You find yourself in front of a menacing castle, storm clouds releasing bolts of lightning continuously. You enter. Cobwebs fill the halls, yet fireplaces and torches are still alight. Paintings of the long forgotten and bookshelves full of ancient tomes anywhere the eye wanders. The king awaits. You strike him down. All fades to white. Welcome to Rogue Legacy.
With its first release on the PC back in 2013 the roguelite by Cellar Door Games makes its way to the Nintendo Switch November 6. Rogue Legacy is based on a very simple premise: You choose an heir, you enter the castle, you fight, you loot, you die, repeat. In between runs you are able to spend your hard earned gold coins on persistent upgrades such as improving your health, your attack power, and your maximum equipment load. Other unlockables include different classes, new equipment, and runes. These can affect and alter your movement abilities, change the power of your enemies and their loot and include many more effects.
While the gameplay loop stays very much the same, the castle you explore doesn’t. Each run presents you with a new layout, whereas the three different zones after the starting area can always be found in roughly the same direction. Want to find the forest? Just go right until you see trees. In each area, one boss awaits and defeating every one of them unlocks the golden door in the main hall of the castle. Discovering what lies beyond will have to wait for your own playthrough.
The combat is for the most part simplistic, almost arcadey fun. Depending on the heir you choose at the start of your run your character can be more melee focused, more centered around magic spells or something in between, all depending on the class. Each class can also gain a special skill of their own, e.g., the barbarian king is able to release an earth-shattering shout, which knocks back enemies (sound familiar?).
The different enemy types and variants all feature their own attack styles and patterns, each of which you will quickly be familiar with after a few run-ins and the combat never feels unfair. The controls feel smooth at all times and it never felt hard to utilize the move set to my advantage. Soon you will know how to avoid attacks and when it’s best to strike yourself. If you feel your chances are too slim, no problem, just grind away at the difficulty by stacking up mountains of gold and invest it into upgrades.
The art direction makes for a fitting background for the gameplay, enemies are easily identifiable among the pixel style graphics. At times the screen can get cluttered with foes and projectiles, but for me, it was a part of the challenge to keep cool and scan for openings without getting harmed. Even here the system of choosing an heir for your character can have an impact, as some of their traits can change the look of the world: Some of them are color blind and some just need to see an optician. When it comes to atmosphere Rogue Legacy is on the light side, at times even funny, with humorous traits and upgrade descriptions all around.
The story is presented via multiple journal entries you can find around the castle and it doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay. The sound design is a bit on the unremarkable side, but it keeps you informed and the tracks don’t get annoying after the 100th time. The performance is flawless, docked as well as in handheld mode.
All in all, I’ve had a marvelous time with Rogue Legacy on the Switch, even though I’ve already seen it all on the PC. Cellar Door Games have crafted one of the most repetitive and grindy roguelikes I’ve played to date but they’ve managed to turn this into a good thing. All the gameplay elements come together to form something I would liken to an arcade version of Symphony of the Night.
Comparing Rogue Legacy to different games with roguelike elements is easy as your success is much less dependant on your luck in finding good items, it instead focuses much more on the player’s skill and often rewards success in especially risky situations. Every attempt at slaying the castle’s many inhabitants feels important, no matter how bad it should go, as you keep racking up upgrades in many shapes and forms. One of the deciding factors of “is this game for you?” will be for you is how much enjoyment you get out of the constant grind. For me, it was a big part of my fun with the game and the constant progression kept me motivated.
With its initial release a few years back, Rogue Legacy still doesn’t show its age, something I attribute to the almost timeless design of graphics and gameplay and it’s certainly a game I will return to, and gladly so.