By all accounts, this has been a hell of a year for the PSN PLAY promotion. Each of the four titles offered have been the recipient of a certain degree of lavish praise and critical adoration, with the style and experience of each game being radically different from one to the next.
Personally, I wouldn't know because I can't stop playing Rogue Legacy.
Developer: Cellar Door Games/Abstraction Games
Price: $16.99 (PSN)
Described as a procedurally generated, "genealogical Rogue-lite," Rogue Legacy tasks players with assuming the role of a noble knight entering a cursed castle in order to save the wounded King. The thing is, this wounded King is actually your brave knight's father! The castle is said to hold the one item that can bring the King back from the brink of death, but recovering it will be no easy feat. Knowing this, not only has the King sent your courageous knight into the castle, he's sent your whole family! Should your knight fail, his/her brother or sister will be right there to take his/her place.
This is where the "genealogical" aspect of Rogue Legacy comes into play, and it's one of the game's most unique and endearing features. Should you meet your demise — and you will...a lot — your deceased knight is replaced with an able and willing sibling of your choice. Upon death, players are given their choice of three separate siblings, all with unique traits and abilities for you to consider. However, the gene pool is not entirely perfect in this family tree, meaning some of your siblings possess some distinct...defects. One of your brothers is prone to muscle spasms? Watch out as your DualShock 4 vibrates violently at random intervals throughout your playthrough. Have a sister who is far-sighted? Everything in her immediate vicinity is blurry and indistinct. Color blind siblings only see the world in black and white, while nostalgic kin view their environment through a dusty brown tone one might find in an old silent film. There are a plethora of different traits passed down through your genealogy and it's fun to experiment with each of them as you learn the game. They're not all bad traits, either. Should you have access to a brother with P.A.D. (Peripheral Arterial Disease), take advantage of his lack of a foot pulse to run along spike traps without setting them off. If your overly hyper sister has ADHD, enjoy your increased speed while you can. The mixture of character traits that are either a hindrance or a benefit adds an exciting level of strategy, balance, and random challenge to the already procedurally generated levels.
These character traits aren't the only variable present during gameplay, either, and this is another area where Rogue Legacy really excels. There is a depth, complexity, and strategic element to this title that may not be readily apparent when you first fire it up. What at first blush appears to be your standard punishingly difficult, procedurally generated platformer, is in fact a punishingly difficult, procedurally generated platformer that expertly blends elements of the Metroidvania formula, RPG progression, and some neat tricks of its own (such as the aforementioned genealogy gameplay hook).
As you begin play, you'll start to collect gold which quickly lets you unearth the richness underneath Rogue Legacy's challenging façade. A skill tree awaits you at the end of each run through the game's formidable castle, and there are an almost overwhelming amount of upgrades available to determined explorers. Everything from your standard attack and health upgrades, to new character classes for your successive siblings, increased gold amounts and enhanced magic spells provide tons of customization options for your adventurer. Early on, you will also gain access to The Blacksmith, The Enchantress, and The Architect. These three helpful individuals are ready to offer their services and aid on your perilous journey...for a price, of course. The Blacksmith provides access to better weapons and armor for your knight, while The Enchantress has a collection of Runes at her disposal. Runes are Rogue Legacy's version of Final Fantasy's materia, for lack of a better term, providing performance buffs such as increased gold production, increased speed, double jump, and a useful dash maneuver among others. The same set of Runes are available for each of your five pieces of weaponry and armor, meaning Runes are a stackable commodity. Really want to ramp up your gold production? Outfit all five of your open Rune slots with the increased gold abillity and watch your fortunes skyrocket. Or go in a completely opposite direction and utilize Runes from across the board, giving you double jump, the ability to fly, the dash maneuver, and whatever else tickles your fancy. It's up to you how you equip and outfit your knight. Different situations may call for different loadouts, and like any good rogue-like, learning the world and its mechanics allows you to approach things from a more strategic and informed perspective.
I haven't forgotten about The Architect, either, and there's a reason I've saved him for last, as his contribution to your quest is arguably the most important. For a hefty fee — 40% of the gold you are set to obtain during your next run — The Archcitect will "lock" the castle, meaning that the progress you made on your previous run will be saved. Rogue Legacy's majestic stronghold contains a teleportation system similar to what one might find in a Metroidvania game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Guacamelee!, and locking the castle allows you to teleport through the castle to the place you last left off. This is especially useful during boss encounters — and Rogue Legacy has some doozies — as each boss door doubles as a teleportation destination. The Architect effectively allows you to "practice" your boss techniques should you choose to take advantage of his services. This can be an invaluable tool in helping you progress through the game.
Surprisingly, there is a semblance of a story to be found in Rogue Legacy. Typically, in a gameplay driven affair such as this, there is an oftentimes throwaway story running in the background to propel the progress of the game forward. That's not the case here. Told primarily through a series of well-written journal entries found within the castle walls, there is an almost shockingly melancholic tale being weaved, and it just gives the game that extra level of polish and care that makes it even more special to experience as a player.
The PS4/PS3/Vita version of the game makes the transition to Sony's consoles more than successfully. The game feels right at home on the DualShock or the Vita, and to those of you wondering if all the extra content that's been added to the PC version over the months since its initial release are included, rest assured because it's all here. This includes the optional "Remix Bosses," which could very well be the hardest boss battles ever put to pixel in a video game. We're talking controller breaking, video-game-divorcing levels of frustration here. To those of you that have conquered these impossible guardians, you have my sincerest gaming respect! Also, a special note: Be careful when using the Cross-Save feature between PlayStation consoles. Instead of your save file being automatically there regardless of the console you are playing on, you need to sync your cross-save file in the options menu where you are met with a confusingly worded blurb asking you if you want to upload your Cross-Save file. There is some perplexing stuff about new and old files, and it's worded in a way that is unclear as to whether you should click "yes" or "no." If your current game save is uploaded to the Cross-Save cloud, just remember to hit "NO!"
If Spelunky and Castlevania were to have a digital pixel baby, it might look something like Rogue Legacy. It's got the rogue-like, challenging platforming and procedurally generated worlds of something like Spelunky, but it's mixed with the exploration, RPG-progression, and sub-weapon system of something like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. When it comes down to it, Rouge Legacy just makes some really smart decisions with the "rogue-like" formula. The intense difficulty of the genre is still present, but it's the game's addicting sense of progression, a feature not often associated with a rogue-like title, that sets this game apart from the rest of the pack. There are a ton of mechanics and upgrades to discover, the genealogy slant is a brilliant gameplay angle, and the game has a ton of depth between its 2D platforming walls. It took me 13 hours and 143 deaths to complete my first playthrough, and it says a lot that I couldn't wait to fire up New Game + and get to work on collecting greater rewards and more powerful loot as soon as the credits rolled. The intense challenge may be too much for some to overcome, but those who persevere will be rewarded with an unforgettable gaming experience. Needless to say, if you've yet to dive into Rogue Legacy's mesmerizing, procedurally generated world, do yourself a favor and remedy this gaming folly ASAP!
Now, if you'll excuse me, Alexander needs to taste my cold blade for the second time!
- Addicting platforming gameplay
- Genealogy gameplay hook
- Depth and variety to RPG-style progression
- Punishing difficulty may be too much for some
- Confusing Cross-Save functionality