Roving Rogue takes the 2D platformer and twists the formula instantly to such a degree that you can’t help but love it. Its story begins at the end, with you killing the last boss and getting the end credits alongside “A Winner is You” and then the story begins properly since your character can’t remember anything. He has no idea why he just killed that dude, so the goal then becomes to unravel who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Kurt the Righteous can jump and most importantly, teleport. Teleportation isn’t something often seen in platformers, so it’s nice to have here.
Beyond just being a cool feature, it’s the main means of getting around the levels and will be used in a wide variety of ways. You’ll get your usual large jump challenges, but for areas where jumping isn’t enough, you’ll use teleporting. By holding in the jump button, you’ll bring up a reticle showing where you’ll go and your angle of attack. If you time things perfectly, you’ll either land right on the edge of a ledge to get a tight jump completed in fewer steps or even place yourself directly above an enemy. This can be a bit riskier, but allow you to move at a faster pace through the levels.
For most platformers, this might seem like the best way to beat your best times — but not here. In Roving Rogue, you have a constant ticking clock in the form of either lava coming up from beneath you or rocks crumbling from the left-hand side of the screen. Beyond just needing to get from the beginning of the stage to the end, you’ll want to collect three shining sets of green armor in each level too. Doing so unravels more of the story, so getting them unlocks more of the plot. Initially, your goal should just be to complete a level, but the better you get, the more suits of armor you’ll be able to obtain.
Roving Rogue offers up a greater degree of challenge with these extra goals, but it never gets too frustrating. Since Kurt’s jumping is pretty spot on, most of your deaths will either be from lava or not getting the timing down of the teleport. Like aiming an egg in a Yoshi’s Island game, it takes a bit of practice — but it’s an easy skill to master. Doing so quickly will allow you to land right on top of enemies and time things to avoid projectiles. Later in the game, you’ll have to combine enemy-avoiding with enemy-bopping while also avoiding fireballs. These challenges will destroy you at first, but after only a few attempts, you’ll be able to overcome them. Roving Rogue is very much like an 8-bit platformer in that its gameplay is deceptively simple on the surface, but there are a lot of little things to learn as you go.
Unfortunately, most of the game’s flourishes can be quickly enjoyed and there isn’t a lot of depth. The teleportation mechanic is your only means of traversal and attack — so it gets old. Things change up a bit with sets of stage obstacles, but they don’t do much beyond ramping up the intensity briefly. By the time things get really intense, the stage ends and you’re just left wanting a little bit more. If there was an action-centric element to the game, it would probably have a bit more staying power. Enemies seem to like using arrows, so having those in your arsenal would make sense. Enemy variety is an issue as well, with about half a dozen total enemy types available. This means that the feeling of sameness extends even further.
Visually, Roving Rogue nails the 16-bit art style fairly well. There are a few more flourishes evident than you would normally see then in the overworld levels, which is a bit odd. Still, it looks good even if it doesn’t have a lot of color depth outside of the backgrounds. Animation is minimal, but it works in the game’s favor more often than not because it makes timing your movement a bit easier with a flurry of projectiles coming at you. Unfortunately, while most parts of it look fine, the overall look is still a bit bland.
The chiptune soundtrack is enjoyable, but nothing that sticks with you after a play session. It is easy to hum, though, which makes it a more interactive experience. There are some beats that make you want to clap your hands to the music. The teleportation sound effects are fantastic, sounding like you’re zooming through flames. That alone adds a bit of excitement, although you’ll be hearing that effect a lot — so it’s a good thing they got it right.
Roving Rogue is a good game that falls short of being exceptional. The game concept is executed well and it controls nicely, but the concept is a bit lacking. The teleportation-heavy gameplay changes up platforming a bit, but rarely winds up being as exciting as it should be. There are some solid ideas at work, but they’re never fleshed out enough to deliver a rewarding experience. 2D platforming fans may still want to check it out, but unlike Shovel Knight, Roving Rogue isn’t so good that it becomes a must-play for everyone.