Procedurally generated levels? Permadeath? Losing everything and restarting from scratch? Roguelikes have a reputation for being complex and tedious, and I can’t disagree.
Playing a few hours of a roguelike, getting near the end, and losing everything sucks. Any progress you’ve made can’t carry over to the next run, and you’ll end up stumbling through a new set of randomly-generated levels, with new enemies spawning from a different location, and you have to play differently to adjust to the new conditions for this run. This is why I never really got the hang of rouguelikes – I do not have the patience to start from scratch and plan everything all over again.
Well, not until I got my hands on these three Nintendo Switch roguelites that take permadeath and procedural generation and takes that formula to unexpected places.
A Robot Named Fight!
I’ve written about A Robot Named Fight! before, but I was bored one week and I sunk five hours into it in one go. It’s pretty much a love letter to Super Metroid, with the 16-bit art style, with all the assets looking like it can be put in the classic SNES game without looking out of place. Heck, even the main character kinda looks like Samus.
You know how some ROM hackers managed to make a version of Super Metroid with randomized levels and items? This is just like that, but since the game is designed from the ground up to be a procedural experience, everything is balanced better since the RNG doesn’t break the game.
Unlike the other games in this list, A Robot Named Fight! places emphasis more on exploration, rewarding you with power-ups along the way. You get to shoot these alien beings with the assortment of weapons that you can get as you progress, and if you blow them up, you get this gross sound effect.
This game also lets you have seeded runs, to facilitate trying the same level configuration over and over again. Overall, this is a slow-paced game that scratches that Metroid itch and lends itself well to replayability.
If A Robot Named Fight! is a combination of roguelite gameplay and the Metroid side of metroidvanias, Dead Cells is the unholy alliance of roguelites, a little bit of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s combat, and – sigh – Dark Souls.
These days, making a game unbearably hard and slapping a rolling mechanic on it and calling it souls-like is an industry trend second only to putting a battle royale mode on everything, so I had plenty of reasons to be wary of Dead Cells.
Imagine my surprise when I fired up Dead Cells and found myself enjoying it. The combat is smooth and fluid, the action fast and frenetic, that I didn’t mind all of the elements that I disliked in roguelites – permadeath, procedural level generation. Heck, I even looked forward to the next run after dying so I can rebuild my character with a different configuration.
Even though you lose all your weapons and spec upgrades, you don’t start from scratch the next run – kinda. You see, there are six permanent “runes” in Dead Cells that grant you abilities so you can, say, climb walls, teleport, or grow vines. These abilities let you explore more of the map so you can get skill upgrades, weapons, and money faster. There are also abilities and weapons that you can unlock using “Cells,” this game’s analog for Dark Souls’ “Souls.” You collect Cells when you kill the various enemies along your way. Make sure you finish a level and get to a safe point though. Dying means losing all of the Cells you’ve collected, and unlike Dark Souls, there’s no way to recover what you’ve lost.
I found myself screaming in frustration as I was in the penultimate level, carrying 30+ Cells on me, only to get killed by a new enemy whose moves I haven’t studied yet. But it’s part of the fun.
I don’t think I’m close to beating Dead Cells just yet, but you can bet I’m enjoying every single death in the game. On to my 30th run.
Into the Breach
Turn-based strategy games are my jam. So when Into The Breach got a surprise Nintendo Switch release, I got it to fill the XCOM-shaped hole in my life.
Combining mechas and monsters, Into The Breach lets you swoop down with your giant robots and save civilians by smartly using your units’ skills to maneuver, attack, and push around said monsters. And unlike XCOM, where your chances of making an attack is generated randomly, this game is very transparent – showing you how an enemy is going to attack. All you have to do is to respond accordingly. And unlike XCOM and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’s big and sometimes sprawling maps, Into The Breach limits you to a small eight-by-eight grid.
The game’s roguelite mechanics seen in the permadeath and randomly generated arenas – every time you lose, you can only take one mecha pilot with you to the beginning of a new timeline.
It sounds so simple, but it’s pretty tough. I swallowed my pride and put on easy mode just so I can actually finish one island and get the hang of the gameplay.
Unlike Dead Cells though, I find the permadeath mechanic tedious and dying frustrating. I’m owing my frustration to the fact that the game hasn’t fully clicked with me yet. Give me a full week to get the hang of Into The Breach‘s mechanics, and I’ll probably spend 2-day marathon sessions on it.
So here are three vastly different approaches to the basic tenets of roguelite, and how we get wildly varying experiences out of a few simple tweaks to the core idea.
What are your favorite roguelike/roguelite games on the Nintendo Switch, or any other platform? Leave your thoughts and game suggestions in the comments!