Hello and welcome to Survival Rations 02! Today we’ll be exploring a favourite of mine: Roguelikes! Our focus will be on a couple that I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with. You’ll also get a brief overview of the genre itself. We won’t be exploring all of the various sub-genres here, such as ‘Soulslikes’, that may come later. Keep reading to the end, and drop by our Facebook community afterwards to join in this week’s poll!
What is a Roguelike?
There is much debate on what actually constitutes a ‘Roguelike’ game. The most prominent list of factors is, by far, The Berlin Interpretation. Using this, Roguelike games fit on to a scale of how ‘Roguelike’ they are. Among the ‘High-value factors’ are features like a discovery/exploration focus or some form of permadeath. I’ve found that combination to be most common – I’m looking at you Rogue Legacy!
Contemporary titles in the Roguelike genre would be Shiren the Wanderer, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman. Games like Rogue Legacy (points for originality), Risk of Rain and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth are instead ‘Rogue-lite’ or ‘Procedural death labyrinths’.
Regardless of where they fall, the overarching genre is one which encourages persistence, adaptation, and thorough exploration. These games also tend to reward the player steadily when they do well and punish them when they slip up. Have a look at the videos linked above to get a feel for some of them.
Locked in a cage – Dead Cells
Referred to as a ‘Rogue Vania’, Dead Cells is a fantastic example of Roguelike action and cutthroat difficulty. Originally released in 2018 by developers Motion Twin and Evil Empire, there have since been 4 downloadable expansions. These content packs add weapons, levels, enemies and much more.
Players control ‘The Beheaded’ (also known as ‘The Fallen One’) on a perilous journey through an island prison. There are many locations to visit, all littered with weapons, items, and enemies. The combat is unforgiving and well nuanced, progress is incremental, and learning enemy attack patterns is the key to success.
The controls are sublime, the music is atmospheric, and with many different paths and equipment combinations, the replayability is rife. I’ve only spent about 15 hours with Dead Cells so far, and it’s a mainstay on my console. It’s easy to pick up and begin, but incredibly difficult to put down – “Just one more run” indeed!
Mother?! – The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (and expansions galore)
This 2014 remake takes an already brilliant 2011 Adobe Flash Application and allows it to flourish. Developers Nicalis have released 3 expansions and brought their game to 12 separate gaming platforms – that’s 4 more than Skyrim! The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a masterclass in action, gore, and sheer potential.
Players control Isaac as he avoids being sacrificed to appease a higher power. The Binding of Isaac is a twin-stick shooter with procedurally generated rooms and almost limitless combinations of pickups. As you progress through the basement into hell itself you’ll be set upon by monstrous foes. Your weapon against these? Isaac’s Tears.
It’s a ludicrous concept but after spending 300+ hours playing the game, I can’t get enough of it. The controls here are again amazing, but the standout for me is the attention to physics. Isaac can only shoot in 4-directions (without a power-up at least). However, tears can be manipulated with movements and hit foes that would otherwise be out of reach. It’s not all basic water droplets though, Isaac can truly become a powerhouse with the right combos. Although players can equally find themselves unable to progress with the wrong ones.
Serving Suggestions – How do these games fit in?
These are just two examples of Roguelikes, and believe me when I say there are plenty out there. You can expect to start/stop easily due to auto-saving (if you can force yourself). With no long story hooks to remember or sidequests to find, the focus is solely on fast-paced gameplay.
I wouldn’t recommend either of these specific games if you’ve only got 10 minutes spare. However there’s no reason they can’t be put on standby. Endless replayability really is the reward here. Short of recording and entering the specific seed for a run, you’ll never encounter the same one again.
Both games offer an experience which is great on the surface. They also offer the opportunity to enrich the experience through player exploration and learning. Dead Cells can be finished by rushing enemies but there is satisfaction in learning and avoiding enemy attacks. The Binding of Isaac players can pick up every possible item and hope for the best or try to drill down on specific combination options which work for them. Both are simply great options, and I’ve found myself becoming much more discerning in what to
In terms of longer sessions, both games offer several ways to approach them. This is especially true with the Greed and Daily Challenge modes. Complete runs can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the player. Much like favourite snack foods, you could just keep going until you’re full, or have a small bite and come back later.
How Long to Beat? lists Dead Cells and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth at 86.5 and 271 hours respectively (completionists). That’s not including any DLC content, for which Isaac has a listing of 1251 hours! It’s safe to say that either of these games would be a worthy purchase if you feel like going rogue.