The term “roguelike” often conjures images of very different titles for everyone. The play on the randomized, loot- and ability-based gameplay has spawned so many unique versions of the concept that it feels fitting to call it a genre in itself. For some, the randomly generated halls of the Gungeon and its bullet-shaped mobs may come to mind, while the countless versions of The Binding of Isaac might seem more memorable to others. Whether it’s the semi-narrative, shop-based systems of Moonlighter, groovy tunes of the Necrodancer, Metroidvania-like style of Dead Cells, or classic, brutal nature of the original Rogue itself, there seems to be a roguelike for every individual.
But Streets of Rogue is the roguelike for me.
Streets of Rogue is, well, a roguelike. You progress through multiple floors of a vertically-designed city in order to reach the top and take out the current mayor, who is a terrible man that has converted all currency into chicken nuggets. While this might not seem like a bad thing, it definitely is.
Although Streets of Rogue has a title that seems very close to a certain side-scrolling brawler series, it is much closer to a role-playing game than anything. One key design difference from many other roguelike titles is that level design in Streets of Roguelike looks more like a giant central mass with a series of smaller, tendril-like streets jutting from it. This design comes from every exit being relatively easy to find, and rarely requiring an intense boss battle, though still featuring a number of challenges. Each floor of Streets of Rogue is its own, randomized cityscape, a series of buildings both large and small, with several items and powerups to be found throughout. In order to progress to the next floor, you’ll need to complete resistance missions, which may have you retrieving an item from an NPC or chest, freeing a slave, or neutralizing individuals. They’re rarely pleasant jobs, but someone has to do them, though there’s an immense amount of freedom in regards to how you do so.
First, you’ll need to pick a character. There are a variety of classes that are accessible at the start of the game, but you’ll quickly accrue more as you complete hidden objectives, like killing an enemy with a banana peel, drinking a certain amount of beverages in a single run, or destroying a certain amount of tombstones. These character classes range from soldiers and gang members to gorillas and vampires, but each possess their own unique loadout, as well as an overarching Big Quest for their run. Completing Big Quests allows access to stronger abilities for each class, which can be helpful for completing future runs. With the limited loadout resources, your mission is to surmount fifteen floors of Streets of Rogue and defeat- or run for the position of- the Mayor.
Nearly every item in Streets of Rogue has a durability rating, which allows you to use it a select amount of times before it breaks. This allows the modest inventory size to never become too stocked, but also makes nearly every engagement in the game an intense balancing act of risk and reward. Many buildings will not possess mission objectives, but might have valuable items within. Depending on the equipment available, you might be able to pick a lock and enter into a room with a safe, or you might also be able to blow a hole in the building with a rocket launcher and steal the goods within. Most survivalist actions will have a consequence, however, and this can result in NPCs becoming annoyed or hostile, attacking your character on sight and potentially pushing you closer to the premature end of a run. Every choice you make will require planning, subterfuge, and a strong understanding of your surroundings- but almost all of them are fun.
Will you pollute the ventilation system of a building to clear out potential hostiles? Will you tap on a window to draw a guard’s attention? Will you aggro certain NPCs to start a street brawl and farm materials? The joy of Streets of Rogue is the freedom of its options, despite each “area” of levels having relatively similar sets of missions. Completing missions will grant the player experience for an eventual full-restore upon level up, but you’ll need to complete the level in order to receive a level up attribute, which offers more choice in how you structure your run. You might choose to invest in the literal stat spread of your character, or choose a trait that makes you more intimidating in a scuffle. These are only a few of the many options available as you continue to progress through the city of Streets of Rogue.
Narrative and Aesthetics
If you haven’t guessed from the list of playable characters and the nature of the game’s meta-currency, Streets of Rogue doesn’t take itself very seriously. The game’s tutorial features your first guide’s head exploding due to your competence, and the simplistic visuals allow for a variety of character types fitting into a standardized template for amusing results. The small character models are mostly accentuated with colorization that makes them easy to identify, but they can be sometimes difficult to discern.
However, the game allows you to view the label of every NPC onscreen simply by holding down the action button, a welcome option. Despite this, the look of the characters is charming and cute, but also a bit generic- there’s not much iconography for the game, and the Switch menu icon displays art that is much more flavorful than the full package. The simplistic sprite work does work in the game’s favor, but it doesn’t wow in ways like Moonlighter or Enter the Gungeon. This is mitigated by the other whimsical features of the game- the flavor text on equipment, weaponry, and characters is bizarre and silly, and the sound design accentuates engagements with slapstick flavor.
The way characters blast through walls and ricochet with knockback encapsulates the madcap oddity of the game as a whole. This is all accompanied by some low-key, but groovy tracks that maintain the game’s momentum and energy without overwhelming the action.
Impressions and Conclusion
The most impressive aspect of Streets of Rogue is its freedom of expression- from right out of the gate, the game offers a healthy number of character options, but it also allows its Mutator settings to be readily accessible- these modifiers can increase the speed of the game, disable durability, and offer other options that can increase or decrease the game’s challenge. Additionally, players can create and save a character archetype, distributing stat points, abilities, and even basic loadout options for their own style of gameplay. The most delightful aspect of all, however, is the co-operative functionality. Streets of Rogue features four-player co-op with online functionality, allowing friends to coordinate their approaches for mission completion and take advantage of a variety of character benefits to reach the end of the game.
The rhythm and addictive nature of Streets of Rogue cannot be understated, but it benefits from having design sensibilities that are very different from other roguelikes. Having a large central hub of buildings, the innards of all fully exposed to the player, allows one to spend time planning, stockpiling resources, and weighing options, while also poking into the side streets to potentially hire help, start a brawl, or use their character abilities to their advantage. The addition of more players only heightens the insane carnage, allowing for absurd and unexpected scenarios.
A roguelike only overstays its welcome once a player no longer finds it amusing, but the wild behavior of Streets of Rogue’s overlapping aggro systems, item chemistry, and co-operative functions means there are even more possibilities than some of its most notable contemporaries. While its visual design doesn’t pop, there’s plenty of other qualities present that make this title one well worth investing into, if only for its wonderful multiplayer potential.