Rogue Legacy is a 2D action-platformer with aspects of the bullet hell and rogue-lite genres that randomly generates dungeons for the player to move through. Although the game seems to be just an amalgamation of popular genres and successful series, developer Cellar Door Games has done more than just borrow elements of these genres — it has taken the time to polish the game and add a unique flavor.
The game follows a knight — or whichever class you choose — who ventures through a castle. Inside, the character comes across monsters that drop money and require varying degrees of strategy to take down, culminating in a huge boss that sprays pellets across the entire screen. If you happen to beat all four bosses, you face the final boss. Then you die — or rather, you will die at some point along that journey, whether you step on a spike or fail to avoid the onslaught of a boss. Instead of respawning at a checkpoint inside of the castle, Rogue Legacy features the unorthodox nature of character death.
The first hook of Rogue Legacy comes after you die. You get to choose your descendent — the next person in your bloodline — who you’ll guide through the castle. Each descendent has both major and minor differences that add interesting, game-altering changes. Is your descendent shortsighted? Everything outside a small range becomes blurry, making it more difficult to avoid monsters. Is your descendent suffering from Alzheimer’s? Good luck remembering where you are because your large map will merely display a big question mark. These traits and more — some beneficial and some detrimental — force a different style of play with each descendent.
Although it’s fun, choosing your descendent isn’t the way you grow stronger. Instead, you spend money you’ve racked up from your castle run to build your estate, which allows you to acquire upgrades. Traditional upgrades, such as stronger attacks and more magic, are mixed in with others that are more unique to Rogue Legacy. These include increasing the chance that a death hit can be reversed, or bartering with Charon, the gatekeeper of the castle, which allows you to keep a little bit of gold instead of having to spend all your leftovers at the entrance. This mix lets players discover different classes and keeps gameplay fresh while allowing more serious players to tailor their characters to their play style. Along with these up-grades, runes and weapons can be found about the castle, either in random chests, special challenge rooms or the very rare but obvious clown carnival games.
However, all this would not be enough to make Rogue Legacy great if the gameplay in this fast-paced adventure wasn’t responsive enough. Thankfully, gameplay is Rogue Legacy’s most enjoyable facet. Figuring out how to move as quickly as possible while avoiding damage, dodging through walls of blasts and over monsters and figuring out a boss’s weaknesses to beat them five or six descendants later feels immensely satisfying. The monsters’ movement is clear, making damage incurred only the fault of the player, and the purposeful low-resolution graphics make sure almost any machine can run this game fast enough to compensate for the speed and reflexes it demands.
Although Rogue Legacy might not be wholly unique, the polished features and fun gameplay make the video game enjoyable to revisit over and over again. It’s not always the most original games that stand out; sometimes, all it takes is to do something old excellently.