There are plenty of brutal indies that'll put your dexterity to the test on Sony platforms. The likes of Spelunky and Cloudberry Kingdom represent a somewhat niche, but addictive genre. However, Rogue Legacy, a title that blends platforming and simple combat with role-playing mechanics, is perhaps one of the most inspired that we've come across. It may not change many people's minds about the numerous smaller releases on the PlayStation 4 and Vita, but its relatively unique mix of gameplay elements make it well worth a look for anyone who's thinking about embracing indie titles.
It's been available on the PC for some time, and its success has been no secret – both critically and commercially. Now, after running, jumping, and slashing for a hefty amount of time, we understand why. In Rogue Legacy, you're tasked with leading a family of knights to glory, even if it means seeing countless generations of them get slaughtered within seconds of entering the randomly generated castle. Every time that you die, you'll have to select an heir to your quest from a group of candidates, and off you trot back into the monster infested, maze-like dungeon.
Despite the fact that most knights play the same, the inheritance system ensures that things keep feeling fresh, while also providing a surprising amount of comedy. One heir may have a severe case of gigantism, which makes them much larger than your standard adventurer, while another might be short sighted, meaning that objects and creatures towards the edge of your screen will appear blurred. Indeed, some character traits put you at a disadvantage, but they give each warrior a surprising amount of personality, and keep you on your toes even if you've already journeyed into the castle hundreds of times before. It's an engaging mechanic that really works given the release's pick up and play nature, and it also manages to set the colourful title apart from its peers.
At first, you may not think that these traits affect gameplay to any large degree, but picking a successor that suits your playstyle becomes a key choice as you progress through the game. Your heirs will all be assigned character classes and unique magic spells that'll help you to survive longer in the dreaded castle, but there's also a pretty deep upgrade system in place, too. As you explore the dungeon, you'll be smashing up objects like tables and chairs, which will usually yield some gold coins, and in turn, they can be used to buy buffs that apply to all of your future knights. So unlike Spelunky, for example, there's a definite sense of progression as you acquire new weapons, armour, and increase your statistics bit by bit.
However, while you've got a better chance of travelling deeper and deeper with each new hero, it sometimes doesn't work out the way that you'd hope due to a degree of frustrating randomness. As hinted previously, each time that you enter the castle, it'll be put together in a random fashion, and although this helps keep things interesting over long sessions, it does mean that you can run into trouble extremely quickly, as you may be thrown into a room that's absolutely full of deadly opponents and killer traps – and there's not much that you can do about it.
Thankfully, gameplay is unsurprisingly fast paced, and each death doesn't feel like too much of an obstacle, especially since it means that you get another opportunity to scavenge more gold. Still, it's a shame that proceedings can feel a little cheap if you're thrust into a brutal scenario early in a new run, and it's perhaps worth mentioning that upgrades generally don't come cheap – so if you get stuck in a rut of repeated deaths, some less patient players will likely consider throwing their controller at the nearest wall.
That said, you can't really go into Rogue Legacy expecting to gradually get stronger every time that you boot it up. The game's real challenge comes in split second decision making, in that you'll have to decide whether it's worth hanging around to defeat a group of foes, or attempt to avoid combat entirely. After all, your ultimate goal is essentially to get as far into the castle as you possibly can, regardless of how much gold that you've gathered and spent.
Speaking of combat, the controls couldn't be easier. The square button swings your rather burly sword, while circle activates your magic spell, draining a portion of mana points in the process. Because of your limited resources, that quick decision making that we mentioned comes into play constantly, as you weigh up how much damage you can pull off against how much mana you think that you'll need in the near future. Initially, you'll probably be unleashing special attacks and magic techniques quite frequently as you try desperately to survive, but in time and with a bigger pool of health and mana to work with, progress becomes increasingly reliant on how well you can manage your vital statistics over the long haul.
Gameplay progression is quite multifaceted, then, but its actual execution won't be to everyone's tastes. As hinted, the controls are simple, but it'll definitely take some practice before you can tackle the more complex rooms, especially since your knight's weighty jump can often be the cause of some frustration. It's not as if the title usually struggles to keep up with button inputs – it's generally very smooth – but we did come across a few rare situations where our hero failed to leap on command for seemingly no reason, resulting in deaths that were out of our hands. Whether or not this was some sort of bug, we're not sure, but the problem occurred on both the PS4 and the Vita.
Despite these minor niggles, though, the title is nicely realised in basically everything that it sets out to do. It's home to a pleasant and vibrant retro art style with some more modern visual effects thrown in, while the sound design is absolutely solid, and the soundtrack sports some very memorable tunes. And when you consider that the release is cross-buy and supports cross-save, there's no denying that you're getting an accomplished bundle of content for your money.
As for console specifics, the game's definitely suited for quick stints of adventure, and therefore fits Sony's handheld especially well, but we daresay that the smaller screen does make the title that tiny bit harder, as it's more difficult to pick out individual threats such as small projectiles. We also prefer the DualShock 4's seemingly more precise directional pad or analog stick, but of course, after long sessions on the Vita, you'll no doubt become more accustomed to the minor issues that we've detailed.
Rogue Legacy's greatest strength is that you'll always want just one more try. Whether it's the fast paced platforming action, well realised RPG mechanics, or simply the desire to see what crazy things you can uncover in the castle, there's plenty of reason to keep your armour polished and ready to go. Frustrating gameplay niggles aside, this is an indie release that executes a tried and tested formula well, while also building upon it with some enjoyable, fresh systems.