Which Roguelike Would You Like?
Before owning a Switch, if you had told me I would come to enjoy the roguelike genre, I would have slapped you in the face, grumbled as I continued to play my Wii U, and then perhaps booted up my copy of Quest of Dungeons in order to evaluate whether or not your claim held water. Side note: Quest of Dungeons is a very cute, small roguelike that provides decent fun on a budget. If it isn’t clear already, my early experiences with roguelikes were not necessarily favorable. I didn’t quite know how to appreciate procedural level design, having only seen it used in endless platformers, titles like The Swindle, and the Mystery Dungeon series. When I bought a Switch and began to saw how the formula was applied across a variety of top-down action-adventure titles, however, I figured it was time to return to the concept in its purest form with a title like Tangledeep. The verdict? Well, I’m still not sure if I love it when turn-based mechanics are involved. Methodical evaluation of options is all well and good, but once dungeons begin to stretch off-screen, a multitude of new variables appear that frustrate and overwhelm me as I slowly trudge from one square to the next.
This doesn’t mean that I dislike roguelikes, however. I’ve actually grown rather fond of them, and can even appreciate the design in more traditional entries like Quest of Dungeons and Tangledeep. I also firmly believe that, if you’re on the fence about these mechanics being implemented into your favorite genre, you might not have experienced a perfect point of entry just yet. I’ve compiled a list of roguelikes on the Nintendo Switch that might just be your gateway game for this style of play, starting with the one that caused my personal descent into madness. Who knows? If you like rhythm, action, simulation, tabletop or even card-based titles, there might be a roguelike in here for you. If you’ve found any one of these roguelikes to be enjoyable, perhaps on of the other featured titles can be your next exploration of the formula. We would be remiss not to mention that this article covers several roguelites, as well.
Heart and Slash
For the hack-and-slash fan
For the hack-and-slash fan
Though its title might make this pick seem obvious, there’s a whole lot more to love in this roguelike outside its core combat mechanics. Although Heart and Slash has some questionable hitboxes and combat that feels a bit too chunky at times, it’s frenetic energy, unique visuals, and delightful music are well-worth the price of entry. Starting as Heart, you’ll need to fight your way out of a robot factory in order to discover your true purpose. Along the way, you might encounter Slash, a prototype robot with a big sword and a bone to pick, though you might be able to coerce it into an unlikely alliance. This specific narrative through-line is one of the game’s only “quests,” but it has a heartwarming conclusion and adds a decent degree of difficulty to how you navigate the roguelike environments.
In terms of meta-content, there are some neat concepts on display in Heart and Slash. You can store in-game currency in your chassis for use across runs, meaning you might spend a session grinding for coin only to blow it all on a super-strong version of your playable character down the road. Additionally, there are a number of achievements that will unlock new gear and even a new playable character or two- my personal favorite being the K-9 Eclipse, who is literally a robot dog with a sword in its mouth. If that isn’t reason enough to play this game, I don’t know what is. However, despite its very unique premise, art style, and perspective, it only possesses six bosses spread across three environments, so variety comes from resetting your progress and unlocking new weaponry again and again.
Kingdom: New Lands
For the civilization simulator fan
While some might think that Two Crowns would get the nomination here, Kingdom: New Lands manages to eke out its sequel in terms of pure roguelike experience. While this does mean there’s less unit variety and no co-operative features, the base Kingdom experience is one that merges medieval simulator strategy gameplay with punishing permadeath. You’ll need to recruit peasants in order to get them safely behind your city walls, at which point, you can give them tools for scavenging food and defending against the Greed, creepy little imps with a penchant for anything gold- including your crown. While your role is mostly passive, there are several mounts you can utilize in order to give yourself an edge against the ever-strengthening Greed, but beware- should winter arrive, you’ll see the end of reliable food on the island.
Jumping from island to island is crucial in Kingdom, and it means that you can never stand still to weigh your options- simply gaining more knowledge about the world and the structures, creatures, and civilization expansions within is your only true path to success. Once you’ve managed to escape all four basic islands, you’ll undergo the ultimate challenge: a grueling survival gauntlet where the clock ticks down to doomsday, rather than ramping up. Two Crowns takes a gentler approach, allowing a monarch to pick up the pieces of a ruined civilization after you’ve lost your crown. But if you’re looking for a more cyclical gameplay loop, New Lands is the way to go.
Risk of Rain 2
For the squad-based shooter fan
I was always on the fence about the original Risk of Rain, as I’ve never been much of a fan of roguelikes from a 2D side-scrolling perspective. However, a third dimension was just what I needed in order to take the plunge on this franchise, and while the game still has a ways to go before all of its content has been released, the formula that exists presently is more than enough to have me hooked. The twist on the roguelike experience lies in how Risk of Rain deals with environments: each biome is specifically designed and carefully tiered in terms of progression, but the equipment drops and locations as well as the teleporter to the next zone vary drastically from run to run. The result is a general sense of familiarity in terms of locale, but a mad scramble for the materials required to win. You’ll gain currency in each zone, but you have to either spend it while you’re there or use it to level up before taking a jump into the next zone.
Because its environments are predictable, the loot spread in Risk of Rain is anything but, with a number of equipment pieces possessing excellent synergy despite every truly rolling a winning combo. What further randomizes each run is the player’s choice of character, with eight characters presently accounted for and another two on the way. Each character has its own unique skills that work in tandem with specific kinds of loot, so making sure you get the right stuff is a make-or-break scenario for every run. Co-op is just as dangerous a prospect, as players share cumulative loot, but have the potential to steal valuable loot from one another if not careful. Each run of Risk of Rain 2 is an absolute thrill ride, and paired with is synth-heavy, spacey tunes, the game truly feels like a trip to another world.
Into the Breach
For the strategy RPG fan
Into the Breach isn’t a sprawling, strategy RPG akin to Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem- each run is its own, bite-sized epic campaign. The fate of the world is in your hands with each new jump, as the insectoid Vek threaten to tear apart civilization, which has been isolated across four continents. While you have advanced technology that can combat these creatures, it’s three of you versus overwhelming amounts of them, making for grim odds. Each 8×8 grid has you defending human cities (which function as power sources for your machines), crushing Vek before they can deal lethal blows, and often completing some bonus objective in order to scrape together any sort of edge you can.
This game is hardly a walk in the park, often requiring the player to make absurdly tough choices on a turn-to-turn basis, but its micro-scaled scope means that each choice only feels like the weight of a very tiny world is on your shoulders. The variety of machines and their respective unique traits are a thing of balanced beauty, as almost every mechanic appears throughout a single campaign in some way. Even if you find yourself stuck in a cycle of failures, you can always take another jump, dragging a single pilot along with you to a new timeline. This brutal turn-based strategy game is not for the faint of heart, but it blends the best elements of roguelike gameplay to result in an extremely compelling experience.
Hand of Fate 2
For the absolute tabletop madman
Although I’ve extolled Hand of Fate 2’s lovely qualities on many occasions, I have to say it again: if you like any sort of chance-based tabletop mechanic, this title throws them at you with aplomb. You’ll need to navigate chapters with highly specific success states utilizing your sparse deck of cards, which contains equipment, side quests, high-risk scenarios, and potentially beneficial scenes. These are then shuffled into the deck of cards that comprises the chapter, during which there are pre-determined events to complete as well as a chance that you’ll draw your own cards. Though navigating the card-based chapter maps and passing the various chance-based skill checks is a brutal experience in itself, you also have combat- which is a chunky, Arkham-knight like action combat system that relies heavily on a combo counter and surprisingly fast reflexes. These combine to form an experience that is brutally difficult with an absurdly high chance of failure. But that’s only the campaign.
The endless mode is a more pure roguelike experience, continuously throwing new scenarios at the player in the hopes that they might overcome and improve their record- yet, it does have a secondary function. Many pieces of equipment in Hand of Fate 2 feature grind-worthy achievements: defeat (x) amount of a certain species, or perform (y) amount of special attacks, and you can unlock further improved gear. This is the meta-currency aspect of Hand of Fate 2, but just because you have the potential to tip the scales in your favor doesn’t mean the main campaign or endless mode will be any easier.
Children of Morta
For the fan of traditional story progression
Children of Morta is a rare kind of roguelike, one where narrative cohesion takes just as much priority as the gameplay loop. Though there are titles like Moonlighter that follow a consistent dungeon order with plenty of meta-currency options to keep you occupied when you’re not trudging from floor to floor, Morta keeps its narrative at the forefront with environments and objectives that are more straightforward. Couple this with a persistent character upgrade system that allows each of the Bergsons to become progressively stronger and utilize more powerful skills, and you’ve got a Roguelike that uses procedural generation as a means of level design, but progression that feels much more similar to a normal RPG.
The whole thing is narrated by some deep, resounding voice acting and plays out with pixel art that is a veritable feast on the eyes. Yes, if you’re some sort of roguelike-crushing deity, you might be able to get very far utilizing only one character, but there are mechanics in place that encourage the player to change up their playable Bergson, and thereby explore the possibilities of each character’s moveset and unique properties. Be warned, however- the grind to boost each Bergson from their starting point to a place where they can compete with your favorite character can be a bit daunting. At the end of each run, however, Children of Morta looks like the best possible isometric pixel art you can think of on steroids, and that, alongside a number of lovely music tracks, chunky sound effects, and awesome narration, make this a must-play for any artistic appreciator.
These are only a few of the varied roguelike experiences you can find on the Nintendo Switch. Sure, there’s the iconic examples, such as Enter the Gungeon, Crypt of the Necrodancer, and Moonlighter- we’ve even featured some more popular choices on this list, ourselves. But the procedural generation of the genre continues to be utilized in new and worthwhile formats, even when its repetitive nature can grow a bit stale. A healthy variety of roguelikes might offer you a new and compelling experience for each day of the week, so consider giving any of these titles a run… or three. Or twenty.
Are there any roguelike recommendations you’d make for specific genre fans? Have you tried any of the titles listed above? Are you tired of hearing me praise Hand of Fate 2? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts below, and keep an eye out for our continued coverage of the genre on SwitchRPG.