Take equal parts "Castlevania," "Ghost 'n' Goblins," and "The Binding of Isaac," mix in some basic middle school biology and you'll get "Rogue Legacy." Developer Cellar Door Games -- the creators of "Villainous" and "Don't Shit Your Pants" -- hone their development skills on a game much larger in scope. Described as a rogue-lite, "Rogue Legacy" serves up a standard platformer/RPG with a fun twist -- your sons and daughters take up the mantle of hero after you die.
The story is your standard RPG fare. Basically, you're out to avenge the death of your king who was betrayed by his finest knight. It's pretty bare bones but enough is there to keep pushing you forward. You'll also find journals written from the betrayer's view as his mind begins to deteriorate from having been locked away in this magical fortress for some time. Eventually, there is a big reveal of sorts but it's nothing particularly thought provoking.
Gameplay flows along most platformer conventions -- jumping, slashing, collecting items and coins, and, of course, besting bosses. The twist comes from the high difficulty and randomness of the castle layout. Typically in Rogue-likes -- once you're dead that's it. Game over. However, "Legacy" mercifully grants a few points in your favor. You can choose a new character (from three potential offspring) upon restarting, and you carry over any gold, weapon blueprints, and stat increases from previous runs. This does take a bit of the utter chaos that can befall players of other rogue-likes out of the equation while still retaining the classic brutality of similar games.
What separates this from other hack in slash platformers (like "Ghouls 'n' Ghosts" or "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night") is the randomization of the castle. Each time you venture forth, you must pay Charon to enter. The Castle is then reloaded with a new map -- though some things remain the same. The forest, dungeon and tower areas will be accessed according to their general locations -- East, South, and North respectively. Each area has a special boss enemy which isn't randomized either.
Outside the castle walls, you can buy upgrades and expand your heroes' manor using gold. Upgrades range from basic stats increases to unlockable classes. Additionally, you can employ help by purchasing a smith, enchantress, and architect. The smith will create new equipment, while the enchantress allows you to equip magical runes. These magical artifacts can be slotted in addition to armor and they alter your characters' abilities -- such as multiple air jumps, dashing, absorb HP/MP from kills, and even raising or lowering the enemy difficulty. The architect is unique such that he can "lock" the previous castles' layout so that the map doesn't change -- though this comes at only being able to collect gold at 70% its normal rate. This all means that there's a fairly deep level of customization to better prepare yourself for your next run.
There's also a good bit of humor thrown in -- much of it manifesting as unique genetic traits. For instance, one trait inverts the display forcing you to think upside-down as your character walks on the "ceiling." Other genetic oddities includes gigantism (makes you huge), dwarfism (makes you tiny) and dyslexia (obfuscates in-game text). It's played for laughs but many of the traits effect gameplay enough that you'll need to carefully read the character sheet. I found myself spec'ing towards a particular play style as Spellswords and Barbarians become my bread and butter.
Unfortunately, these pigeon-holes you into only picking a few of your favorite types but thankfully you can always upgrade abilities and stats with gold collected. Though, these get rather expensive as each new level increases by hundreds of gold. Likewise, the high concept of genetic legacy falls a bit short as the idea isn't as fleshed out as I would have liked. It could have been really neat if your stats upgraded through gameplay alone rather than devolving into a loot/grind fest. Still, it's polished and fun to play. There's even New Game + (and New Game ++) for the truly addicted players.
The production of "Rogue Legacy" is pretty nice considering the price point. Art assets are sharp and animations are clean enough. The music is one the more charming points as each area of the castle harkens back to previous 8/16/32-bit platformers of yore. The more esoteric genetic traits have wonderful effects -- the nostalgic trait shows the game as filtered through an old timey film grain. Loading tips appear in the form of your kids' final words as they're forever immortalized in a family portrait. Also, depending on how well you performed with a particular child, they'll inherit certain titles such as Legendary -- granted upon defeating a boss -- or Useless -- given upon dying without killing anything. It's all cute and adorable and fits the somewhat lighthearted tone of the game.
Despite the grind fest and somewhat limited boss encounters, the art and charm of "Rogue Legacy" goes above and beyond. Tight controls, interesting RPG gimmick, and fun factor is well worth the time (and money) spent. Those that might be turned off from the devastatingly difficult rogue-likes will find a challenging but fun experience with nods to games long past.
"Rogue Legacy" is available now for $14.99 on PC.
"Rogue Legacy" score -- 4 out of 5