Of 2012: Year of the Roguelike

Permanent death, overpowered enemies, unpredictable outcomes, random loot. I had always been put off by roguelikes but these 2012 releases either caught my attention with their visual style or mixed the classic gameplay with something familiar.

I had played the Binding of Isaac in 2011 and didn’t care for it but something finally clicked and the Wrath of the Lamb DLC opened up the game and the roguelike genre for me. Red Rogue was one of the IGF games I looked into and it captured my interest for weeks with its dark, tiny side-scrolling pixelart dungeons.

MatchHack distilled the roguelike down to its most basic with tile matching, memory gameplay that determined if you won, lost or scored some sweet gear. Lose track of the tiles, though, and it’s back to Square One. I still load this up for a quick hit of rogue-ish torment. I was then turned onto Spelunky when it finally debuted on Xbox Live Arcade but I had no idea what it was like so I turned to the free PC original. I have yet to escape the jungle (i.e. level 2) but I keep coming back for more. It’s terrifying, satisfying, empowering and devastating all compressed into a few minutes of gameplay.

I then joined the zeitgeist and jumped on FTL which marries TWO kinds of space sim to the rogeulike as you try to keep your crew and ship alive. It is downright infuriating at times but supremely satisfying when you’re dancing around the keyboard to command squad members, weapons and defenses in unison.

Two unexpected roguelikes came my way with Tokyo Jungle and The Denpa Men both of which looked like completely different games at first glance. Tokyo Jungle sets random stipulations at the start and forces you to play by its rules or risk losing a century of progress. The Denpa Men will mercilessly wipe out your party members and send them back to the ether from whence they came without a moment’s hesitation. It’s particularly jarring given the game’s colorful visuals and simplified turn-based gameplay.

And very last minute is Don’t Starve which Maxx bought for me in December. It’s a terrifying mix of Minecraft and Harvest Moon with a Tim Burton aesthetic. It’s still evolving through beta but I already love it and can’t pull myself away as days/weeks/months pass in the game without taking my life.

I think I nailed it with that Spelunky description; roguelikes compress a ton of strong emotional responses into short, random encounters. I came to value their potentially endless replayability this year given our money situation and discovered a whole new kind of game to enjoy… and hate and fear and loathe and cherish.

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