Here it comes, with its lazy eye and its gammy leg. Take a seat before you do yourself an injury, you poor thing. Sit down and do what you so love to do – tell us about your family.
It’s Rogue Legacy!
Can I be a little bit of a party-pooper for a minute? Not full pooping, mind. Just part-pooping. Demi-pooping. Fractional-pooping. “Pooping.”
Okay – I think Rogue Legacy is throwaway. I don’t think it can hold the slightest candle to Spelunky or The Binding Of Isaac, games I go back to and back to and back to and back to and back to and back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to. Rogue Legacy was just one weekend.
A great weekend, for sure, starring the poppiest, most accessible take on roguelikelikes (no, I don’t have a better name for them, and no I am not faintly interested in arguing about etymology) I’ve played yet. I don’t say ‘throwaway’ as a negative. We need throwaway too, because most of the world doesn’t want to be streaming their perfect Spelunky runs. Rogue Legacy features just as much failure, but it doesn’t require much learning, it’s straight in and then straight back in come the swiftly-following death, and it has clear, covetable, achievable permanent upgrades (paging Dr Skinner, as I’m very much aware I seem to be doing in every other article lately) to strive for and quickly achieve, to keep pushing you on to play, as opposed to Spelunky’s more nebulous, more personal goal: be better, get further, work harder, feel better.
It’s an easy* good time, and while it’s at least as death-prevalent as its peers, it doesn’t have quite the same punitive quality. That’s why I’m fond of it – when the question is ‘do you want to have a good time?’ rather than ‘do you want to test yourself?’ Rogue Legacy is there for me. The random remixing of mechanics and abilities as your hapless descendants suffer assorted deviations, minor and major, keeps its blade from dulling too. Appropriately, this is a Christmas Cracker of a game – I’ll always have a pretty good sense of what to expect when I pull it apart, and while full belly laughs are unlikely, a smile and a gentle surprise is always guaranteed.
* I don’t mean by this that the game is easy, because it isn’t, particularly. However you can jump right into the thick of it without difficulty.
I’m no good at Spelunky. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy Spelunky – I’ve sunk a considerable amount of time into it, and even so only reached the third world once, which lasted for about 14 seconds. But I’m good at Rogue Legacy.
I think the main reason is that it lets me be good at it. Legacy’s progression, letting you incrementally improve the available skills of your infinite progeny, breaks all the rules of its apparent genre, and in doing so creates something fantastic.
But that’s not to say easy. In fact, the game is peculiar for being far harder at the start than it is a good few hours in. The first few runs will be pretty futile, just a chance to gather enough cash to boost some stats, until you can be stable enough to get farther. Then you become THE KING OF THE GAME until the first time you step into a second realm. And then you realise just how much work you still have to do.
I read recently that some, when faced with a choice of three offspring they don’t like the look of, will deliberately kill a character straight away to get another choice. Dirty, dirty people. A huge part of the fun of this is the suicide run with the weakly character, seeing how much gold you can scoop up before popping off. What a waste, to just kill a child like that!
I also love it for its breeziness. It’s so light-hearted, packed with silly jokes, and lovely and chunky. There’s no darkness, no brooding furrowed foreheads, and it’s all too rarely that you can celebrate that. Also, farts! If you can select a character without IBS, then you’re a far worse person than me.
If I read the back of box – front of digital store page? – description of Rogue Legacy, I’d imagine it to be a far looser game than it actually is. Superficially, it belongs to the same school as Spelunky, the upcoming Catacomb Kids and a host of other semi-randomised perma-death platformers. Where it differs, from Spelunky at least, is that it presents the business of jumping, running and trap avoidance as a primary skill to master.
Because every room is hand-designed, your little character is facing individually crafted challenges rather than mad libbing a solution to some terrible dilemma with only a skull and an unfortunate pug to hand. Some rooms will thwart you a thousand times, causing you to turn back and check another part of the castle as soon as you enter them. I normally prefer my platformers to be fast and flowing, more Rayman than Meat Boy, but Rogue Legacy’s compact levels, armies of spikes and approach toward the foothills of Bullet Hell had me enthralled for a week.
It’s a properly devious platformer and unlike its more varied brethren, Legacy provides the satisfaction of mastering a specific room, knowing that you’ll be able to twitch your way through it whenever it’s encountered again. It’s a game about solutions and progress rather than creating stories about the time you accidentally blew yourself up, fell through a hole in the ground and bounced into a spike trap.
I think the deliberate construction of the rooms probably tickles the puzzle centre of the brain like a man scratching a Basset Hound’s belly, which may be why it appeals to clever clogs John so strongly. The improvised anarchy of other roguelite platformers is somewhat missing. Before I played, I thought the generational traits would be Legacy’s stand-out feature, but it’s the relative tightness of the structure, in levelling as well as levels, that holds the game together. When I finally beat it – and that was before I beat Spelunky – I felt like I’d climbed a mountain. Mighty.