Review: Rogue Legacy (PS4)

Now a bonafide institution, it’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Rogue Legacy hit the PC. It seamlessly blended Ghouls ‘n Ghosts-style action-platforming with the Roguelike/Roguelite sub-genre and received critical acclaim for it. Now, it’s coming to a major set of systems for the first time with the Vita, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 all getting it in cross-buy form — making it quite a value. Since it’s got the genes of both GNG and Roguelikes, you can expect a hefty challenge from it, but unlike a lot of really tough games, this one is impossible to rage-quit. This is because while it combines hard gaming styles, it also controls perfectly and is far more fair than GNG ever was.

Rogue Legacy combines its platforming and action elements with a touch of Metroidvania, some Rogue, and basic RPG stat-increasing and gear upgrades. Swarms of enemies appear at times, but the tools needed to survive are always there. It all comes down to properly-timing jumps and attacking with precision. A bit of foresight goes a long way here. Simply going into a room and running wild is a surefire way to get killed. Instead, you’ll want to take your time and move carefully to last as long as possible. Rogue Legacy’s tendency to kick your ass in minutes ironically makes it a portable-friendly title. Since you have to restart with all of your non-purchased equipment lost, it’s perfect for short play sessions. However, it’s so addictive that you easily find yourself spending hours at a time playing it.

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Rogue Legacy uses procedural generation better than any game on the market. The only area that stays the same is the very first screen and everything’s at least a little bit different after that. Sometimes you’ll have platform-heavy sections. Other times, you’ll be in enemy-laden sections that test your mettle and have you wishing for a more powerful character class or better equipment. One of the biggest gimmicks here is the use of a bloodline — you’ve got a whole family history to play as in order to succeed and each character has their own quirks. Some are really powerful, but have hazy vision. Others are only seen in black and white, while some see an upside-down world. All of these effects play out in the game, and make for fun times even when the deck is stacked against you. Weak and strong characters alike can be upgraded by finding coins. The toughest part is keeping them since each death results in paying the grim reaper about 90% of held items. This means that buying an upgrade can take some time, but it never feels like a slog. Unlocking things like the dash opens up the gameplay quite a bit since you can just bypass tough enemies, and you’ll need to master that skill to pass the spike-filled traps that can result in massive cash gains if you’re willing to risk your life to grab the loot. As time goes on, you’ll be able to get enough gold to get a blacksmith to craft better gear, a spell-creator, and an architect. He serves a valuable purpose because if a desirable layout is found, the castle can be locked into that design if losing 60% of your loot isn’t an issue.

Rogue Legacy is one of those games that I played and enjoyed on the PC, but didn’t really “get” until the PS4 installment. I viewed it as a bit more disposable short-term fun on the PC — much like how many approach a basic mobile game. Playing through the game more thoroughly opened my eyes to just how brilliant the game design was. It’s got a bullet hell shooter vibe to it and lasting just a few more screens longer than you did in a prior play session inspires pride. Death is frequent, but can’t be blamed on the controls. They’re razor-sharp, and the PS4 pad is a bit easier to use than the usual Xbox 360 pad for the PC version. The touchpad is used to bring up and navigate the map, while the lightbar changes color during the heir selection screen. It’s one of those little touches that in theory means nothing, but shows that there was some next-level care taken in making sure the game was done well on consoles.

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Rogue Legacy looks just about perfect for what it’s going for. The character sprites perfectly fit the 16-bit style, but with more detail than you’d find in most games from that time period. The screen-filling bosses do bear a strong resemblance to the larger foes in TG-16 games. Unlike the days of old though, you get screen-filling foes without any slowdown. There’s a lot of detail in the world, with shading that goes far beyond what you’d see in the early ’90s and more closely resembles 32-bit era 2D games. It’s impossible to not love a game that makes proper use of newer technology to show off a prior era’s visual splendor, but do so in a way that isn’t hampered by ancient technology. Character animation is smooth when it needs to be and jerky when it fits for comedic purposes. If you’re using a character with bad legs, then it’s amusing to see them have two-frame walk cycles. However, things like cloaked enemies look impressive due to how well-animated their garb is. Rogue Legacy would have fit right in as a top-level game 20 years ago with how well the gameplay and the graphics blend together.

The same holds true for the sound design. It’s got a soundtrack that evokes majesty when inside castle walls, and terror when outside of them in the cold, dark night. The music is a joy to listen to, and the sound design as a whole is superb. Things like gears in the background and wind rustling are downright unsettling. The sound effects themselves fit right in with a Castlevania game, only with sharp sword strikes in place of a whip and enemies giving off a death howl. Everything about the audio is satisfying and this is the kind of game where one layer of the sound design sucks you in, like the music, before gaining an appreciation for everything since it’s heard so often due to the frequent deaths.

 Closing Comments:

Anyone who grew up loving the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series, but hated the sharp difficulty curve, will love Rogue Legacy. It’s tough, but fair, seamlessly blending RPG-style upgrades into an action-platformer. As great as it was on the PC, it’s able to reach a whole new audience on consoles and the bite-sized nature of play sessions means it translates to the Vita perfectly. Those seeking a satisfying, skill-testing platforming experience will love Rogue Legacy. It puts a fresh coat of paint on a variety of well-worn gaming genres and ends up a must-play gaming experience.
score4.5
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4