As a new week begins it seems inevitable that another Rogue-like is set loose on the Nintendo Switch eShop. The latest entry to the ecosystem is Rogue Legacy, a game developed by Cellar Door Games (Fans of Donnie Darko perhaps?) and was originally released all the way back in 2013. It was met with a fanfare of praise by numerous gaming outlets. That was five years ago though and the question that must be asked is: Does Rogue Legacy have what it takes to compete with the juggernauts of 2018?
When the King is attacked by an assassin and is on the verge of death, he decides to send his innumerable offspring to Castle Hamson to try and retrieve a cure from its cursed halls. Thus begins Rogue Legacy and as innumerable as the seed of the King is, so to will be the deaths that the player suffers within the walls of this castle. Like any self respecting Rogue-like, Rogue Legacy is hard and it wants you to die many, many times.
Heir to the Throne
One of Rogue Legacy’s unique features that helps it set itself apart from the competition is its “Heir” system. Before you embark on your doom laden journey you will be given the option to pick who to play as out of three siblings. The basic functionality of these siblings is the same. They all wield the same weapon and have access to magic. However their class changes and they even have specific traits.
One heir might be a barbarian thus having higher health but lower MP, another a Paladin having a nice mixture of stats or even a Hokage possessing great speed and attack, but low defence. For the most part this system does work well it does help keep the game fresh and forces you to experiment with different classes. It does works against itself at times though. There is a Miner class that gains more gold and the idea of having to wait for it to pop up seems a bit silly.
Into the Castle
After selecting your heir it is time to tackle the looming Castle Hamson. The castle is split into four different areas and each has its own boss. Once all four are vanquished you can then challenge the Final Boss. The player is free to progress anyway they like, but there is a clear path laid out by the increasing difficult of each zone. The enemies that fill the castle are a mixture of ghoulish fiends ranging from floating eyeballs, zombies, sorcerers and all other kinds of foul ilk. The progression of difficulty is well deigned in Rogue Legacy. The enemies and bosses encountered in one area feel overwhelming, but once you begin the next section you’ll view them as pushovers and overall the climb in difficulty really feels satisfying once you best a foe.
There’s not just monsters in this castle, but a selection of secrets and NPC’s. Littered throughout the interior is a large amount of chests. Some easy to obtain and in the players path, but others are quite tricky to reach and truly puzzling. Some rooms will also set certain conditions to be met before you can open a chest. Take no damage, defeat all enemies, don’t jump and all other sorts of conditions need to be met to unlock some chests. Then the NPC’s found in Castle Hamson will give the player an opportunity to win some prizes. I kept running into a clown offering me the chance to win fabulous prizes if I could hit enough targets.
Outside the Castle
Rogue Legacy does an excellent job of inputting its own way of easing the difficulty of the game by letting players purchase equipment and upgrade their character by spending gold obtained on their last run. There’s a massive skill tree to fill that lets you boost stats, unlock different classes and upgrade them. It works well and alleviates some of the unforgiving difficulty in the game as I found myself being overwhelmed and needing to grind out some health and defence boosts later on
It isn’t just stat upgrades that can be purchased, but new equipment. All of the weapons functionality is the same which is a real shame, but the weapons and armour all have different stats and bonus effects. Some may increase your critical hit rate or others will add vampirism which will make you steal HP from defeated foes. After you’ve gotten some equipment you can purchase runes to place on each piece. Not only can these add effects like vampirism, but can also add new mobility capabilities. Dashing, extra jumps and flying can all be added to your characters mobility options and can be the difference between life and death. Overall these RPG lite mechanics work well within the context of the game, never do they benefit the player enough to make it feel like a cakewalk, but they do gradually ease the difficulty for those feeling overwhelmed.
Upon its original release the retro aesthetic may have been a bit more unique so in that sense Rogue Legacy certainly doesn’t stand out, but it must be said that it does look good. The designs of the enemies and environments is excellent. There’s a tongue and cheek vibe throughout all of the game and it did make me chuckle when I noticed all manner of objects flying through the background on the forest section. The soundtrack fits perfectly with the spooky castle design and some tracks sound like they would fit perfectly in a Castlevania title.
Whilst Rogue Legacy was released on the VITA it would be fair to say not many people own one of those. So a major selling point of the Switch version is its portability. For all my time playing in handheld I didn’t notice any drops in FPS. So with the focus on short bursts of gameplay and seemingly 0 downsides to playing in handheld mode, Rogue Legacy on Switch is the version that has the most to offer.
Whilst I have a lot of praise for Rogue Legacy it does have one major flaw and that flaw won’t be found within the game, but rather the time it is being released. The rogue-like genre is one that has grown rapidly and this great amount of competition means standards and barriers keep getting broken. The most unique feature of Rogue Legacy feels like a mixed bag, so in todays market it does struggle to stand out.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Rogue Legacy was provided by Cellar Door Games.