It’s a golden age for roguelikes. Whether it’s action-tinged GOTY contenders like Dead Cells and Hades, AAA tentpoles like Returnal, or even card-based variants like Slay the Spire, the genre has never been in ruder health.
Among the early crop of contenders in the roguelike renaissance – arguably birthed in 2008 with the launch of Spelunky – was Cellar Door Games’ Rogue Legacy, released in 2013.
Or, to use the term coined by the company and since adopted into gamer lexicon, a ‘roguelite’.
A fiendishly hard action platformer with a charming pixel art style, Rogue Legacy distinguished itself in a crowded indie market at the time. The main conceit of the game – filled as it was with a cartoonish cast of medieval adventurers in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins mould – was that upon death, the player would choose an heir to take up their forebear’s adventuring mantle on successive playthroughs, thus justifying the permadeath mechanic in a playful narrative.
These heirs would inherit traits that affected each playthrough in various ways, from vertigo (playing the game with an upside-down screen) and gigantism (making it easier to get hit) to I.B.S (random farts while jumping). It was this inclusion that set Rogue Legacy apart, helping to keep each playthrough feeling fresh, if occasionally frustrating, time after time.
Following the release of Rogue Legacy on PC, Cellar Door Games would concentrate on porting the game to several other platforms, and it would be five years until the company eventually released its sophomore effort, 2018’s ambitious and sadly underappreciated brawler Full Metal Furies.
Now, in 2021 (technically 2020 but who’s counting that year?), the Toronto-based outfit has returned to the series that put it on the map. And in early access, no less.
Rogue Legacy 2 is similar in concept to other roguelites. Set in a medieval fantasy world, you choose from one of three randomly generated ‘heirs’ to start a run with, comprising of randomly generated castle crawls chock full of filthy lucre and bookending bosses.
During runs you’ll come across the occasional merchant; lore items; and challenge rooms with the potential to unlock fairy chests containing valuable runes or, in rarer instances, permanent heirlooms.
When you die (and die you shall) you go back to the start of the castle but get to keep your gold intact, which can then be spent to permanently upgrade stats and unlock classes and amenities (such as a blacksmith to level up gear and an enchantress to level up runes) for your base.
The classes all have a unique feel, with eleven available in total as of the current patch (0.5.0). The classes are defined by two main features: their unique starting skill, and, in a change from the first game, their weapons. The list includes fantasy archetypes such as the knight (sword), barbarian (axe), ranger (bow and arrow) and mage (wand), in addition to more esoteric additions such as the cook (frying pan) and dragon lancer. Classes can also level up as you play to improve base stats.
✔️Nails ‘one more go’ vibe.
✔️Beautiful cartoon look.
✔️Funny and charming.
❌It’s not finished yet.
❌Some frustrating RNG elements.
The first thing you’ll notice going into Rogue Legacy 2 if you’ve played the original is the updated art style. While the overall design of characters, enemies and returning NPCs will remain familiar to veterans, Rogue Legacy 2 ditches the first game’s pixel art stylings in favour of a vibrant, thick-line animated look.
While the backgrounds are 2D art, characters, enemies and certain interactable items such as coins and traps are 3D objects gussied up to look 2D. It’s an optical illusion the art team has nailed, contributing to a pleasing visual experience that delivers quite the aesthetic upgrade from the original.
But how does it play this time? To be honest, Rogue Legacy 2 doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel; its exacting, side-scrolling action and addictive gameplay loop – largely informed by its predecessor, and later expanded by the likes of Dead Cells and Skul the Hero Slayer – is much the same as before.
It does make significant improvements to geometry complexity, with more verticality than before, as well as boss design.
Rogue Legacy 2 eschews its forebear’s budget-constrained overreliance on globular screen fillers like slimes and floating eyes. The trait system and quirky dialogue that distinguished Rogue Legacy also return, and although it retains the original’s fiendish difficulty, Rogue Legacy 2 remains a humorous and charming jaunt.
While it’s set to be in early access for a while, there’s enough content available here already to give Rogue Legacy 2 a hearty recommendation. The developers are providing regular updates and there’s an evident passion to the project. If you’re a fan of these kinds of games, you can safely dip in now, as you won’t be disappointed with what’s on offer here.
Rogue Legacy 2 is what you’d get if you mashed Rogue Legacy and a sequel together. Every time you die, your children will succeed you, and each child is unique. Your daughter might be a Colourblind Archer, and your son could be a Pacifistic Chef.