly – objectively – becomes far easier than the game you met in the first five minutes, when you almost-instantly died.

Armed with this familiarity (and a beefier health pool), you find yourself purposefully, confidently exploring more and more each time, dancing back and forth around heavily-armed knights with giant, arcing maces and soaring up to greet spooky little mages with the tip of your blade.  To its credit, even once you've reached this point, Rogue Legacy never bores you with familiarity or a lackluster challenge.

The way the game randomizes itself each time you enter the enemy fortress ensure you never know exactly what's coming next, but your experience ensures you'll be able to instantly understand a room and what's required to cut your way past it.  As your "level" grows - levels are tied only to how many unlocks you've purchased for yourself - more-challenging enemies will begin to appear in areas of the castle you'd never expect them to wander.

It always keeps you on your toes, but never denies you the opportunity to overcome its challenge. Aside from a few skill or spell-dependent challenge rooms, anything it throws at you can be defeated with little more than a blade and a mastery of its excellent controls (I can't remember the last time jumping and manoeuvring in two dimensions felt so eminently sharp and comfortable).

That's impressive, for a game that, at first blush, appears almost stiflingly retro.  The old-style pixel art, so popular with indies these days, suggests far less depth and scope than what's on offer, here. The longer you play the game, building up your level, unlocking more abilities and powers, the more challenging it makes itself, in concert.  As soon as you beat the final boss and tumble instantly in to New Game Plus, you walk back into the now-familiar twisting maze of the castle with all your upgrades and damage buffs and find it's kicking the shit out of you, just like it did the first time - and Rogue Legacy continues rolling on, forever, into New Game Plus Plus Plus Plus Plus and beyond.

If there is one nostalgic bone in your body for the action-platformers of the eight and sixteen-bit era, this game is the answer to your prayers.  A Ghouls N' Ghosts that you can actually beat, that doesn't have you battling across the same, long-since memorized first level ad nauseum.

Constantly spiced and mixed to ensure the player is never, ever entirely in their comfort zone, designed for immediately-comfortable 2D action, sporting razor-sharp controls and an endlessly-variable cast of heroic types to master, Rogue Legacy is an absolute gem.

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