Friday, June 5, 2015

Game Review - Rogue Legacy (Xbox One, 2015)

I picked up Rogue Legacy when it was first released on Steam last summer and started playing it immediately.  Next thing I knew, the sun had come up.  I play a lot of games, and while I will often get deeply invested in them, it's rare that I will completely lose track of time like that.

When the game was released for the Xbox One last week, I downloaded it and did the exact same thing.

That's already a strong testament to the overall quality of Rogue Legacy.

But let's talk a little bit about why Rogue Legacy is so compelling:

On paper, the game sounds unlike most others - you take control of a knight who, along with a long string of his heirs, explore a constantly-shifting castle to liberate the treasures within.  When a character dies, his or her possessions are passed on to the next generation with a simple catch: to enter the castle, an adventurer must relinquish all the gold in his or her possession.  Thus, each generation must spend their inheritance immediately or lose it all.

The result is a surprisingly deep experience.  The game's learning curve can afford to be somewhat steep because your characters will slowly improve as you learn to control them more skillfully.

Because of this one simple feature, Rogue Legacy is a tough (and therefore satisfying) platformer.  When you start running, jumping, swinging your sword, and occasionally flying through the randomly-generated castle, basic enemies and obstacles will pose a significant threat.  You can spend your hard-earned gold improving skills or purchasing upgrades to make your offspring stronger, more resilient, and even more maneuverable, eventually making the hardest of foes trivial bumps in the road.

Rogue Legacy's skill... manor?

As you explore the castle's four unique zones, you will discover blueprints or fairy chests.  Blueprints give your armorer the information necessary to craft new swords and armor, while fairy chests contain runes that your enchantress can apply to your gear to give certain bonuses, like mid-air jumps or increased movement speed, but only if you can complete a challenge first.  The combination of enchantments and equipment give you a lot of customizability, allowing you to emphasize your particular style of play.

When a character dies, you'll get to choose an heir from three possibilities.  Each will be of a class you've unlocked, covering the traditional RPG spectrum - some are agile and powerful but can't take a beating, others sacrifice strength for a larger HP pool, and some focus powerful magic spells.  The selection of classes is random, so you'll be forced to try new ones on occasion.

Of course, if you don't like the classes you're stuck with, you can just die immediately and try your luck in the next generation.

Offspring also demonstrate some of the game's unique humor.  Each character will have up to two traits.  Some have positive effects, like OCD restoring some MP whenever you destroy one of the random doodads throughout the castle.  Some are distinctly negative, like near-sightedness causing the outer portions of the screen to be blurry (unless you can find some Nerdy Glasses to correct that condition).  Some of your characters will be bald or gay, which has absolutely no impact on gameplay.

Sir Cohen the Near-Sighted begins his legacy.

These traits add another layer of complexity to choosing your next-of-kin, and a few of the effects might make you chuckle.

Speaking of the game's humor, the story is told through a series of journal entries you may find scattered throughout the castle.  There aren't too many of them, and they're pretty brief, but they're well written.

To make each trek through the castle enjoyable, the game's control scheme is nearly flawless.  Responsive and intuitive controls make precision movements a true test of skill, so it's hard to blame your failure on bad design.  There is one place where I think it falters a bit because it's too sensitive, but that only comes up with a specific set of enchantments in specific scenarios; I only encountered this once, and I've put over 30 hours into the game, so it's a pretty minor complaint.

As for the challenges you'll face, there are four distinct sections of the castle, each with its own array of baddies and a boss to top it off.  For the most part, the game proceeds as a typical 2D platformer, except that the world changes structure each time you die.  Thankfully there are some constants to keep things from getting overwhelmingly complicated (the forest is always to the right of the entrance area, for example).

The castle's forest, complete with headless horse leaving a flaming wake.
In total, you can probably expect your first playthrough to take 7-10 hours as you develop your characters (and your skills) to tackle the bosses.  There's a lot more to do, though, if you're up to the challenge.

The most obvious is the classic "New Game +" option.  After defeating the final boss, you can start over with all of your previously-unlocked goodies.  This time, however, all monsters are replaced with their more advanced counterparts, upping the challenge all around.  If you finish the game again, you're treated to "New Game +2," further increasing monster levels.  As far as I know, there's no limit to how high you can go, but the game gets absolutely brutal before too long.  If you're looking for a hardcore challenge, Rogue Legacy will happily deliver.

Remixed bosses are a less infinite way of testing your skills.  It's possible to obtain artifacts that unlock alternate versions of bosses, which you'll fight using a pre-defined character (so you can't grind out gold for a stronger character) in a modified version of the boss's usual arena.  These are significant challenges, and beating them is among the most satisfying gaming experiences I've had in the last few years.

Here's a video depicting my eventually successful run against one of the remixed boss fights to give an idea of how it goes (it definitely took 20+ attempts to reach this point):

Rogue Legacy offers more than enough content to keep you busy for 20 hours or more, if you're up for the challenge.

And finally, it's worth noting that the visual style and soundtrack are fantastic.  Graphically, the game is quite simple and nostalgic, but the different areas are diverse enough and the sprites are detailed enough to look pretty good overall.  The sound effects are pretty solid, too, with good audio cues for various hazards and the like.

The music is a slam dunk.  The different themes for different areas and bosses do a great job of accentuating the action and enhancing tense boss battles.  It sounds awesome.

What I'm trying to say is that Rogue Legacy is amazing.  Great gameplay with surprising depth, awesome challenges, and solid replay value make for a fantastic game.  I can't possibly recommend it more highly.

My Rating: 10/10 - epic.

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