As you lot have probably become more than well aware of by now, the Roguelike genre is my genre. I’m a very eclectic gamer and love titles from virtually all the different gaming categories (‘cept survival horror which isn’t bad I’m just a huge wuss), but the Roguelike genre with all its twists, turns and tropes is definitely my favourite. I was mulling over a good way to represent this properly so I don’t need to keep spouting on about it all the time. After a bit of thought and some hard work, I would like to introduce you to Roguelife, my little homage to all things of the aforementioned ilk.
So what can you expect from this little space in TVGB I’ve stolen for myself? Well, several things, actually. First and most obviously I’ll be looking at the games. I want you to be able to get your own teeth into the stuff I’m playing and nattering on about. I’ll also be looking into the history of the genre from where it all began, and believe me it’s come a very long way over the years.
There is one very important rule in all of this: the games I review or look at in depth can’t have already been reviewed by TVGB and have to be playable by you. Many won’t be new titles but that’s not really what we’re going for so don’t expect a great deal that’s cutting edge, so to speak. With this being said, some of the titles mentioned in retrospect won’t be playable now, but we’re looking at the history of things so that’s understandable.
Before going any further, let’s give you a quick overview of what makes a Roguelike a Roguelike. Though the genre covers a massive variety of games, most have a few things in common. The first is the difficulty level. All Roguelikes are hard, they have to be to make you want to keep coming back again and again. In most cases these titles aren’t unfair, though. We aren’t talking about something being difficult for the sake of it. As you play on repeated runs, you get better. In a lot of cases you also have unlocks that you can keep between runs. Eventually you’ll find yourself getting tougher and a level of balance being formed.
The second big one is that a lot of these games have a permadeath rule in play. You get either one run or three lives and no continues for the entire game. This actually makes the game more fun and that’s down to the most well known trope of the genre: your experience is designed to be different every time. Roguelikes all have a certain amount of procedural generation at their core. The level layouts will always be different and you will often also be facing different enemies and challenges. This makes you want to go back and compete against something slightly new every time and this is the key thing that makes these games really good fun.
To introduce you to my Roguelife, I’m going to be looking at two games and giving you a bit of an overview of what they’re like. Time for a bit of a delve. Above all else, enjoy!
Enter the Gungeon (PS4)
Enter the Gungeon is a twisted little cross between what we all know and love in the Roguelike genre and the utter chaos that comes with a bullet hell. Yes, not only are you getting three lives and no continues but you’re up against an army of bullet spraying bullets. You take control of one of four characters, including a heavily armoured marine and hot headed criminal. Then you descend into the Gungeon and face of against the gundead inhabiting it. These range from cute little revolver toting bullets to grenades on legs to … well … wait and see what happens when you give a bird a mini-gun. The gatling gull (there’s some brilliant puns in this game) is not to be trifled with.
As you go, you’ll meet characters who will join you in the breach (the area you begin at before each run) and you will also unlock and buy new guns. On top of this, you’ll find new rooms and encounters in levels that you’ve already played. This is something I absolutely love. The biggest downside to procedurally generated games is that although each game is different, you start seeing patterns developing really quickly. You still get the feeling of doing the same thing over and over even though you aren’t in the traditional sense. You’ll find enough new stuff occurring in this title to keep you going for a long time before you start getting bored.
Lastly, I mentioned that this is a bullet hell. In true bullet hell sense, this game is hard but it never feels unfair or cheap. You get shot to bits, you dust yourself off, then you jump back in wondering what you’re going to encounter next.
This is a game that is still getting updates and new DLC. This isn’t by any means something you’ll need from the get go. This game is crammed with tons of challenges, items and secrets just in its base format and there’s hours of gameplay to be going on with. If you love the game and want to add to it, this is definitely a good way to go. Personally, I’d begin with the Supply Drop update and go from there.
Enter the Gungeon is an absolute must have title for any gaming masochists among us (I know who you are, we can always smell our own). It looks great in a quirky 8-bit sort of way and feels really fluid to control. It’s a great addition to the PS4 library but as I mentioned earlier can also be found on Steam if you fancy a go and don’t happen to have a console. If you want to go and see a little more of what this game is about, you can find the Steam version of the title here. For the PS4 version, you should know where to look.
One Deck Dungeon (PC)
This little gem is proof in point that just becuase something is simple doesn’t mean it’s bad. This also shows that there’s tons of different ways to play off a theme and that the roguelike comes in all shapes and sizes. This title is a digital version of a board game of the same name and is very good indeed. Unlike the game I’ve just mentioned, it’s also very new and as such may well get another, deeper look in the future.
In One Deck Dungeon, you take the role of a hero (or two if you wish) and send them into a variety of dungeons in an attempt to beat the boss. Each character class has different stats and these are represented by a number of dice. Different coloured dice represent different stats; so, yellow dice represent might (needed by you fighting classes), blue represents magic, and so on. The more dice you have, the stronger you are in that area.
What gives this game its Roguelike quality is that the dungeons are generated by a deck of cards. Each card has an encounter on it, be it a trap or a battle, and each of these in turn holds a certain amount of loot. What’s nice is that loot is chosen and not just given to you. It usually consists of an item which will give you an extra dice in a certain area to play with, a potion or hero skill, or an amount of experience. You need the latter to level up which allows you to carry more items and skills. You choose how you play so it’s nice to be able to go with what you need most at any given time instead of hoarding gear you aren’t going to use.
The simplicity comes from clicking from card to card and rolling dice as you go. Each card has a series of conditions. These are represented by a figure you need to roll in a certain stat or stats. If you roll over the figure on the card, you cover it with a dice. If you can’t make the roll, that requirement box stays open and you suffer consequences. These come in the form of wasted time or damage taken. Time is something that plays a big part in this title.
You have a time limit for each floor and every action costs a certain amount of time. When you run out of time, you have to descend to the next level of the dungeon or you’ll start taking damage. Take too much of this and it’s obviously game over. This means that if you don’t plan properly or roll badly you’ll be leaving a level sooner that you’d like. After a number of floors, you’ll be confronted by the boss and if you aren’t prepared it’s likely a game over.
In true dungeon romp style your heroes have skills and pick up talents. These have a range of uses from altering the score on your die to creating hero dice. These are really important because they act as wilds that can be placed anywhere on the encounter card. This can get you out of some really difficult situations. Your characters also level between dungeon runs so there’s an amount of out of game advancement going on here, as well. This is important because like any Roguelike One Deck Dungeon is hard as nails and you need the continuity.
So this game is literally a case of clicking from encounter to encounter and rolling dice. What makes it so replayable? This is what gives it its addictive nature. It’s simple. It’s not all about bells and whistles and it just draws you in. I picked this one up last night thinking it would be good for a speedy half an hour run and I was playing it all evening. I wanted a short run because I have Monster Hunter World to play. I put off playing a massive triple A title because I was glued to a relatively small indie one. That’s enough of a recommendation as far as I’m concerned. If you want to have a bit of a blast you can find this title here.
There you have it. Thanks for joining me on my first tentative foray into the Roguelike world. Come back next time for another look at the genre and a few new recommendations from me. For now why not have a little peek at the couple of games I’ve mentioned and let me know what you think in the comments? These are just my ramblings, after all. I hope some of you will find a new love in a genre you might not have given much of a chance and that others will go back to something they’d forgotten how much they enjoyed. Keep your eyes peeled for our next installment when we prove that not all Roguelikes are dungeon RPGs.