Blimey, a lot of shit’s been popping off of Early Access lately. It’s been like showing a roomful of ten year old schoolkids that one video about periods and watching as one by one the innocence fades from their eyes. I’ve been playing Rogue Legacy 2, which last week triumphantly produced the stained bedsheet representing its graduation from girlhood innocence. Not to be confused with Rouge Legacy, which is the biopic of the man who had the idea to put tits in Sonic the Hedgehog, Rogue Legacy is, funnily enough, a Legacy Roguelike. Every time you die you switch to controlling the next heir in your family bloodline, meaning presumably that each attempt takes place decades apart so it’s weird none of the NPCs ever age or move somewhere else and the surrounding world never invents flying cars no matter how many generations go through the meat grinder of my shitty dodge reflexes but we’re probably not supposed to point this out. Also since the definition of “roguelike” these days is about as much to do with the original Rogue as a pig holding a fish in its mouth has to do with Yoko Ono, all your upgrades and progress through the castle’s sequence of boss fights is kept permanently.
The only roguelike thing about it is that the castle procedurally regenerates with each attempt like the board of directors at a doomed startup. But don’t mistake my tone: I really liked Rogue Legacy 1. I’m all about 2D Castlevania-style platformers, I love swinging around a sword so big it clips through a wall and hits a floating medusa head on the other side in an absolute debasement of physics. The permanent upgrading made it pretty easygoing as Roguelikes go. I like a challenge, but I think I liked it a lot more before every bloody indie game decided it was their duty to take turns making sure my bollocks are never un-swollen, and Rogue Legacy instead just throwing cups of cold piss in my face is a refreshing break. Although note that I said I “liked” Rogue Legacy 1, past tense, and I say that because Rogue Legacy 2 is going right next to Left 4 Dead 2 and Hand of Fate 2 on my “sequels that mean we don’t need the original anymore” shelf. Rogue Legacy 1 was all in pixel art and kept doing that thing where they’d double the size of a pixel art enemy to make a boss version and it looked like absolute crunchy sweetcorn buttholes. Rogue Legacy 2 is basically the same game with more bits and bobs and better design and smooth cartoony hand-animated artwork that never trundles across the eyeballs like a caterpillar in spiked running shoes.
Although since the first game it’s taken some influence from – go on, have a guess. Er… Sex and the City? What? No! Dark Souls! It’s gone a bit Dark Soulsy on us like 90% of high profile indie games these days. Why the fuck would you say Sex and the Ci – I don’t know! You caught me on the spot! So now the environments are all grand cathedrals, ruined towns and magic libraries, the boss fights are all against tortured fallen lords with severe back problems, and there’s a rather convoluted plot running behind everything that we piece together from random document finds. A plot that seems to be themed around tragedy and hubris and is tonally at odds with the surface level gameplay where we might be playing as a character with clown disease who can double jump from the power of their earth-shattering farts. Still, at least fallen lords with back problems are more interesting to fight than just big versions of standard enemies which were the boss fights in Rogue Legacy 1, even if it’d be nice to take a break from the fucking Soulsy shit one of these days and play a game about, I dunno, deflecting nuggets of unsolicited information about the sex lives of four grotesquely wealthy middle-aged women.
Your procedural game design lesson of the day is that rearranging the level layout doesn’t matter for shit if the primary gameplay loop doesn’t change. It’s the difference between randomizing the contents of a bag of crisps and randomizing which bodily orifice you’re inserting them into. So I like how dying means rolling a new character with different attacks and abilities. It’s like doing one of those skill runs in a 2D Castlevania where you have to equip whatever you find or randomize weapons every five minutes like you accidentally drank a potion of Tourette’s syndrome. But there are some character classes in Rogue Legacy 2 I just can’t get to grips with. The bard is about as useful as any prancing ninny with a bachelor’s in music education can be. You’re supposed to fire out a note and then jump on the note to hurt nearby enemies, like using a toaster that only works if you tap dance on the browning knob. And then there’s the barbarian who only does full damage while standing on the ground, but this is 2D Castlevania-style combat, where if you’re ever not jump-attacking then you’re probably in the midst of a severe stroke. I didn’t see the point of taking either of those if there was a knight or duelist available who just swings a sword and the thing on the other end dies.
So all you have to worry about is remembering to press the attack button with your thumb and not your eyeball. As the difficulty ramps up you’re going to want as few things to worry about as possible, because the main trick more advanced enemies have is throwing more projectiles out and all of a sudden you’ll have brought a fencing sword to a bullet hell fight. So there is an imbalance issue in that some characters are blatantly better to play with than others, if you’re stuck with an heir who’s got that one debuff that turns the whole screen upside down you might as well let them die as fast as possible and hold out for the next one, although that is gonna be hard to explain to the wife. A lack of balance is kind of par for the course with randomization and I guess if everyone in the family got an equal slice of cake then it probably wouldn’t be as interesting as one kid getting two slices and the next getting scoliosis and double-jointed thumbs. But the placement of enemies and objects in the levels also feels very wonky at times. Funnily enough it’s as if they’ve just been randomly strewn across the available space like droplets of urine at the onset of an extremely ill-timed surprise party.
It’s easy to feel that things aren’t quite fair when you’re beset by three skeletons and a missile turret while attempting to navigate the interior of an outside loo. As I say, these issues are kinda inherent to the format, and if they weren’t deal breakers in the first game they won’t be now, because as I say, Rogue Legacy 2 is basically just Rogue Legacy 1, but properly this time. 1 had a problem with too much enemy variety right off the bat and 2 is better at pacing them out across the game. The different areas of the castle actually feel different in terms of layout and navigation rather than just new wallpaper on the same platforming arrangements. The art is more pleasing, even if projectiles often clash with the background ‘cos random generators aren’t any better at aesthetic choices than they are at gameplay balance. So now we’ve got a much improved descendant we might as well throw its predecessor straight in the bin of memory and move on. Which, to be fair, is completely on brand. That’s exactly how the game works. In which case I look forward to Rogue Legacy 3, which will also be slightly stronger but also have double vision and distended testicles.