Of all its many wonders, Rogue Legacy’s most enticing is that it lets you play as a archmage with dementia and color blindness who still manages to wipe the floor with an army of skeletons, evil wizards, and giant floating eyeballs. At its best it’s an action game that has something to say: that it doesn’t matter whether you’re bald or gay (both of which do nothing) or dyslexic or nearsighted (which do) so long as you get the most gold.
Rogue Legacy plays like a two dimensional, side-scrolling Castlevania-a-like, but with a twist. Every game of Rogue Legacy begins with you picking a randomly generated character. They have different abilities—some are mages, while others are barbarian kings and even ninjas—but they also have different qualities. These are mundane things your heroes rarely have. One of them might be Lady Jenny, the barbarian queen with an active genetic predisposition towards Alzheimer’s. Another might be Lord Useless the Archmage, who is both farsighted and possesses an eidetic memory.
You’ll pick one of these characters, and then drive them through a castle filled with hordes of monstrosities. You’ll collect some gold. Hopefully, you’ll collect a lot of gold, though I wouldn’t bet on it. Then, you’ll die, and you’ll be forced to pick one of Lord Useless’ offspring, as they enter the castle to avenge him.
The core mechanic of Rogue Legacy—beyond fighting and dying—is that your dead predecessors’ money gets given to their children. So if Lord Useless finds five thousand gold in the dungeon, his heir (let’s call her Lady Stephanie, the Paladin; she wasn’t fond of her father’s pillaging ways) will be able to spend that money to improve the family’s castle, unlocking new buildings, equipment, runes, and classes that will allow you to get further and further in the dungeon, closer and closer to the end.
Rogue Legacy is the kind of game that makes stories. You’ll remember the ancestor who first beat a boss—for me, that was Lord McGladdery, the incredibly unlikely Miner—and you’ll build the mythologies of names. I almost always pick Lisas, for no real reason except that they always seem to do better than the others. The first trip to ten thousand gold sticks in my mind.
And it makes me think about the character traits—the homosexuality, the baldness—because I don’t remember any of them. Sure, I remember the explorers with vertigo (which causes up and down to flip in an incredibly, unimaginably disorienting fashion), but for the most part your characters rise above their limitations, their sexual preferences, and their beneficial effects to just be the same as everyone else. There’s a profound sense of equality to Rogue Legacy: no matter your limitations, you can do good.
In short, I can’t recommend Rogue Legacy highly enough to the classic games lover. It’s a rough ride, sometimes, but it’s the kind of game that brings to mind the classics: the early Castlevanias, Ghosts and Goblins, and other NES era oddities. But it’s the good kind of nostalgia: instead of making you think about the better games you once played, Rogue Legacy makes you think about what incredible things can be done with some of those classic ideas.