Remember when the first Humble Bundle came out? Those were simple days. Days in which I still had money in my Paypal account. Days my backlog had less than a hundred games. Unfortunately for my wallet and my social life, those days are dead and gone.
The latest nail in my financial coffin came in the form of last week’s Humble Weekly Roguelike Sale which contained 6 games from my favorite genre, physics-based puzzle games! I kid, I kid. They’re Roguelikes. If you haven’t tried the genre, allow me to educate you:
Roguelikes (named after the original game, Rogue) are built on the concept that failure and death are teaching tools and most often reset all of a player’s progress. There are no save states or continues; every death means you start from the beginning. To make things interesting, floors, items, and power-ups are randomly generated leading to addictive replayability. If you’re looking for a good introduction to the genre, try Brogue: a free game that streamlines all the elements of classic roguelikes and provides a condensed and enjoyable experience.
Now, let’s take a look at what you missed if you didn’t snag the Roguelike Bundle:
Sword of the Stars: The Pit – Gold EditionRelease Date: November 8th, 2013 Played on: PC Publisher: Self-Published Developer: Kerberos Productions Price: $12.99
Set in the distant future, this sci-fi roguelike feels like an organic evolution of Ye Roguelikes of Olde. Despite complex game mechanics like visibility, item maintenance, and 25 different skill trees, the game is fairly intuitive, especially if you have experience with other roguelikes. The game was criticized for staying within its comfort zone and not deviating from the standard roguelike formula. That’s not a bad thing. I could write volumes about the huge amounts of flavor text on items and enemies, the variety of unique skills, or the inventory management lifted straight from Resident Evil 4 (always a fun waste of time), but I’ll simply say this: the game may be rather obtuse and unintuitive to roguelike newcomers, but if you’re already a fan of roguelikes and want another one to mess around with, you can do a hell of a lot worse than Sword of the Stars: The Pit.
The Binding of IsaacRelease Date: September 28th, 2011 Played on: PC, Mac OS, Linux Publisher: Self-Published Developer: Edmund McMillen & Florian Himsl Price: $4.99 + Expansion: $2.99
A roguelike in spirit (but certainly not in gameplay), Isaac is one of my favorite games of all time and certainly the most well-known game in this bundle. For the few of you that haven’t already heard of it, Isaac is a top-down twin-stick shooter starring the eponymous Isaac as he fights off increasingly more disturbing enemies on a quest to escape a dangerous and ever-changing basement. Each basement level provides you with a procedurally generated layout, a boss and multiple opportunities to upgrade your character. In true roguelike fashion, death means you lose all your progress and start from square one. Unlockable characters, power ups and challenge modes make this game an addictive instant classic I’ve poured over 100 hours into in the past two years.
Dungeons of Dredmor CompleteRelease Date: July 13th, 2011 Played on: PC, Mac OS, Linux Publisher: Self-Published Developer: Gaslamp Games, Inc. Price: $6.99
Dungeons of Dredmor is a roguelike that has been upgraded and polished to be palatable for a modern audience. Goofy visuals and an easy-to-use interface make the game feel more like Diablo than Nethack. Pick a name, choose seven bizarre and upgradable skills, and throw yourself at a difficult and fun game. The factor that kept drawing me back was the skill tree system. While uncomplicated, each skill path has such ridiculous abilities that you can’t help but want to see more of them. Fleshsmithing, for instance, lets you create explosions from corpses and construct a literal meat shield, while Necronomiconomics allows you to summon an eldritch abomination inside the corpse of your enemy and destroy it from within. However, I should warn you that this game is hard. Very, very hard. Even after 30+ hours on the easiest difficulty setting I only managed to reach the final boss once, so be prepared to die a lot. For players that find the game too difficult, permadeath is optional. Conversely, players that find the game too easy can select several levels of difficulty and have the option to give the game more floors and enemies. It’s a great game for diehard roguelike fans, like me, and newcomers to the genre.
Hack, Slash, LootRelease Date: April 5th, 2012 Played on: PC Publisher: Self-Published Developer: David Williamson Price: $6.99
Hack, Slash, Loot is as barebones as a roguelike can get, but that isn’t a bad thing. The game is a turn-based dungeon reminiscent of classic roguelikes like Rogue and Nethack, but is simplified and given a pixelated aesthetic. The game is incredibly bare-bones with a nearly nonexistent interface yet boasts an impressive array of characters, multiple quests, and is rather fun once you get a handle on it. New characters are unlocked by dying multiple times. In addition, each quest throws a unique set of enemies and circumstances at you so adjusting your style of play between them is as rewarding as it is challenging. This is a fun game for anyone who doesn’t have time to invest two hours into a (ultimately unsuccessful) dungeon run, without the complicated interface that bogs down many roguelikes. While I find this game to be a bit too simple for my tastes, I can see myself picking it up every now and then in the future.
Teleglitch: Die More EditionRelease Date: July 24th, 2013 Played on: PC, Mac OS, Linux Publisher: Paradox Interactive Developer: Test3 Projects Price: $12.99
This is a game that pops up every now and then on roguelike Top 10 lists, and with good reason: it’s a fast-paced twin stick shooter with unique environments, an intuitive crafting system, and combat that will test your critical thinking skills as much as your twitch reflexes. “Do I want to use these last few bullets to break down that wall? Do I want to craft an RPG with this now or wait till something better comes along?” The lack of music and eerie visual effects create an atmosphere that makes every encounter feel like life or death and, if you’re not paying attention, you will most certainly die quite a lot. Fortunately, the game is not entirely cruel; crafting recipes are available the instant you have the required materials, and you can unlock the ability to start a new game further into the dungeon than before (for example, starting at floor 3 instead of floor 1). However, for players who desire a classic roguelike experience, you can always start at the beginning. It’s a fun game that can be played even on the limpest of laptops, and I highly recommend it to fans of the genre that want something a little different than the usual sword-and-sandals fantasy setting.
Paranautical Activity (Early Access)Release Date: Unreleased (Early Access since February 14th, 2013) Played on: PC, Mac OS Publisher: Self-Published Developer: Code Avarice Price: $9.99
[Heads Up: this game is still in early access, and is therefore an unfinished product. I can only give my first impressions with this beta.]
Paranautical Activity is certainly not the only first-person roguelike, and at this moment certainly not the best, but it still shows some promise, even in this early stage of development. The game apes The Binding of Isaac’s level format to a tee: interconnected rooms with specific enemy scenarios; a shop on every floor; bosses and mini-bosses on every floor that give power-ups, etcetera. However, the game is far more punishing than Isaac, and I found myself dying much more often (usually to enemies I couldn’t see due to the low lighting). This brings us to the problems inherent to Paranautical Activity, a broad category that includes enemies that walk into walls, unbalanced classes, multiple power-ups with the exact same effect, and two classes that are totally useless (I’m looking at you, machine gun guy and crossbow guy). These issues will probably be patched in future updates, but at the moment you can find better first-person roguelikes than Paranautical Activity. Pass on this early access game and pick up Eldritch instead.
All in all, [this was] a pretty satisfying bundle. There are games here for roguelike veterans as well as newcomers, as well as games that cross genres to create fairly unique experiences. The sale might be over now, but the games can all be found on Steam and are just waiting to consume every minute of free time in your life.