Retro Rogue Review

Retro Rogue Review

May 6, 2014

If there was an award for the best, simplest roguelike there is, Retro Rogue would have won it. Let me rephrase that. If Retro Rogue was any simpler, you’d only require a couple of dice to play it. I’m not against coffee-break roguelikes, but this is a bit too much, even though the game is really well done.

The player, as usual, needs to descend down an incredibly deep dungeon and fight some ancient evil – the usual business. There are lots of monsters to beat and lots of loot to uncover, but it’s all very railroaded. The dungeon is randomly generated, but in the end, the question is whether you will have enough health potions to heal yourself before someone kills you. The player has only three stats: health, defense, and attack. There is also differing speed, but I didn’t see any item that changes that. The player has an inventory and an array of equippable items like shields or boots, but they all go towards improving those three basic stats. Although there are lots of weapons, they also don’t Retro Rogue 4change anything.

There’s no ranged weaponry, no magic, no buffs or debuffs – there’s simply no tactical part in Retro Rogue, apart from the old “stand in the doorway and kick the enemy in front” strategy. The only potions are health potions that immediately refill some health, and the enemies are all the same, as well. They have different speed, health and attack, but they don’t freeze or poison or anything – they just tick you until you or they die. Speaking of which, the only time I died was when I forgot to drink a health potion – that’s right, the monster-bashing got so repetitive that I actually forgot to stay alive.

Retro Rogue isn’t bad – it’s a great small time-killer that has a variety of different monsters and items, and it definitely feels like a roguelike. But exactly because the game is so well done, it’s apparent that it lacks any depth and very few mechanics. I still suggest it if you’d like some simple roguelike RPG action, and it’s perfect for people who are new to roguelikes, but I really wish there was a more varied sequel in the works.

P.S. Totally forgot to mention. The “retro” part comes in the form of a slider that makes the game look like it’s played on a very old TV. The effect is neat, but holds no changes to the gameplay.

Out There Review

Out There Review

Mar 12, 2014

There isn’t a roguelike quite like Out There. A space simulation game where players find themselves adrift in space, scrounging for materials from planet to planet, solar system to solar system, trying to find their way home.

Essentially, the game is turn-based. Players start out in a solar system, and can explore planets of two kinds: ones they can land on with materials they can mine for, or gas giants which can be probed for fuel. Each move uses up fuel, oxygen, or damages the hull, and players need to find the materials to refill and repair as necessary. Materials can be mined for that can build new parts and repair current ones.

How does one learn how to build new parts? Either through random events when traveling to a new solar system, or by encountering life on certain planets. The different species speak in alien languages that become revealed over time as players encounter them more. As well, random events can harm the player, with choices affecting what happens.

While randomness does play a big role in Out There, especially when it comes to doing well (finding a suitable new ship at a distress beacon to take over can be key), really the game is all about how the player manages adversity. Things are always tilted against them: something is always being depleted. Space for new materials and to install new tools is always low. Drilling or probing for resources might not be fruitful. There’s always the luck-of-the-draw factor, but smart players can minimize those effects.

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But the most fascinating thing about Out There is the way that the game is actually about narrative and discovery – each runthrough creates its own story, both from scripted events and from emergent narrative of what the player experiences. No run in Out There is quite the same, and that’s the beautiful thing. The game is gorgeous with its comic book art style, sure. But this is just such a fascinating game: it’s not about combat, it’s about survival, and how the player manages to face it. It’s all done through this resource management system, but that just serves as a wrapper for something larger.

Out There is a game I don’t want to give away by saying too much about, and on paper, it’s perhaps not the most exciting game. But the experience of it, of learning how to survive and mastering the methods of doing so, and discovering the unknown, not knowing what is around the next corner, that’s something truly special. Perhaps the interface is a bit small on phones, or I’m annoyed that when obtaining materials, it’s not possible to use the refilling resources to clear space for the drilled/probed materials. These are minor issues for what is one of the most enthralling mobile games I’ve played in recent memory.

Android Rundown’s Look Back at 2013: Why Roguelike was the Big Genre of the Past Year…and the Future

Android Rundown’s Look Back at 2013: Why Roguelike was the Big Genre of the Past Year…and the Future

Dec 31, 2013

If there was any genre that took off in 2013, it was the roguelike. So many games felt like they took up this moniker, even if it was somewhat inaccurate. Roguelikes are typically defined by having permadeath and procedurally-generated levels. Beyond that, there’s the pure “Berlin Interpretation” of games that adhere strictly to the tenets set forth by the original game Rogue and others in the canon, as determined by a conference of roguelike developers who met in 2008 to form their ultimate definition. However, so many games have become roguelike-likes, employing roguelike elements to different genres, especially Spelunky which exploded on PC this year. Some people prefer to define the genre in a different term: procedural death labyrinths. This genre-free definition conveys the three core elements that these “roguelike-likes” share:

  • Procedural level generation (i.e., generated algorithmically, not using fixed levels by and large)
  • Permanent character death for the player character, though many games use continuing elements
  • Environments with traps and hazards to survive

But no matter what they were called, it seemed like many developers, especially on the independent side, wanted to take their spin at these types of elements.

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Why the genre wasn’t bigger on mobile is kind of baffling because it’s absolutely perfect for the platform. It’s built to be highly replayable and often features play sessions that are short but get longer over time as players get better. Why, then, has the roguelike revolution taken place on PC, and not mobile?

I predict that 2014 will be fruitful for the roguelike on Android. There’s already hints that FTL will come to tablets after its successful PC run, Sword of the Stars: The Pit should be on mobile in 2014, and it sees fit that Spelunky‘s got to inspire a mobile clone at some point, eh? There’s been some random Android games that work well in the roguelike mold, but the real breakout hit has yet to come.

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Until that moment arrives, here’s a few roguelikes from the past year or two to chomp down on:

Quadropus Rampage: This is a great example of a game that is perhaps more inspired by roguelikes, perhaps being a PDL hack ‘n slash, rather than a true “roguelike.” It has the permadeath, procedural level generation, and general “dungeonness” that exemplifies the genre, but all in the wrappings of an isometric hack ‘n slash game. As well, there are plenty of persistent elements – from the boss Pete to permanent stat upgrades. It won’t fit the Berlin Interpretation, but it’s definitelya great game that adheres to some of the genre’s conventions.

Hoplite: This roguelike is extremely simplified, but it is quite fast-paced for a turn-based game, and is a great way to dive into the genre and its rewards without delving into the overly-complex elements. A great introductory piece.

Cardinal Quest: Another fast-paced roguelike, but one with a bit more depth and length than Hoplite. Still, it’s well worth checking out for those who want a good, mobile-friendly introduction to the genre.

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Delver: This first-person roguelike takes some inspiration from Minecraft visually, but tons of challenge. It’s on PC as well as Android now, and is still expanding today.

NetHack: This port of one of the games of the roguelike canon has been updated from its ASCII art graphics to something a bit more visual. But hey, the original challenging gameplay is still here. Good luck with that.

Happy dungeon crawling! See you in the next year and the next life!

Hero Siege Review

Hero Siege Review

Dec 31, 2013

Hero Siege (not to be confused with physics puzzler Siege Hero) is a hack ‘n slasher with roguelike/procedural death labyrinth elements that feels like it’s not quite built for Android, but there’s some bloody fun to be had here.

Players control a hero of one of several classes, trying to survive in one of three arenas with multiple sets of levels. Players attack in one of four directions with their base attacks, attacking waves of enemies and periodic bosses. Enemies drop coins, which are used for in-game upgrades like stat boosts and health potions, and crystals, which can be used for a variety of things, including temporary boosts, crystal keys for valuable chests, and cosmetic upgrades.

Hero Siege is a game of frantic survival, as waves come in and players must fight them off while seeing what loot awaits on the level: getting potions which can help but also lower stats are important, and players who look around the levels will get the spoils. As a free hack’n slash game, it definitely holds up its bargain well, and crystals aren’t explicitly necessary – and can be collected in the game proper too.

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The game doesn’t seem to be optimized all that well, as even on my Nexus 4, on the game’s “high” graphics setting, the game suffers from regular slowdown. It’s a fast-paced top-down 2D game, but it doesn’t seem as if it should be causing that much in the way of stuttering. Set the graphics to low if necessary. The art seems rather rough around the edges no matter what.

There’s support for MOGA gamepads, but it’s a bit buggy as of publication – the developer claims that this is due to the MOGA Pivot app, of all things. Oh, the irony.

Really, this feels a lot more like it’s structured as a PC/console-type game, a sit-down experience meant for lengthy play sessions, more than hat a mobile-friendly game would have. This can get players latched on to the game for longer than they might want to be, and it’s not just the “I don’t want to stop playing” sensation as much as it is the “I haven’t reached a good stopping point” sensation that makes it hard to jump in to and keep playing.

Really, I almost wonder if this is just a clever Steam Greenlight campaign for the game. There’s a PC version already available, and really, making mobile games is a risky financial proposition, especially on Android still. So, go free-to-play, get some attention that way, maybe make some side cash off of the game, but putting a big Greenlight button on the title screen might be converting those necessary votes to get on to Steam and to have the game be a financial success. This is mostly just speculation, but it seems like a rather clever scheme for someone to try.

Hero Siege is well worth the download for hack ‘n slash fans, though it definitely is far from game of the year material.

Heroes of Loot Review

Heroes of Loot Review

Sep 12, 2013

Heroes of Loot’s fast-paced Gauntlet-inspired take on the hack ’n slash and roguelike genre is a game I’ve been curious to see as a final, polished product. There was definite promise in the preview versions of Orangepixel’s take on the roguelike with more arcade influences than most games in the burgeoning genre have. I am excited to say that it turned out quite well: this is a hack ’n slash that’s intense and fun.

Players control one of four heroes, starting from level 1, earning experience as they slay enemies. The goal is ultimately to get high scores, with XP used to fortify the character’s health, and money used to buy temporary upgrades, all in the name of lasting longer.

There’s lots of loot in Heroes of Loot but there’s also lots of enemies, and chaos really rules the day. The secret to success, I’ve found, is to stay out of harm’s way. Stay away from enemies; all the characters use projectile-based attacks and magic items come along often, which can help clear out groups of enemies. Bottleneck enemies in long corridors whenever possible to take them out easily. And stay out of the scrums as much as possible – health drains quickly, especially deeper in the dungeon!

The dungeon crawling gameplay largely stays on its beaten path throughout the length of the game, but the difficulty increase in the dungeon over time adds some variation to the experience. It gives a sense of long-term progression, and something for players to go after, as experts will definitely want to be challenged right away as they get good at the game. These tougher dungeons make high scores quicker to get, too.

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The multiple characters have slight differences, really, but I found the wizard to be my heavy hitter thanks to his great stats but slow XP gain, which can be negated with smart play. If the player handles staying alive and doesn’t be Rambo, letting the powerful attacks take care of enemies, success can be obtained. This is a fast and frantic game, but intelligence certianly feels rewarded.

Heroes of Loot of course comes with gamepad support (this is an Orangepixel game), with HID gamepads supported, and even the Green Throttle controllers able to play the game in two-player co-op, because dungeon crawls are just more fun when friends and loved ones are involved. Even though it’s all just controlled by a joystick and a button, the game feels really good with a gamepad. It’s not bad on a touchscreen, but with a gamepad, it just feels great.

Really, Orangepixel has been on a real upswing since Chrono and Cash: games that were once interesting retro curiosities are starting to be formed into some really cool titles. This is a stripped-down hack ’n slash that takes advantage of what it is, and uses the trademark Orangepixel art style and sense of humor to add character to it too. Heroes of Loot is well worth checking out.

Quadropus Rampage Review

Quadropus Rampage Review

Jun 6, 2013

The roguelike genre has undergone a curious evolution in the modern era of gaming. Once an overly-complex genre only accessible to patient gamers, now developers have tweaked it into something that appeals to a wider audience. This is where Quadropus Rampage comes in: casual game sessions and accessibility meet challenging hack ‘n slash action and character development. And it’s a brilliant combination.

Players control a four-legged cephalopod, a quadropus that makes up for its lack of limbs with an abundance of fury, swinging various weapons around to take out the other dastardly creatures of the sea. The most dastardly of the dastardly sea creatures is Pete, god of the sea. He’s a jerk, and Grubby (first seen in Towelfight 2: The Monocle of Destiny, also from Butterscotch Shenanigans) wants him gone.

However, Pete lives deep in the sea, and so players must go deeper and deeper into the sea, one dpeth level at a time, picking up new weapons and leveling up to get strong enough to sink Pete once and for all. It’s like a hack ‘n slash Toe Jam and Earl.

Quadropus Rampage blends both a short-term roguelike with long-term benefits and growth. Players level up while playing, earning experience for killling enemies, improving their stats as they level up. New weapons can be picked up, all with different stats. Like the aforemention TJ&E, falling off the world is quite possible, but it comes at a penalty: players take damage and may find themselves taking on enemies before they’re too strong to face them.

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Currency of orbs and the rarer dubloons can also be earned along the way, as this is a free-to-play title now, unlike Towelfight 2 which was paid with no IAP. Players must make choices with the orbs: they can be used on permanent stat upgrades that make the quest to take down Pete much easier in the long run, or on short-term ultra-powerful weapons that Grubby sells. The achievements are among the most useful in a game yet, as they too provide permanent upgrades, but with a choice of two different effects to have. The gameplay is pure hack ‘n slash, but there’s a lot of roguelike elements in there too: upon death, characters reset to the beginning, but the player has new experience for the next go-round, and there’s tangible long-term benefits as well as well.

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The controls feature a lot of on-screen buttons: there’s attacking, a dodge move, shield and smash attack activation, and virtual buttons for swapping weapons and advancing dialogue that pops up. It’s a bit cluttered like Bastion on iOS was, and gamepad support would be quite welcome.

Quadropus Rampage succeeds for much the same reason that Towelfight 2 did: it tweaks familiar genres just enough to be its own thing, and its quirky sense of humor comes through as well. I found myself playing this one for long stretches of time while I had other things to do, and that’s quite the sign for a good game. Now, excuse me: Pete needs a good whooping.

Quadropus Rampage from Butterscotch Shenanigans Wants to Dive Deep Into Fast-Paced Roguelike Action

Quadropus Rampage from Butterscotch Shenanigans Wants to Dive Deep Into Fast-Paced Roguelike Action

Apr 23, 2013

Butterscotch Shenanigans, the wackily-named studio run by the gravelly-voiced brothers Sam and Seth Coster, have a new game in the works. Well, they’re a game development studio, so of course they would, but it’s an interesting one: a fast-paced take on the roguelike. It’s claled Quadropus Rampage, and I’ve gotten to play an early version of it.

The game bears quite a few similarities to Towelfight 2: The Monocle of Destiny upon playing it. The art style is very similar, being from the same artist that’s to be expected. The game also has a similar genesis, where Towelfight was spawned from a game jam into a larger title, Quadropus Rampage was born from the 7DRL (7-day roguelike) jam, where developers created a ‘roguelike’ action-RPG. Obviously, different developers created different takes on the genre, and Butterscotch Shenanigans created a very action-oriented take on it.

Players start from the top of a sea level, trying to get lower and lower, while running around and slaying enemies. The quadropus can attack with the default weapon, with an ink dash ability and a powerful overhead attack that can be charged up over time. New weapons can be acquired by picking them up midgame; players start off with the same default weapon set. For a game made in a week, it’s got a lot of intriguing ideas to it, though like most games made in a week, it has the feel of needing a lot of tweaking.

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However, since then, Butterscotch Shenanigans has taken the core concept of Quadropus Rampage‘s 7DRL origin and is evolving it for PC, iOS, and of course, Android. The new version of the game takes place at an isometric angle. While the starting loadout is the same, players can use coins they earn to spend on permanent upgrades. Also, falling off the map no longer kills players, it just drops them down a further level in the sea, albeit with damage dealt. The goal is to get as far as possible, so taking the safe path is ideal.

While the game is still a short ways away from release, and the Brothers Coster are implementing things like a story in to the game (why is this quadropus on a rampage, anyway?), the title is certainly coming along well, and its evolution is rather apparent. If you want a taste of the title now, the 7DRL version is playable for Windows, though the game has definitely changed since then, so it’s not representative of what the game will finally be. We’ll have more on this title as it nears release.

Cardinal Quest Review

Cardinal Quest Review

Jul 2, 2012

The roguelike is a genre of game that I’ve always wanted to get into: the idea of having a character that one doesn’t want to die, because death is permanent, yet through death learning more about the world to eventually master it. I would love to be the kind of person that is a Nethack expert. However, I was born in the overcaffeinated generation and I demand my games be interesting within minutes. Thus, Cardinal Quest is a great entry point into roguelikes for my blood, which is pretty much straight caffeine at this point.

Players choose one of three classes: the fighter, thief, and wizard, each with their own strengths. The fighter gets in enemies’ faces to fight them, the wizard uses abilities and spells to fight from a distance, and the thief is fast, preferring to strike first. Then, they descend into the dungeon, to try and kill the evil minotaur Asterion. Levels are randomly generated, with items and abilities appearing in random order. However, better equipment and tougher enemies generally appear over time in a regular order, so don’t expect to be fighting minotaurs in the second room. Still, the randomization means that each experience will be somewhat different because the different abilities will force players to adapt in each session. The soundtrack from noted indie game composer Whitaker Trebella sets a perfect mood for the game, ramping up as the later levels of the dungeon are entered.

The thief is probably the most fun to play as, because the Shadow Walk is so much fun to use. He can use it often thanks to his high speed stat that the ability determines its recharge rate on. It enables him to quickly sneak around undetected, but also do great amounts of damage by attacking while undetected. He isn’t easy to use, but he can be clever when used properly. Though, learning the game isn’t that hard: a few playthroughs will get players acclimated to the mechanics.

However, the game isn’t very deep. Players don’t have much say in how their character is built, and don’t get time to really care for them because with only 2 lives, the end can come quickly. Still, this is meant more for bite-sized chunks of play, and this is more for the kind of person who wants the mechanics of the genre with none of the filler. The money earned in the game is just there as a score indicator. The controls could really use swipe-based movement, as while the control scheme works well on phones, it seems fraught with inaccuracy on tablets. Inventory management controls make it too easy to accidentally move around items when just trying to view their stats.

Cardinal Quest is a good snack for those looking for a quick roguelike experience, without expecting anything too deep.