While many of us are used to the common video games genres such as role-playing games (RPGs), action/adventure, horror, battle royales, so on and so forth, many sub-genres are less famous or known in the gaming industry.
One of those genres—found within the realm of RPGs—is Roguelike: role-playing games centered (usually) around procedurally-generated levels, dungeon crawling, extreme challenges, and permanent player death resulting in a complete restart from the beginning of the game itself.
While not a necessarily niche genre of games, many roguelikes are independently developed video games from smaller studies; although, they've been around since the early 1980s with titles such as "Rogue," and "Hack," which gave the genre elements of its name, key characteristics, and gameplay mechanics. Roguelikes have come far since the days of "Rogue," and they take great influence from many table top games such as Dungeons and Dragons.
Personally, I am not very good at roguelikes at all, but they somehow keep me hooked on their challenge and the immense fun I have with them. Let me say though that roguelikes are some of the most difficult games I've played that rival titles such as the "Dark Souls" trilogy, "Bloodborne," and more. They're hard to master, but the challenge is their most alluring quality, yet some players might find them too frustrating or difficult to play in the long-run. Regardless, here are my top five roguelikes that stay true to the iconic video game genre!
From developers Housemarque and publishers Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE), "Returnal" is one of the newest and most advanced additions to the roguelike genre. While not presenting the more simplistic visuals and gameplay mechanics that many roguelikes are known by—for example those in games such as "The Binding of Isaac" or "Dead Cells"—"Returnal" bears next-gen visuals, story, and mechanics that step away from many of Housemarque's top-down, shoot-em-up style video games. Players play as Selene, and Astra Scout in pursuit of a signal source on the planet Atropos. Selene finds herself then stuck in a time-loop whilst uncovering the source of the "White Shadow Signal." The presence of the time loop adheres the roguelike genre to both the story and the gaming mechanics as dying results in players restarting again and again through the same environments. "Returnal's" gameplay is fast-paced and exciting as your fight through hosts of alien enemies on Atropos—utilizing fantastic weapons, passive items (in the form of alien relics and parasites that grants buffs and debuffs to players), and the constant pressure to not take damage for its own advantages. The science-fiction setting mixed with the PT-esque psychological horror aspects put its as our first in the list of must-play roguelikes.
2. Dead Cells
This game is chaotic and thrilling at the same time! Brought to you by developers Motion Twin, "Dead Cells" is a Metroidvania roguelike that—like the aforementioned "Returnal"—bears a host of enemies, dungeons, weapons, and items that influence the engagement and outcome of events. Set on an unnamed island with the main character called the Prisoner, a decapitated corpse resurrected to fight the forced of the prison, players are met with vast numbers of enemies and a volley of platforming gameplay. Quick and yet simple in nature, "Dead Cells" pushes players to stay on top of everything at a moment's notice from picking up money and cells for future upgrades/skills, discovering blueprints to strengthen your arsenal, to weighing in the high risk, high reward outcome of fights, individual items, weapons, and player choices. "Dead Cells" is nothing less of a speed demon, and each iteration of the grungy, medieval prison environment maintains the same level of tension and surprise for players that perish and resurrect with just a bit more knowledge on how to finally get to the end and the post-game action. All in all, play "Dead Cells" at your own risk of excitement or frustration!
A game that swept both Twitter and Tiktok at the beginning of the year, "Hades" is a dungeon crawler roguelike centered around Greek Mythology and the Greek Gods of old and created by developers Supergiant Games (the same creators of "Transistor" and "Bastion"). Set in the eponymous Hades, players must ascend from Grecian Hell as Zagreus—the son of Hades—as he attempts to reach Mount Olympus and the gods themselves. Let this be know too: you will die. Each rerun through Hell allows players to learn more about enemy mechanics and refine their playstyles; however, it also means that enemies will pick up on the same on players, and not all rewards earned through battle are lost upon dying as some currencies return with Zagreus to his home in order to purchase upgrades and more (think the Hegemony Credits in "Enter the Gungeon). "Hades," like its predecessors on this list, is fast-paced and energized, but it requires strategy and tactic when fighting the hordes of Hell. No run is ever the same for enemies or players. The visuals and additions of Greek mythology motifs/characters allow for an enjoyable experience with a good-enough learning curve. Nonetheless, don't assume "Hades" is easy due to is personable characters, setting, or level rendering. It's a roguelike like no other, and it ensures you struggle every step of the way until reaching Mount Olympus. It's a herculean task, but it's one that is addictive and enjoyable.
4. FTL (Faster Than Light)
One word: strategy. While an older addition to the list, "FTL" is one of the best strategy, top-down roguelikes around! Created by indie developers Subset games in 2021, players are thrust into futuristic space on a spaceship capable of traveling faster than light itself—the direct reference of the game's title. War has broken out in the galaxy between the Galactic Federation (the player's side) and a xenophobic human faction called the Rebellion. Players traverse through different sections of the galaxy fighting other spacecrafts, collecting data packs, and deciding on choices that ultimately lead to the victory or defeat of the Galactic federation. "FTL" features a host of in-game mechanics for outfitting players' spacecrafts via weapons, drones, life-support, and more. "FTL" is not taken lightly though as many of the game's enemy spacecrafts and more offer a difficult challenge for new and seasoned players alike. Nonetheless, "FTL" is an amazing and long-standing title in the roguelike genre.
5. Enter the Gungeon
A new and now personal favorite of mine in terms of roguelikes is "Enter the Gungeon," a roguelike dungeon crawler by developers Dodge Roll and publishers Devolver Digital. Set on the planet of Gunymede—a distant world inhabited by living bullets and other fire-arms related fauna—bore witness to an enormous bullet that fell from the sky and destroyed a fortress that once stood as a hub for the bullet life on the planet. From the rubble of the old fortress stood the immeasurable and sought-after power to kill one's past, eliminating individuals' accidents, choices, and more. After rebuilding the fortress to encase the bullet and its power, the fortress became known by explorers and adventurers alike as the Gungeon. Players choose one of four primary characters (as more are unlocked as the game progressed): the Marine, the Pilot, the Convict, and the Hunter with each equipped with their own starting weapons, tools, and regrets that led them to the Gungeon on each respective quest to kill the past and their woes. With simple visuals reminiscent of games such as "FTL" and "Nuclear Throne," "Gungeon" is both adorable and stunning at the same time in a top-down, 2D sense. Game mechanics are a lot outstanding as the procedurally-generated dungeon floors offer players a host of enemies, items, and unique weapons almost all of which are allusions to some of the biggest titles in gaming such as "Doom," "Halo," "Metal Gear Solid," and others. While the weapons are a focal point of the game, the story and incredible difficulty are not easily glossed over. Enemies and bosses in "Gungeon" are merciless as many of them fight players in packs within each room of any dungeon floor; moreover, there are sometimes waves of enemies that spawn after a number of enemies are defeated, and bosses are relentless in their offensive capabilities against players. A fair bit of strategy, good weapons, and dodging know-how is crucial in even making it past the game's first two floors without hanging onto half a heart of health by the end. Regardless of that, "Gungeon" is incredibly interesting as your develop the story as you go whilst freeing non-playable characters (NPCs) and delving deeper into the secret floors and rooms of the shifting fortress. So far, I've enjoyed "Enter the Gungeon" immensely as I have all the game on the list, but this game is one of my absolute favorites because of its difficulty, plot, and cutesy visuals. Give it a shot and see if you have what it takes to kill your past and let go of your regrets!