Reviewer – Sam C Gittins
Roguelike titles can be polarising, many players enjoy these games which often involve starting either the entire game all over again from the start upon losing a life, or repeating a significant section of the game, often losing hours of progress in the process. This type of game never really appealed to me, so when I was tasked with reviewing a title called ‘Rogue Explorer’ you’d probably assume that I would be thinking negatively about the game from the start, but on the contrary, I’m glad to have experienced playing this Roguelike with a difference.
You play as a daring adventurer of your own design, starting out in the town, you venture through varied biomes which contain the dungeons inside the Abyss Tower. Each section has a set amount of floors, with a boss battle at the end. Should you make it through the gauntlet, then you’ll get to keep any items you have gained. If you should fall, then you lose (almost) all of it, retaining just a bit of gold and perhaps a token item for your troubles. It’s a harsh, but fair compromise, which will likely keep you coming back for just ‘one more go’ until an unspecified amount of time has suddenly passed.
There are more then ten terrains to traverse, as you navigate the ‘Metroidvania’ style dungeons, which are filled with various opponents and traps along the way. Early on, you’ll find yourself in a forest filled with Knights, Lizard Warriors, and much more besides, then later on, there’s a graveyard where you’ll fight against ghouls and goblins, with the odd bat thrown in for good measure. You’ll even venture through ancient ruins which come complete with minotaurs and all kinds of unseemly beasts. Attack patterns of your opponents are varied, it will likely take you a few tries, to discern when they are about to attack, so that you can plan your own strategy.
Equipped with armour, two weapons, and a couple of charms, you may take a few tries to figure out which two weapons work best for your playstyle, but you can expect to see a variety of weapons ranging from swords of varying sizes, spears, hammers, axes and more for you to experiment with. Personally, I found that using a short sword in one ‘hand’ with a long sword in the other worked rather well, though you don’t hold your weapons as such, they merely float as you control them from a short distance. Pressing the action button will allow you to attack in a conventional manner, while your second weapon will automatically attack when you are within striking distance of your opponent. Your mileage will vary depending on which weapons you equip.
As you defeat the various dungeon-dwellers, you will eventually level up. Being that you start each stage at level one, you can expect to advance through a few levels, usually ending up between levels five and eight by the end of it. It all depends on how many floors each area has, and how many of your opponents you choose to engage with. Every time you level up, you get to choose a new skill from a selection of three. These skills can be anything from a simple health refill, to an air-jump, or even a chance to up your critical hit ratio on your weapons. Occasionally you will get an insta-kill skill which will get you a few abrupt ends to battles, if the stats are in your favour.
In addition to the regular creatures you fight against, you’ll encounter passive plant-like beings, who will flee from you, right into the nearest wall, and these generally contain either some kind of pick-up item or gold, so you won’t want to miss out on these. Treasure chests can also be found, scattered throughout the areas, often at an apparent ‘dead end’. It can be beneficial to check out every part of the map you can see as there is always that element of risk vesus reward to consider.
Upon returning from a successful raid, you will likely have many items in your possession. You can choose to keep these items as they are, scrap them, or combine them to make them more useful. If you combine two items of the same colour background, you can end up with a rarer item. It seems that items can go from blue, through to red and purple, each with their own number of stars denoting the rarity. There are different stats on each of these items, and you can upgrade them further, if you have enough materials and gold.
Progression in the game will gain you rewards, as there is an achievement-like system which gives you rewards as you get a bit further. An example is if you go on a general excursion, then you get gold for completing each area, or for dispatching a certain amount of opponents, or even for forging a certain number of items. It’s easy to tell how far away you are from cumulative goals, as there is a running total next to each one.
In addition to the standard excursions, where the map stays the same until it changes from day to night in the town. The exploration mode you can choose completely randomises the maps each time, making for some interesting excursions. You may find yourself repeating certain areas, as some seem more challenging than others. But you’ll likely keep coming back for a few tries, as even if you don’t make it through first time, you’ll still make some progress overall.
The boss battles in this game certainly pose a reasonable amount of challenge but they all follow a set pattern. The amount of time between a telegraphed attack, it’s effective range and how much space the boss takes up on screen; all of these elements come into play, keeping you on-guard during these encounters at all times. I didn’t have to much trouble with the earlier bosses such as the Knight or the Skeleton, but just wait until you see some of the later bosses, as I think you’ll find that they will take a few tries to defeat.
There’s a great deal of charm present in the visual design of this game. Everything from the detailed scrolling, layered backgrounds, impressive 16-Bit style textures, right through to the fluid character animation show that there’s a talented team behind this title. Given that each item you equip is visible on your character, in addition to the different hairstyles etc, really allows you to play as your own style of character. All of this adds to the level of immersion, even though it’s a basic style of game, you’ll likely find a lot to love about it.
Music tracks for each of the areas typically play for a couple of minutes before looping. Often the early areas will be completed before the track has a chance to end, but on the later areas, where there’s more ground to cover, you’ll likely notice the looping a bit more. Though it’s nothing to be concerned about, as the tracks are either vary relaxed, or will get you in the mood to do a bit of adventuring. All of the sound effects are suitably solid as well, there don’t seem to be many half-measures taken with this game, as you can see this is made by an experienced ensemble who have carefully crafted an eye-catching and engaging piece of software.
There is a decent level of customisation present as each piece of gear you have will show up instantly when it is equipped. And this goes for all of your armour as well, plus there are other elements you can choose to customise to set your character apart. Of course, it won’t be to the same level of detail as a complete character creator, but it’s more than enough for this style of game.
Overall, if you’re a long-time fan of Roguelike games, there’s enough here to keep you occupied. There is a fair challenge to be had on the later stages but for those of you who are unsure if this genre of game is for you, then I’d urge you to give Rogue Explorer a try. It might just surprise you, just like it did with me. And now I just want to play a few more rounds, which will likely turn into another evening of dungeon-crawling.
I don’t even enjoy Roguelikes that much, but I’m starting to see the appeal, as it’s just merely a different distraction, in a friendlier form which will keep you playing for a while if it gets its hooks into you, but for just over five pounds, you have a title which can be best enjoyed on the big screen with a proper controller, and is also available on the go in portable mode for when you only have a few minutes to spare.