Procedural Generation is the blessed child of the indie developer. Actually creating content is one of the hardest things you can do, harder than creating systems, because content is this eternally shifting realm of dials to tune, honing in on the most correct, the best, the tightest. It’s also hard to do the right amount of it, because of course, games can be too short, or too long, or too hard. Procedural Generation gives you a way to escape all of this.
If your game is too hard, you can use procedurally generated content as an excuse – after all, sometimes you will get a bad roll in the world, and that’s that. If the game is too short, you can just tell the game to generate more stuff. If the game is too long, you can tell the game to generate less. Hail be unto the Roguelike, the savior and blessed fountain of the indie development scene, and a genre I typically don’t like and don’t care about. After all, it’s not like I’m talking about Desktop Dungeons lately, or like I bought FTL twice.
Oh, yes, hang on, Rogue Legacy, then!
Procedurally Generated Discontent
It’s easy with an introduction like that to expect this game is going to get a kicking, and as a reviewer it would be improper of me to not to drag some of its wrinkles out in the light.
The game I think Rogue Legacy most wants to feel like is Castlevania, with its highly specific tools and subtle feeling of unfairness. Castlevania was a game where memorisation could compensate for imperfect execution, while Rogue Legacy very much isn’t. The castle in Rogue Legacy is a randomly-generated fiasco every time you boot it up. You can lock the castle down if you like how it worked the last time – at the expense of your future earnings.
The Castlevania comparison continues on to the enemies, who have specific tells and patterns. Then, just to coerce you away from complacency, the first few times you encounter an enemy, they’ll behave in one way, only to start expanding on their repertoire when you fight higher-level versions. It’s dreadfully unfair-feeling! You beat that bad guy, and a lot of bad guys that look like it, why right does this one have to start getting smart?
And finally, the Castlevania comparison comes in the story delivery. The narrative of Rogue Legacy is not exactly what I’d call good. There are twenty-five novels scattered throughout the game, which you”ll find as you explore (and die), and they mostly outline the experiences of someone who clearly went through this same dungeon before you. While that sort of thing can often work, telling me about an enormous flaming skull after I’ve killed off an enormous flaming skull does not exactly strike me as interesting.
The final flaw of this game is that the bosses are either big, reskinned versions of pre-existing enemies, and look a bit boring, or they’re grotesquely unfair. While you’re obviously aiming to kill all the bosses, for, well, for no real reason, the bosses themselves are just underwhelming oversized versions of existing enemies. As if to drive the point home, they all spawn extra things in their arenas to make sure that the task of killing them isn’t too easy!
With all those complaints aside, I’ve logged over a day of play time on Rogue Legacy and as I wrote this I kept having to quash the urge to load it up again and just pick around in the New Game +. Why? What’s wrong with me? This game is under my skin, and I’m still not sure why.
The Obligatory Admission
There are essentially two game types at work here. The first type of game is a level-grinder game, where your trips into the dungeon earn you cash that you spend on upgrades, that let you travel deeper that let you earn better upgrades and so on. This game is pretty frustrating because eventually, you will hit that point where nothing you can afford to upgrade seems to relate to what you’re trying to do, and you’ll just feel like you’re making no progress at all. Like almost any good game experience it has hard bits and easy bits, and while I feel the plateaus in the difficulty curve, the grindy bits, are a bit too long, it still conveys you, the player along, in a satisfactory fashion.
The other part of the game, the part of the game I’m pretty bad at, is a precision platformer. Rogue Legacy sets itself apart from most platform games I’ve played lately by allowing the player control over their character’s movement on a level that I can’t match, and when I see other people doing it, looks insane. It’s not that it’s a skill beyond me, it looks like the kind of skill I’d need an extra subsection of brain to manage. I know that mastering these skills can yield amazing results, I’ve seen it.
Whichever form of play you prefer, Rogue Legacy has plenty, and if you enjoy both forms, the game will curve out beneath you beautifully. As your skill at avoiding hazards or anticipating tells has to grow, you’ll have the finances to expand your castle and approach the more dangerous threats without feeling stymied. You’ll earn better equipment, making the gross unfairness of the boss monsters’ add swarms less important. You’ll find the spells and strategies that work for you , and eventually, you’ll look around and wonder just how much time has this game consumed?
I tend to review games with an eye towards budget, and on that front, I have to recommend you try Rogue Legacy out if you’re at all interested in its genres. It’s a level-up RPG, roguelike, it’s a platformer, it’s an exploration game, and if you like any or all of those elements it is a fantastic synthesis of all four components. It’s also good value for money, even at a price point of fifteen dollars.
Buy it if:
- You can enjoy a bit of unfairness.
- You want an experience that takes a few minutes to play, but hours to finish.
Avoid it if:
- You like a clear narrative.
- You like feeling as if a game is playing fair.
- You want forgiving controls and difficulty.