Roguelikes I: Isaac, 868-Hack, ToME

Roguelikes are, quite simply, video games like Rogue.

The end.

old man shrug (2)


Roguelikes are dungeon crawlers with procedural generated levels and enemies, and they are characterized by tile-based graphics, turn-based movement, and permadeath. The majority of roguelikes get inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy, and are considered to be a subgenre of RPG. The namesake, Rogue, was presented with a graphical style called ASCII, which was composed of keyboard alphanumerical and symbolic characters meant to represent the various creatures and items (wikipedia).


Many modern roguelikes have the option to present themselves in this manner, or with sprite based graphics.

The games qualified as roguelikes, and the games inspired by roguelikes, are notoriously difficult due to the unpredictability of procedural generation. The concept of runs develops while playing, which is where a player starts the game and sees how long they can last as they attempt to beat the game, or get as far as they can. Beating the final boss of a roguelike is known as a victory or a win. The initial runs of an unfamiliar roguelike almost always lead to failure. This may seem brutal and unforgiving, but early deaths should be used as a tool for learning the mechanics of the game. Once the player becomes competent at a roguelike they keep playing to experiment with the procedural generation and often they will challenge themselves by limiting their characters to see how viable they perform under such limitations. This makes for a game that can be played endlessly after the player originally completes the game.

As stated previously roguelikes tend to contain extremely deep systems, if not extremely quick reaction time or accurate item knowledge, and this presents an experience where death is part of the game. Even the best players of particular roguelikes have runs that go sour. You can do everything right in the world but get a randomly generated room of terribly difficult enemies, or you can get a potion that turns you into a corpse when you drink it. Because these games tend to have potions with unknown effects especially those that will poison or kill you. Roguelikes don’t like you, and that’s a very prominent feature.

Lately, I’ve found myself exploring roguelikes on Steam, which has lead to this idea: a series of blog posts cataloging the many roguelikes I own containing information of the game, how it plays, and what I think of them. A typical post will contain three roguelikes, and I will attempt to keep them as different from one another as possible. Let’s go!


WARNING: Genre jargon paragraph ahead!


I will include Roguelites in this list. If I didn’t, the list would be surprisingly short, as my collection contains a vast amount of Roguelites and few classic examples of Roguelikes. For those not in the know, Roguelites are meant to identify games that are inspired by Rogue and Roguelikes, but manage to combine characteristics of Roguelikes with characteristics of other genres. You might see a game like Rogue Legacy, which is a Roguelite featuring randomized rooms and enemies, as well as starting characters, with a platforming exploration twist, making it look and play much more like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night than Rouge. If you’re keeping score, that means there’s a Rougelite, which is a genre that sounds dumb and confusing, with elements of Metriodvania, which is a genre that sounds dumb and confusing. Thanks video games!

old man shrug cyclopse

I will label the games I talk about on here Roguelite if they are seen by the community as a Roguelite. And of course, I will speak about what genre they are combining with Roguelike. So please settle down, and enjoy my words.

The Binding of Isaac

Some Stuff.jpg
From Some Run Months Ago


The Binding of Isaac is a Rougelite that came out in 2011. It was developed by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl, and was programmed entirely in Flash. The two released an expansion called Wrath of the Lamb in 2012 after successful sales. Notably, McMillen and Himsl didn’t expect the game to be successful at all, but it is believed that Let’s Plays on YouTube contributed to the game’s success. A rerelease called The Binding of Isaac Rebirth came out in 2014, and was created in cooperation with developers Nicalis. The game has since seen one major expansion, Afterbirth, with one more in development. The original game came out on PC and Mac, but the rerelease saw multiple releases accross PC, PS4, PS Vita, WiiU, New 3DS (the game does not support original 3DS), and Xbx One (wikipedia).

The gameplay is part Legend of Zelda, part shoot-em-up, and part Roguelike. The reason this game is so interesting is the plethora of items that show up in every run, and how a lot of these items can work together in some surprising synergies. The game is brutally difficult, with a slightly large learning curve that demands practice and patience. The graphical style is crude, adding to the game’s charm, and the rerelease, Afterbirth, saw a complete overhaul in the graphics department that cleaned up the visuals but kept the same crude art style. With religious references aplenty, references to culture and gaming, the game keeps a surprising humor, even though the player controls a naked little boy who must battle creatures such as skeletons, living poop, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, his dead siblings, and his mother with nothing but his own tears. And bombs. And sometimes his own poop.

I’ve covered this game plenty of times in the past. I’ve even slotted it on my top ten games of all time. It got me into Roguelikes, and can be labeled responsible for the recent boom of Rougelikes and Roguelites in the indie video game industry. I have bought it  (hold on…let me count…) four times, purchasing both Wrath of the Lamb for the original Isaac, and Afterbirth for the rerelease Rebirth (twice). The developers deserve that much money. I have spent close to 40 hours in Rebirth/Afterbirth on the PC alone, and I suspect that I have at least doubled that on my PS4 version, which I purchased first. Overall, the game performs well on the PS4 with increased crash rates, but if you can, steer clear from the 3DS and WiiU versions. While nice, they contain several issues that the developers have openly admitted to not wanting to fix. Afterbirth is also not planned to release on either system. Although I do not own a Vita, the game reportedly runs fine on the platform. I believe the game plays best on PC with a keyboard, but again, it is just fine on a controller. In fact, many prefer to play the game with a controller of a keyboard.

The game is extremely successful at attracting viewers, and it’s no wonder why. With an addictive “one more run” attitude, the game really flourishes in attracting eyeballs and thumbs. The sheer amount of items creates nearly endless replay value, while the enemy variety, especially in combination with the room variety, keeps the game interesting.

The game has persistent unlocks in a sense. There are challenge runs that unlock items, there are objectives that will unlock items, enemies, and bosses, as well as further floors that only unlock after defeating the last boss(es). Furthermore, there are characters that will play differently, and begin runs with different stats, and those are unlocks after meeting specific qualifications during runs. For instance, one must accept three devil deals during one run if they want to unlock Azazel, the most overpowered character in the game.

As stated, this game is difficult. With all my time spent on the game, I still feel like I suck, even though I’ve gone through months where I practice the game every day.

I’m going to run it now. I’ll come back and tell you how I did when it’s over.

I actually did two runs. Both with Azazel. The first one was a terrible two floor trash water chug. The second run did okay, as I had some shit happen:

Azazel Circle.jpg
The Circle is My Tears

But I ended up taking too much damage during the Mom fight and I died next floor. So yeah, I’m trash at this game. Probably need to get around 100 more hours until I feel competent at the game. Honestly, if you haven’t played this game yet, you should. It’s an amazing game, and it’s a great introduction to the Roguelike genre. Even if it’s just a Rougelite.

who cares
but who cares

If/when you start playing, here’s a great resource that shows you what every item looks like and tells you what they are, so if/when you come across something unfamiliar you can see if it’s worth taking or not: platinumgod. The game will not tell you what items do before you pick them up, and often the message you get when you do pick them up doesn’t effectively communicate what the item actually does. So you kinda need platinumgod unless you wanna go in completely blind. That can be fun! But sometimes you have a really good run sour because you accidentally picked up one of the MANY items that are designed JUST to fuck you over. Ya don’t wanna do that.


From a massive game to one a bit smaller, 868-Hack is deceptively simple.

868 Hack.jpeg


Developed by Michael Brough, an independent game designer with many successful titles out on PC, Andriod, and iPhone. You are that smily face. You get three hits until you are dead. The four enemy types you see on the screenshot are the only ones in the game, and they all behave differently. The numbered squares are solid objects that only the pink triangle can traverse, but if you use a data siphon (that yellow and green circle) then you can acquired points, or a program. The program is listed on the box, unless it’s a random box, and the number at the top left corner designates how many enemies will spawn once you siphon the program. The boxes with big numbers give you that many points. The player may choose their own goal for a run: survive, acquire the best programs, or acquire the most points. Each run is 8 floors, and upon creation you unlock an additional program to be thrown into the mix.

Positioning your avatar is important for survival. If you get swarmed by three enemies who can attack you in  one turn, then you’re dead. Thankfully, programs are there to assist your survival. They range from offensive to defensive, with programs like wait, that allow you to stay in the same place for a turn, or reset, which heals your character to max.

The player must use each turn with a strategy in mind. A turn is used once a player moves, shoots, or uses the wait program. Every other program used does not count as one turn, so you can use as many of the other ones as your resources allow. The two resources are credits and energy, represented by a dollar sign and a swirl respectively. When you use a data siphon it grants the player however many resources that are labeled on that square.

My strategy so far has been to survive runs, and to do this I typically go for my favorite programs while stocking up on resources. For instance .RESET is mandatory, as I often get hit and I will want to heal. Another favorite is .D_BOM which explodes a specific enemy type, Daemons, which is extremely handy when they’re clustered around other enemies, and because they take three hits to kill which makes them the toughest defensively. I also really like .ROW, which eliminates everything on the same horizontal row as the player, and .WARP, which allows the player to replace an enemy on the board, effectively killing them in the process.

The game is quite addicting, and extremely playable on a mobile device. Moving and shooting are performed by sliding directions with your thumbs, you tap DATA SIPHON to use a siphon, and you tap whichever program you want to use. Runs can last five minutes or less, and anytime you need to drop the game for something happening in the real world you can return at anytime and find yourself in the same exact state that you were in when you left off. It really is perfect for the platform, and I can see it being good on PC as well.

Tales of Maj’Eyal

ToME Cave.jpg

Released in 2012, Tales of Maj’Eyal (ToME for short) is a free open source roguelike for the PC, Mac, and Linux. It was developed by Nicolas Casalini, known as “DarkGod,” and graphics were made by Assen Kanev (“Rexorcorum”) and Raymond Gaustadnes (“Shockbolt”). The game has been donation supported since 2012, and has seen a Steam release in December of 2013. Purchasing the steam version, or donating, grants players further content than the free version. As well as several patches providing fixes and content it has also seen two expansions since its release: Ashes of Urh’Rok on October 2014 and Embers of Rage on February 2016 (wikipedia). It’s a dungeon crawl with a fantasy open world and deep RPG mechanics over turn based gameplay. The style of the game can be explained with equal parts Tolkein and Lovecraft, giving it an interesting and unique feel.

The player picks a class and race, and then sets out to randomly generated dungeons filled with randomly generated enemies who drop randomly generated loot. Everything tends to drop specific items and weapons, everything has a color coated rarity, and every piece of information that you could ever want about enemies, items, and weapons are displayed in this game for the player to discover. Quests can be failed, and evolve based on the player’s decisions throughout their playthrough. Success depends on character planning, as each class and race contains different skill trees in mind for different builds, and certain kinds of loot benefit certain kinds of characters more than others. Combat is a skillful turn-based strategic affair, with knowledge of the game’s mechanics vital for survival.

This roguelike is deep and challenging to learn, but I have had a great time doing so. Over the last few days I have really dived in, and found myself quite obsessed, thinking about where to go next, what class to do next, what weapon I might find next, in between reading guides and watching videos teaching me about the game’s mechanics. I still have a lot to learn, but for now count me in love with this game.

The game has three options for permadeath: Roguelike, Adventure, and Exploration. Roguelike means one life and that’s it. Adventure gives the player a limited number of lives, and more can be earned by leveling the character to certain levels and by using certain items. Exploration gives the player infinite lives, and thusfar I’ve played on that mode to learn the game a bit more. I’m excited to jump into the other two modes for a more complete experience, but there’s so much to learn I feel that I would die in seconds every run.

I have had success so far with the class I’m playing. Suggested in full by a wonderful beginner’s  walkthrough I’m watching by belmarduk (Part One), I’m playing a Dwarf Bulwark. He’s a tough defensive warrior who focuses on sword and shield. I may go over to greatswords sometime soon only because I found an amazing one off a boss and I really want to use it. The game is immersive in a surprising way once you get in there and learn how to play, and the hunger for loot is real and thriving. You might think you found a gamebreaking piece of armor in one dungeon only to discover something better in another, and everything presented is unique enough to distance this game from other RPGs. Last night, for instance, I got a Transmogrification Chest, which is perhaps one of the best and most important items in the game. Simply, the game automatically picks up every piece of loot in a dungeon (because loot is literally just lying on the floor everywhere). Once in the chest, the item has no weight, meaning you can’t get over-encumbered. Most importantly,  once the player leaves a floor, the chest will exchange the item automatically for gold, meaning you don’t have to visit a shop in order to sell said item. The player gets a choice to keep the item (placing it in the player’s inventory) or letting the chest perform the exchange, and that choice is always presented right before leaving a floor. Additionally, since I found this chest with this character, it is now unlocked as an automatic item for every character. From now on, that chest will always be in a character’s inventory when I start the game. THAT’S CONVENIENCE! If only more loot based games did shit like this!

ToME world map.jpg

The art is simple and beautiful, and it clearly presents everything in an easy to understand manor. There are so many variants with enemies that it would be neigh impossible to remember, but once the player hovers their mouse over anything, a detailed list of traits and stats appear communicating anything that player would ever want to know. The player can even inspect the creature further to get a character sheet in case their insane and they need to know every single statistic. The UI isn’t perfect as it takes some learning, but that is part of this genre. What makes this game more accessible is the mouse control, allowing players to use abilities, inspect enemies, interact with the environment, and move all with the mouse instead of using complex keyboard controls. Those controls are still there, though, and I find myself using a combination.

I haven’t scratched the surface of this game, or made a dent, or rubbed off the fingerprints. It’s full of so many possibilities and lore that is genuinely well-written. I find myself satisfied in  way I haven’t been in some time, because this game seems to be perfectly fitted to my recent Roguelike hunger and my past CRPG thirst. It will be many more hours until I understand this game fully, and I’m looking forward to what could be years of interesting and compelling gameplay. If you have an interest in this genre, and a computer of any description, I highly recommend this game. For a roguelike of this type, it is the easiest to break into while still offering a universe of depth.

random garbage assassin




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