Roguelikes are a sub-genre of RPG games. They are typically dungeon based, with either ASCII style graphics or very simple pixel tile art. They tend to be turn based games with procedurally generated dungeon maps, random spawning items, weapons and skills. What really makes roguelike games fun however is their difficulty. In most roguelike games when your character dies you go right back to the start of the game.
Why are roguelikes fun?
I’m going to ramble a little about why I love this game genre. I think it’s mostly because these days games are pretty easy. This is me generally speaking as someone who grew up playing Spectrum, SNES and Mega Drive games. Saving your game wasn’t as easy as it is now, some consoles didn’t even support save states. So there was that sense of weird adrenaline when you were getting pretty far in a game and you just knew YOU COULDN’T DIE. Starting again would suck at this point!
Roguelikes bring that back for me a bit. The best rogue likes start you off with a completely nekkid main character, no weapons or armour, and an unfair amount of player statistics to train up. You spend four hours carefully dungeon crawling – you take your time because no stone must be left unturned. Every square, every corridor could have that piece of armour or rare weapon you need to stay alive.
You reach the second dungeon, fully kitted out with some pretty decent finds. You feel like you can let your guard down ever so slightly. Let’s kick that door down. YEAH. Wait, wait no, there was a booby trap. Crap, now my arm is severed. I have to use the arm I have not been training stats on, and I now can carry less because I’m missing a freaking arm. Damn it, I just got killed by stray cat.
Your luck can turn so quickly. You feel a huge sense of achievement by reaching anything that comes after the first boss.
Roguelikes are typically wonderfully random as well. Not only is every level randomly generated, so no two games are the same, but if you experiment with that you can do in-game you can get some fun results. For example, in a game that I play, I have player abilities like ‘kicking’, ‘drinking’, wielding’ and a whole bunch more. I learned I can train my dexterity by wielding bananas and sometimes if I kick chests instead of searching for keys I can have some luck. Or they could have a mine in and I blow up. Whatever.
My favourite roguelike games
I have three favourite roguelike games, a close fourth would be Pokemon Mystery Dungeon – but its roguelike features are fairly limited and it’s a little more of a fun dungeon crawler with less impending doom surrounding it.
- 3. Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup – Mac/PC
I found this game fairly recently when I was looking for some kind of dungeon game to casually play. Dungeon Crawl – Stone Soup is really fun because it has so many character options and different statistics and magic based on those. As well as the usual dungeon filled with danger and randomness.
It’s the best roguelike I’ve found so far that you can play on Mac without any hax or emulation. And it’s really hard! So far I’ve only managed to get up to around floor 7.
- 2. Azure Dreams – PSX
Azure Dreams is one of my favourite Playstation games. It’s a weird mix of Harvest Moon and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. You live in a remote desert city which needs fixing up. At the top of the city is a 50 floor tower you need to climb, if you die, you go right back to the start.
The tower is filled with treasures and more importantly – monsters! And monster eggs! You can take eggs home and then bring your monsters in to the dungeon to help you. It’s really fun to play.
You also find treasure and gold in the tower which can be used to upgrade your city with new restaurants, bigger homes and mini games such as bowling and monster racing.
The tower is really difficult to beat, as your level also reset when you get kicked out of the tower. But it’s worth the effort and has a lot of cool things to do in there. The game was originally on the gameboy, but I never played it until it was released for the Playstation.
- 1. IVAN – Iter Vehemens Ad Necem
IVAN is the perfect roguelike. I found this game when I was a member of a gaming ‘abandonware’ website. Basically a website with a database of dying games nobody ever heard of, hidden gems.
IVAN – Iter Vehemens Ad Necem
Translated to ‘a Violent Road to Death’, Iter Vehemens Ad Necem is everything I like in a roguelike game. Without anything missing.
You start the game, totally unequipped with anything, the only item you carry is a scroll. Not the best thing to keep yourself alive. There are several dungeons in the game, the furthest I have ever gotten is the final floor of the second dungeon.
You have a familiar – your loyal dog Kenny. Don’t get attached though. He doesn’t last long. Well, you can train him up but it’s not worth it.
What makes this game so good is the intricacy of the stats training and impact every interaction has on your character. You can wield any item in the game, and depending on what you choose it might train a different stat. You can pray to Gods – and depending how they feel they might send you a powerful ally, or they might take one of your legs.
You can get diseases, good or bad. Polymorph into any creature in the game, cast a wide range of magics, and maybe watch them backfire when you realise all your armour conducts electricity.
It takes some getting used to. But with every attempt you get a little further. You learn new things, and because every game is different it’s strangely addictive. Last time I played I was pretty far into the second dungeon, but I was desperate for food. I kicked a locked door down hoping to find a can of something, but instead I found a room of angry wizards who blew me up. So sometimes it’s a case of making the best decision you can.
IVAN is totally free, and can be installed on Windows, and Mac if you know how (instructions below).
Download IVAN from here: http://ivan.sourceforge.net/index.html
Installing IVAN on a Mac
Because I love this game so much I almost partitioned my Mac just so I could play it. Luckily it’s easy enough to port without having to do anything drastic.
First, you need Wineskin: http://wineskin.urgesoftware.com/tiki-index.php?page=Downloads
Download the windows install of IVAN from their website. Update Wineskin to the latest version and then you’ll get the option to ‘Create a new blank wrapper’.
Name it ‘IVAN.app’ – or whatever you want, really. Follow the promos and press ‘Okay’ until you get to ‘IVAN.app’ created.
This puts the IVAN.app in your applications. Click on it and then click on ‘Install software’. You can to select ‘Choose setup executable’ and then navigate and select ‘IVAN.exe’ from the downloaded game files.
This links IVAN.app to that .exe and runs it. You can then re-open the game from IVAN.app without needing to do anything else. It runs perfectly and saves just fine.