Three unusual roguelikes

2011-10-31

How different can you make a roguelike and still keep it recognizable as such? The turn-based nature of the game was once deemed essential, but then Diablo happened and nowadays, realtime roguelikes are reasonably common. Permadeath is considered just as important, yet the first roguelike I played extensively didn't feature it. Graphics, once considered un-rogue-like, are increasingly common for the genre. But otherwise most such games are much like each other... right?

Three very unusual titles have been brought to my attention recently, two by a friend (thanks, Jason!) and the other by IndieGames.com.

netpack screenshot

If you were to make one of these based on another computer game, what would you use for inspiration? Doom? Castlevania? This guy went for *Pac-Man*. Netpack is the classic arcade game "gone rogue", complete with turn-based gameplay and ASCII art. It's an easy game, which suits me just fine, but it's also very tactical. Beware that bonuses, including weapons, last very little! Don't be a hero, ghosts are still best avoided. Unless of course you just ate power pills.

On the minus side, the game is Windows-only and doesn't run in Wine. There's also loud (if good) chiptune music on the title screen, which you can only silence by entering the game proper. But overall Netpack is worth a try, at the very least.

red rogue screenshot

Another curious approach to the basic concept is Red Rogue, which is an interesting name for a game where everything is black and white except for the blood. Yes, Red Rogue is a graphical game. Moreover, it's a realtime platformer. You start with a "minion" whom you can dismiss and re-summon at will, and it's a good idea to use that, as it's rather frail and will attack enemies unnecessarily. On the plus side, it will also attack secret doors you won't notice otherwise. There is the usual (and less usual) array of weapons and armor, but magic is limited to runes you use to upgrade equipment.

The game is made in Flash and relies on keyboard control exclusively.

Lastly, just for completeness, I'll mention this Game Maker title. Rogue Hockey turns the eponymous sport into a chaotic affair where you incapacitate opposing players and swat multiple pucks across an irregular-shape rink, trying to score... somehow. I couldn't figure it out -- here the realtime gameplay is both fast and confusing, like certain 8-bit games I remember.

This one started under Wine only to exit immediately, messing up my display. It did the same under Windows, but there I was able to play it first. Game Maker games work fine in windowed mode. Why are some gamedevs so enamored with full screen? We're not in 1998 anymore.

All in all, two out of three isn't bad, especially when you have to make an effort to stop playing. Luckily both qualify as coffeebreak roguelikes -- my time is too limited as it is.