What makes a game rogue-like? Is it the existence of playable rogue characters? Maybe it stems from stealth elements? Better yet, it could be a game that tests your wits by pitting you against members of your secret society gone rogue. No?
While those are all great guesses, a rogue-like game doesn’t have anything to do with what type of characters are in the game, nor does it have anything to do with the atmosphere that the game exudes. Rogue-like games exist for the sole purpose of messing with the player. It’s almost as if the game is bipolar. Sometimes it helps you…but sometimes it flat out harms your ability to progress.
Over the weekend I picked up a couple of games with heavy rogue-like qualities: The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and Ziggurat – along with my copy of Rogue Legacy, this make for a great variety of rogue-likes to pull from. You may recognize one or two of the titles on this list from recent press, particularly The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, which managed to sneak onto select consoles lately.
A rogue-like is a rather difficult-to-define concept. You are at the will of a game that will do whatever amuses it in the moment, whether that be to your benefit or extreme detriment. For example, if you pick up an item typically considered a “power-up” or “stat booster” in regular games, a rogue-like will allow you to squeeze out a stat boost but could just end up stealing it away later on. Sometimes special abilities that you obtain can have negative side-effects if you don’t know your way around them.
Because of the prominent permadeath feature and generally wild combat, rogue-likes don’t often have as many levels before reaching what could be considered a final boss. To combat the short length of the game, levels are randomly generated, along with the “power-ups” that they leave for you to trip over along the way.
I’ve had varied success playing through these games, as I often find myself being nailed by the system. It feels like it’s based on luck, and that’s something that makes the genre so ingenious. Obviously, as with all games, there is a learning curve. But no matter how many hours you’ve poured into The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, you will never have guaranteed success.
Of course playing through the game will unlock new things, such as new playable characters with different starting abilities, or even new gameplay elements that will start appearing when you play. Other games, like Rogue Legacy, take this a step further. In Rogue Legacy, there is a perk “castle” that makes your characters better overall so you can venture deeper and deeper into the randomly shifting castle fresh out of hell. Every death leads you to picking one of your character’s children to carry on their legacy, and each one has their special traits.
Rogue-like is a very unique genre. Currently a lot of success is being seen with rogue-like dungeon-crawler type games, but it is beginning to evolve in a lot of different ways–like in Ziggurat. In this game, you use a variety of magic with First-Person Shooter (FPS) style combat as you crawl your way to the final level of the Ziggurat (a magical infused dungeon). As a fan of the mage class, myself, the game offers a really unique experience and did a great job of introducing me to this genre, after somehow side-stepping it for so many years.
Rogue-likes so far are prominently found on the PC, but they are beginning to make their way to consoles. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth can currently be found on the PS4/Vita, and I’m sure some rogue-likes that I have no idea about are creeping into other corners as well.