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'Rogue Legacy' review: Live. Die. Repeat

Screenshots of the PS Vita version of Rogue Legacy.
Screenshots of the PS Vita version of Rogue Legacy.
Cellar Door Games

Rogue Legacy for the PS Vita.


Live. Die. Repeat. No, this isn't just the tagline for the Tom Cruise movie "Edge of Tomorrow." Those three words perfectly captures the spirit of "Rogue Legacy" in all its 2D sidescrolling glory. Developed by Cellar Door Games, the indie rougelike game takes the "Prepare to Die" motto of "Dark Souls" to heart, as it delivers a difficult, but rewarding experience for players of all ages.

Rogue Legacy is a satisfyingly difficult experience.
Photo courtesy of Cellar Door Games, used with permission.

The player begins the game as a knight named Johannes, who, after being used as a tutorial device, slays his father, the King. Johannes is labeled a traitor by the kingdom and you, an heir of his family, has set off to the castle he resides in to exact revenge and bring honor back to your name. But the castle you must conquer is no ordinary one. Constantly changing and filled with deadly enemies of all sorts, Castle Hamson will take your life before you know it, leaving your heirs to continue the journey. As you explore the ever-changing castle, you'll discover diary entries written by Johannes, which shed some light on the event that inspired your quest for justice. For a game that could have easily ignored any form of narrative, "Rogue Legacy" ends up providing one that's surprisingly rich.

As popular as it may be to brand "Rogue Legacy" as a "Metroidvania" game, the inspiration for it in terms of gameplay and visuals lean heavily towards the "Castlevania" series. The retro-style graphics are charming and reflect the game's old-school difficulty. The characters are simply designed and have comical features regardless of their sex. So don't be surprised if your female heir sports a hilarious old-man beard, or your elderly hero is majorly buffed in size. No matter the knight chosen, the walking animation of the heir marching with his oversize sword remains funny no matter what.

The soundtrack accompanying your exploration of the castle is as addictive to listen to as any NES game. Naturally, as "Rouge Legacy" wants to recreate the nostalgic 8-bit vibe, no voice acting is present. However, the vocal soundbites coming from enemies, or your own demise, get the job done. Controls on the PS Vita version of "Rouge Legacy" are responsive and mapped effectively for the handheld. However, if the default control scheme is not to your liking, customization is allowed. Far from game breaking, but still quite annoying, is having to change the downward attack from a two-button input to only one, every time a new game begins.

Castle Hamson is split into four maps of familiar game settings, such as a standard castle or a forest. The castle's layout is randomly generated, but the four divisions are generally found respectively in the north, south, east, and west direction. While the objective is to wipe out the four bosses that hold the key to opening the door sealing the true opponent, collecting gold to improve your stats, weaponry, and armor will often be your true goal for venturing into the castle. Death is inevitable in "Rogue Legacy" and when your heir passes on to the afterlife, the next of kin will inherit the gold and materials left behind, making his revenge quest a little easier. Runes are also available to find within the castle, which grants the players with special abilities like dashing, regaining health after killing an enemy, or being able to acquire more gold from treasure chests.

When it comes to picking an heir to play as, the game presents you with three choices. Based on first appearance, the male or female heirs don't seem very unique. However, each heir have their own strengths, weakness, and quirks. A buff knight will be able to withstand pain the longest; a slimmer knight is at risk of being knocked back by enemies; a dwarf knight can evade large attacks easier and so forth. The traits of your selected character is where "Rogue Legacy" gets creative, as they're often crucial to improving or hindering your progress through the castle.

If an heir yearns for the good old days, the visuals will have a sepia filter over it. Or, if an heir suffers from ADHD, he'll be able to move 30 percent faster. Then there are the occasions of an heir having eyesight problems that make it hard to see, or only being able to walk upside down, for some strange reason. Not every trait holds gameplay significance, though. A gay or lesbian sexual orientation holds no ill effect on the player, but it's a welcoming addition for those looking for diversity. Different classes of heirs are also available for unlocking, with the promise of more magic, strength, or ways to prolong death.

The only real negative to "Rogue Legacy" is the premise itself. Death is encouraged, as you'll have to infiltrate the castle over and over, in the hopes of developing your character. Even though the game is fair by letting you lock the castle's layout design (at the cost of 60 percent of loot), warp to certain areas, or find artifacts of specific power, it can still be a frustrating experience. For anyone turned off by the idea of continuous grinding, just to get past a certain area or enemy, "Rogue Legacy" may not be for you. However, if you appreciate a good challenge that never stops feeling fresh, then "Rogue legacy" will not disappoint.