This article was originally published in the The Oakland Press.
Some games tell you a story. Others let you craft your own.
I’d like to think that for generations to come, my descendants will tell stories of the bravest warrior in my bloodline, Sir Gordon the Determined, an barbarian renowned for his near-sightedness and his irritable bowel syndrome.
Rogue Legacy is a platform-based action in the “roguelike” genre, wherein a “game over” screen means you lose everything: no extra lives, no loading a save, just restarting the game from the beginning. The hardcore genre has seen huge success recently with games such as “The Binding of Isaac,” “FTL,” and “Don’t Starve.”
However, Rogue Legacy introduces a unique wrinkle in the formula that makes it less punishing and more addicting.
You play as a randomly generated knight who is determined to defeat the evil lord of a castle and regain his honor. The game provides little background here. All you need to know is that you must defeat a bad guy somewhere deep in a fortress, much in the vein of Castlevania.
Your first time into the castle you’re basically doomed. You’ll fight a few skeletons and floating eyeballs and after a minute or two you’ll likely be overwhelmed and die, getting dumped back to the title screen. But when you start a new game, you’ll enter the castle again, playing as one of the first hero’s three children, carrying the stats and equipment of father or mother. The game doesn’t give you lives, it gives you generations. And when you die, that’s when it gets good.
By far the most interesting part is picking an heir to continue your lineage. Your children are randomly generated, including name, gender, combat specialties and other hereditary traits, like Sir Gordon’s irritable bowel. The game has a huge collection of medical conditions that can affect the way your play that character, both for the positive and negative.
You might play a character with an eidetic memory, which makes it easier to locate enemies and treasure on your map. On the other hand, you might play a character with Alzheimer’s disease, which makes you lose all sense of direction. Some conditions are merely humorous, like the hypochondriac who exaggerates every wound. Finding out what each condition does in gameplay terms is half the fun of choosing an heir.
The heroes tend to have a short shelf life, but the ability to carry treasures from one generation to the next means you’ll almost always make progress. Granted, some generations, like my Sir Jimmy with vertigo and dextrocardia, will have little hope of survival and won’t contribute anything to the legacy. But even when stuck with a useless heir, there’s always the next generation to look forward to. Slowly but surely, you’ll build toward venturing further and further into the castle.
Just like the heroes, the castle is also randomly generated each time you enter it, so you never know for certain what you’ll encounter. This keeps things fresh, but if you’re frustrated at your lack of progress, or if you happen upon a castle layout that you like, there’s an architect whom you can pay to lock down the castle and keep it from shifting around.
The initial difficulty curve is extreme. You may go through several generations without making it more than a few rooms into the castle. If you don’t make enough money on one run to buy an upgrade, your remaining money will be confiscated as a fee for your next attack on the castle. Once you can actually see your bloodline getting stronger, the cycle running into the castle, dying, and spending the money bequeathed to your children becomes addictive. Less-determined players will most likely be turned off by the game’s first difficult hour.
The game is not without flaws. The music is repetitive, especially when you’re on your 100th generation or more. Though the game is PC only, and it is possible to play with a keyboard, it really needs a gamepad to feel comfortable.
Casual gamers will be turned off, but fans of hardcore platformers will find a lot to like in this addictive, humorous PC game.
And sometimes you will play as a knight who farts uncontrollably.