Video games can involve a lot of death. Some games allow you to jump back in the action with barely a blip. Others exact a heavy price—sending your character back to square one, if your character is even able to continue at all.
But 2013’s Rogue Legacy took a third tack. Sure, you were expected to die during the game. And once you did, that avatar was gone. But instead of losing everything and starting from scratch, gamers were able to retain some rewards they’d gathered and then buy some permanent upgrades for any future avatars they used—the “heirs” to the original character. That made each successive run at the game levels just a bit easier. And it led to a subgenre of gaming called “roguelite.”
Rogue Legacy 2 takes that revolutionary gameplay twist and continues to flesh out all its various possibilities in imaginative ways.
The game’s story is pretty straightforward: You play as a hero—or, more accurately, a bloodline of heroes—who sail across the Stygian seas in an effort to breach a castle’s gates, defeat a series of baddy bosses and liberate a kingdom.
As such, you must make your single-player way through a castle made up of six unique and randomly generated locations that give you a variety of platform-jumping and weapon-swinging challenges. Not only are there scores of different foes swarming in at you and big bosses to fight (in sometimes very tight quarters), but you must also navigate labyrinths; collect loot; quickly scale multiple levels; and avoid floating fireballs and deviously hidden arrow traps.
But that’s only the tip of this particular gaming iceberg. There are 13 classes of heroes to choose from—each with its own weapons, talents, special traits and weaknesses—and the game essentially challenges you to become familiar with all of them. It does this by, well, killing off the character you’re initially playing as quickly as possible.
With each new descendant of the previous hero, the game lets you choose from three randomly generated battlers with a randomized name, class and quirky trait. So, if you had gotten used to the Barbarian with his rapidly swinging battle axe, you might next choose a Valkryie with a much different style and projectile-deflecting polearm. Each class also has its own special hits that you must learn—attacking while dashing forward, for instance, or landing a hit after an evasive roll—in order to maximize your effectiveness.
Oh, and those randomly generated “character traits” (some 50 of them) can really impact your play as well. If your current hero is colorblind, for instance, you only see things in black and white. If he’s prone to panic attacks, the screen darkens every time he’s hit. And if your battler ends up being a pacifist, he has to do the best he can without being able to give damage to foes. Each trait also comes with a special bonus, such as added gold or the ability to spot hidden secrets.
The long list of purchasable permanent upgrades; discoverable relics, heirlooms and blueprints; and various character choices stretches on from there. In fact, Rogue Legacy 2 offersan overwhelming wealth of choices to keep up with. It feels almost impossible at first to wrap your brain around everything. But the more you learn, the more manageable and rewarding your future runs become. (See the next section for some added in-game help.)
Rogue Legacy 2, with its colorful, fast-paced play, is a fun button-crunching experience. But for those who feel a bit overwhelmed (or those who want an even greater challenge) the game offers an option called “House Rules.”
This menu page allows you to adjust and customize the game’s difficulty to your liking. You can lower or increase enemy health and damage, for instance. You can even turn off any damage you receive from enemy contact altogether. Slowing down time while aiming and allowing your character to zip about with unlimited flight can also boost a struggling player’s efforts. And when you get the hang of it, you can tweak the difficulty levels as high as you’d like.
The in-game enemies and bosses are a collection of sword-swinging skeletons, magicking mages, impaled knights and ghosty figures of various stripes. And they come at you with frenzied rage. On top of that, there always seems to be some form of fiery or pointed projectile floating or zinging in your avatar’s direction.
That said, the images are bright and cartoony. And when your avatar is struck down, he or she simply falls over without any mess. The printed messages give a sense of some “soul-binding” spiritual element permeating the castle you’re battling through, but it’s never fully described. Those messages also have a crude reference to “poop.” And one of the character traits is irritable bowel syndrome, which forces a character to release a noxious gas bomb.
As easy as Rogue Legacy 2 may look at first glance, this is a tense action platformer with a surprising number of layers. In fact, it’s kind of tough if you’re not used to a game like this. With time and effort, however, the gameplay and its well-designed perks are rewarding. And the randomly generated elements and possible customization will woo players back for more.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.