(To read the original post on Last Token Gaming, go here. I’d love if you folks would like, comment or subscribe at the new page!)
Ahh, the Humble Bundle. Charity organization, life wasting supergiant… all around, a wonderful development in the indie gaming world.
But the dear Humble Bundle happened to be charitable-r and life-wastier than usual with its most recent publication: The Roguelike Bundle.
Roguelikes are the new “in” genre for gamedevs these days. They’re akin to one of those health food fads like wheatgrass or quinoa but they have the exact opposite effect on your body. Countless hours are spent with rear in chair, trying to get all the things you need before you die in a horrible unavoidable situation.
In case you still have no idea what I’m talking about, some well-known examples of the genre are The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky and FTL. Played them? No? Well, get to it, folks! Time’s a-wastin’, but not nearly a-wastin’ enough!
Now I bet you’re wondering why we classify these games as roguelikes when nothing seems to tie them together. One’s a sci-fi spaceship game with turn-based(-ish) combat and RPG elements. One’s a top-down Zelda-style beat-em-up, and one’s a platforming exploration game!
Well, there are some rules that govern how roguelikes are made. Why? I’m getting to that. Let’s take these rules with a grain of salt, though, because almost every modern roguelike bends or outright breaks one of them.
1. Levels must be randomized.
Ah, good old procedural generation. Basically, the next time you play this dungeon, it’s not going to be the same. Good! But not enough to be a roguelike.
2. Items must be randomized.
A lot of roguelikes outright ignore this one. If there are magical items (and there should be, because why not), they should have randomized abilities that may even be unstated in the item description. It’s magical! Use it! What do you mean it’s the magical wand of explode-in-my-face?
3. Death must be permanent.
Well, now that you’ve discovered what the magical wand of explode-in-my-face does, it’s time to start over! From a checkpoint? No. From the beginning of the level? Nope. From the beginning of the dungeon? Nuh-uh. The very beginning of the entire game is your starting point, and every time you meet your unfortunate end, you’ll walk through the door and be in dungeon 1, level 1 with nothing but the clothes on your back (and likely not even that). Sound fun yet?
4. They must be turn-based.
‘Nuff said. This doesn’t mean Poke’mon style battles, but it does mean being able to plan your moves out carefully, so if (and when) you die, you really feel like it’s your fault.
So now we know!
But who came up with these rules? What game are roguelikes trying to be like?
Gee. Big surprise, that one.
It basically all started with this game. It used procedurally generated levels made of ASCII characters, lots of random items, enemies, pitfalls and mysteries to grab hold of your attention, and after dying for the umpteenth time, you start getting better… until you run into the next thing you didn’t expect, and die yet again. It’s unforgiving, but it teaches you by killing you (now an approved teaching method in California).Play it here!
Next came a game called Nethack. You can play it here for free if you like. It’s complicated! I won’t get into it, as I don’t have all day to explain. Rogue was complex in its own right, but many gamedevs saw that (and still do see it) as a feature to be expanded upon. This one’s a perfect example. We’ll get to a later one in a bit.
If you’re not digging the super complex ASCII-art based stuff, let’s move on to a slightly more modern version: The Enchanted Cave. This game came out about 3 or 4 years ago, but it’s done in the style of a roguelike that would have been popular around the 90′s. (Please note: the guy went on to develop a mobile version, and as such the graphics, animations, textures, sounds, and everything else have gotten a HUGE update. This is a much shinier game than it used to be, but the soul is the same.) Play it on Kongregate! Or don’t! As an aside: you’ll notice that in this game, there are ways to improve your stats and equipment between runs. This became a heavy feature of roguelikes around the 90′s because they started to become more popular (or vice versa?). People who were less “hardcore” still wanted to progress through the game, so they found ways to make death beneficial outside of the know-how you gained from being mutilated, impaled, incinerated, poisoned, or otherwise exterminated. Thus: stat boosts!
Okay, now we’re getting to modern times (and you still haven’t had to spend any money! Hooray!). Ever heard of Dwarf Fortress?
Oh, yes, it’s a roguelike. If the ASCII art didn’t clue you in, ten minutes playing this game would have. It’s hard. It’s complicated. It LOVES to kill you. Instead of controlling a single hapless adventurer, you are controlling (or trying to control) up to 200 equally hapless dwarves, guiding them in the growth of their kingdom by providing bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, wells, workshops, military outposts, trading posts, gardens, pretty fountains, fishing holes, and a zillion other things to keep them (more or less) alive. And when that fails, you must provide them with graveyards. Or they’ll haunt you. Download it here. Don’t forget to get the Lazy Newb Pack.
If you play one game from this multitude, I recommend DF. It took me three tries installing and playing, uninstalling and repeating, to get into it. It takes time to learn, and it can be frustrating. But once you really get into this game, you’ll understand how unbelievable it is that such a gaming treasure is free. There’s a reason the developer calls it “his life’s work.”
We’re almost through! I promise! Don’t you feel educated?
As we get into the modern era, you get a lot of the roguelike elements tossed by the wayside, and these quasi-rogue-like-ish games have been dubbed “roguelite” games. The Enchanted Cave would probably be one. But others? Games like Diablo have procedurally generated levels and treasure (and can have permadeath, too). Rogue Legacy can sometimes let you play the same level twice, but is otherwise roguelike quality. The Binding of Isaac doesn’t have procedural items. Spelunky doesn’t really even HAVE items. FTL is just plain different. These are all “roguelite” games, but they’re the modern offspring of a great concept, and they’ve taken the world by storm.
Of all the games I just mentioned, only Spelunky is free. But… try the others. They’re all fantastic. Rogue Legacy will dominate your life and make you laugh. The Binding of Isaac will make you cringe and scream profanity at your screen. Diablo is… well… it’s Diablo. And FTL is a game that I kick myself constantly for not having bought earlier. They’re all great, and if you feel like investing, you’ll get a great feel for what roguelikes are all about. And you’ll get a feel for why they’ve been more addictive than crack since 1980.
I hope you’ve all learned something today. And I hope I haven’t just inspired you to start skipping your real classes. Happy gaming!
P.S. As always, don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe!
I wanted a catchy catchphrase for when I review a new game, but the fact of the matter is, that happens so seldom that I just picked “New Game +” and left it at that. You’re only going to see it once in a blue moon, so don’t let the lack of originality keep you up at night.
First of all, let me invite you to watch the trailer for the game here:
If you don’t get what’s going on in the end, go watch 2001 Space Odyssey, or at least the end of it.
Anyway, nuff said.
So, there’s a lot of stuff I want to cover about the game. First off, it is a ROGUELIKE. For the uninitiated, there was this one game a long while back called “Rogue,” and it was cool and people have been imitating it since then.
The qualities of Roguelikes are varied, but they do have some in common:
1. You die a lot. Hooray.
2. You learn stuff by dying, or otherwise accomplish objectives that aren’t undone by your death.
3. You have to start from the beginning when you die.
4. The levels are procedurally generated, meaning you never go through the same dungeon twice.
People have called Dwarf Fortress a “roguelike,” but certainly games like The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy (making a named tip of the hat), and the free Spelunky all fall into that category. If you play any of these games, you will see that the qualities that make a roguelike in no way dictate the qualities of the gameplay, story, or difficulty of the game.
Having said that, most of the time they’re pretty flippin’ hard. See rule #1.
Desktop Dungeons is a roguelike, through and through. You enjoy small trysts in procedurally generated tile-based dungeons in a delightfully old-school setting. And you die.
Over and over and over.
Having said this, the gold you collect by your successes (and the lesser of your failures) can be used to buy upgrades in equipment, character classes and other devillishly delightful things. That is the essence of the game. Simple to learn, difficult to master.
There are also puzzle challenges that test your efficiency with different obstacles, equipment and powers. I should mention that I seriously like this bit, because the only way to beat these difficult problems is to use said equipment in the “proper” way. This means that it’s an underhanded education (underhanded because you DIE SO MUCH) in the finer mechanics of the game.
Having said that, the game is exceedingly difficult, and here’s why. It plays like a much faster game. There aren’t many animations, and damage appears to be dealt and healed instantly. However… revealing tiles restores health (yours and the enemy’s), you can destroy spells for permanent racial stat boosts, and health/mana potions are extremely limited. If you’re a gamer and you’re putting the pieces together, you should have this next bit figured out.
It’s a puzzle game.
Sorry to disappoint. The fast-paced action-y aspect of it is really cool, but as you get past the first levels, you’ll find that “preparing for a boss fight” doesn’t mean killing enemies until you’re strong enough, it means squeezing every last experience point, item, healing point and special ability out of the randomized level so that you have enough resources to take this guy on. It’s one huge puzzle, and unfortunately it takes a while before you can see if you’ll be able to solve it. It’s a well-constructed game, but I feel like it was marketed as something other than it is. This is particularly ironic because, well… it’s a lot more similar to “Rogue” than most of the roguelikes out there. I guess I’ve been spoiled.
But alas. It does mention that you die a lot.
It’s worth mentioning that the game is fantastically sarcastic. Goats, banking vampires and other ironic dungeon denizens abound, and the biting (literally with the vampires) humor makes it enjoyable, even when you die. The retro graphics and nifty soundtrack keep it from getting boring, and even though it IS a puzzle game, eventually you begin running into the same situation enough that the pace of the action begins to increase as you get ahead of the (steep) learning curve.
It’s fifteen bucks, and in the experience I’ve had so far (which is really, really just the tip of the iceberg), I’m gonna say that it’s worth it.
But don’t trust me! Play a (rather awesome) demo on their website! (Unity’s required but hey, that’s free too!)
Let me know if you folks cave and buy it! Other than that, see you Monday!