Platform: PS4 (tested), PS3, PS Vita (tested) | Available: Now
Receding Heir Line
If at first you don’t succeed… hope that your heir is much more capable than you! That’s the core concept behind last year’s devilishly addictive indie hit Rogue Legacy which has just made it’s way to PlayStation consoles. You’ll die time and time again in this brutally challenging game, but your children will always be there to avenge you. Many games ignore death’s finality by allowing the hero to keep resurrecting or rewinding the clock, but life in Rogue Legacy is finite. Fear not though, as you’ll get a chance to choose one of three heirs to carry on the family line when you pass. The catch is that just like in real life you never know how your kids are going to turn out.
Each potential heir comes with a predetermined class, spell, and various random genetic traits. Some of these characteristics can prove advantageous, while others are drawbacks you’ll need to overcome. ‘Dwarfism’ for example allows you to squeeze into tiny secret passages at the cost of a reduced sword swing, while ‘Color-Blindness’ just makes life harder by turning everything black and white. Certain traits like gender, sexual orientation, and baldness have no real impact on gameplay but are nice inclusions nonetheless. It’s a welcome change from tired genre stereotypes like ‘musclebound hunk’ or ‘busty maiden’. Give me a far-sighted miner with ADHD or a clumsy Paladin with Tourettes Syndrome any day! There are over 30 traits in total which blend to create countless combos, making each play session feel fresh.
Rogue Legacy can be a difficult title to categorize. At it’s core it’s an action game but it also successfully melds elements from Metroidvania-style platformers, RPG’s and—as the name might suggest—roguelikes. Perhaps the best description comes from the game’s developers themselves who call Rogue Legacy a genealogical Rogue-“Lite”. Cellar Door Games clearly take inspiration from a wide range of games both new and old, with nods to Dark Souls, Spelunky, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and more. While Rogue Legacy follows the recent trend of indie games with 8 or 16-bit retro art styles, the visuals have a great deal of individuality to set them apart from the crowd. From the way your hero charges ahead with their sword enthusiastically outstretched, to their highly melodramatic death animation, this is a game that oozes charm.
Combat is relatively straightforward, but Rogue Legacy’s tight, satisfying controls mean it’s always a joy to play. Like any self-respecting roguelike, the game features a randomly generated castle to explore. This is just another element that adds to its replayability. Once you’ve played it long enough you’ll start to recognize repeated rooms, but you still never know what’s waiting for you around the next corner. As a result there’s a constant sense of looming threat and tension present in the game. Thankfully Rogue Legacy is kinder than some roguelikes which strip players of everything when they die. Sure, you’ll still get kicked back to the start of the castle and you can’t save gold over multiple runs, but at least you get to keep any acquired gear and skills. The game walks a fine line between being ‘hard’ and ‘too hard’, but it nails the balance perfectly.
When you inevitably pass away, any gold earned during that playthrough is bequeathed to your heir to be used to upgrade stats, unlock new classes, and buy gear. In addition to finding gold within pieces of furniture and the corpses of your enemies, there are also ‘fairy chests’ scattered around the castle which are unlocked by completing tasks such as making it through a spike filled room without taking any damage. Failing these can really add insult to injury as you can lose HP for no reward, meaning you’d have been better off if you didn’t bother trying. Going the extra mile to fill your coffers can pay off however when you finally get to leave a hefty inheritance for your successor. Unfortunately any gold that you can’t spend is forfeited at the entrance to the castle each time. Some upgrades allow you to reduce the toll by up to 50%, though it still always hurts to hand over your hard earned loot.
When I play games I often like to finish up after a mission by buying new upgrades and gear. When you die in Rogue Legacy however you don’t get to spend your inheritance on upgrades until you select a new heir (i.e. start a new game). I’m not sure whether this was an intentional decision by the developers to keep us hooked, but I often couldn’t resist spending a big haul of gold meaning I was essentially locked into playing a new game. As you might guess this led to many late nights and next-morning regrets.
The castle in Rogue Legacy features four areas each complete with their own brutal boss battle. Once you manage to defeat all four bosses you’ll unlock a fifth and final boss fight. I don’t want to spoil too much but I will say that finding and vanquishing these mighty foes in no small feat. In fact, by the time I’d managed to complete the game I’d burned through 121 disappointing generations of useless failures before finally spawning a worthy descendant. By my calculation that means it took about 3000 years to fulfill the family destiny. Better late than never I suppose. Upon completing the game you’ll also unlock a ‘new game plus’ mode which lets you keep all your stats and gear but greatly increases the game’s difficulty. Because you know, it wasn’t tough enough the first time.
While fairly similar to 2013’s already-excellent PC and OSX releases, it’s worth mentioning that the PlayStation versions of Rogue Legacy come with both cross-buy and cross-save functionality. This means that you can buy the game once and play it across multiple systems on the one save file. We tested the game on both PS4 and PS Vita and the cross-save function worked flawlessly aside from one occasion where user error resulted in rage and some lost progress. It was fantastic having the option to continue my game on the train or in bed. Both versions worked perfectly and were a blast to play, although I slightly preferred playing on the big screen with the PS4’s DualShock 4, if only because the large touchpad made it much easier to bring up the map compared to the Vita’s tiny select button.
Rogue Legacy’s main hook might seem a little gimmicky, but it works well and will make you wonder why no one has thought of it before. As well as forcing you to mix up your play style, it also has something meaningful to say. It goes to show that everyone is different and that’s just fine. Regardless of shape, size, strengths and weaknesses, everyone has an important role to play. Although it may have been ‘Lady Chun-Li the Barbarian Queen’ who eventually triumphed over evil, every one of the previous 121 heirs who came before her made a valuable contribution to the end goal. And if you think it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that Rogue Legacy has an important message, then simply play it for it’s immense challenge and rewarding gameplay. I was completely hooked on Rogue Legacy on my Mac last year, but with cross-buy and cross-save functionality the PlayStation versions are the definitive way to play an already stellar indie title. Whether you are new to Rogue Legacy or simply looking for an excuse to replay it, you won’t regret sinking a few dozen hours into this game.
- Unique ‘trait’ combos and random castle provide great replayablity
- Tight controls and rewarding combat
- Charming retro visual style
- Lady luck can sometimes be cruel
- You’ll get less sleep