Roguelikes II: Pixel Dungeon, Spelunky, DoomRL

Update: Finally got a winning Isaac run! It’s been months since I’ve seen that–certainly I haven’t beaten the game since Afterbirth came out. If I have, then it was on a new save file with less stuff to unlock.

Speaking of that I have updated Part I of my Roguelike series with a couple of new tidbits of information. I also switched “manor” to “manner.” Thanks Marie! Expect these posts to be edited frequently as I find more information, or corrective information, about specific roguelikes.

Anyway, if you don’t know what this series is aiming for, or what a rougelike even is, I suggest you read Part I, which details the genre and talks about three games. The Binding of Isaac, 868-Hack, and Tales of Maj’Eyal. All really great roguelikes and roguelites.

Pixel Dungeon


Pixel Dungeon is a roguelike inspired by Brogue. It’s a fantasy dungeon crawler on PC, iOS, and Android, and on PC its available for free on the developer’s website (here) with optional donation or purchase on Steam, where it’s $5. The paid version hasn’t extra content, it is but a great way to show support for the developers. On iOS the game is about $3.

For a deeper opinion of how this game works, and what I think about it, I would advise you check out my first Ranking of the Rogue post.

There’s an emphasis on short game time in this game. Known as a “coffee break roguelike,” a run can last anywhere between five minutes to thirty, making it extra suitable for the mobile platform. Coming at a time where every roguelike was huge, and took several hours per run (see Tales of Maj’Eyal or Dwarf Fortress), games like Pixel Dungeon were among a godsend to those looking to get into roguelikes, as well as those hungering for a smaller experience.

The minuscule by comparison design of Pixel Dungeon doesn’t detract from gameplay. Rather, it is still a complicated roguelike, with random loot and solidified rules requiring the player’s full knowledge and attention for victory, however it is presented in a format that is clear and easy to comprehend, giving Pixel Dungeon the status of being a perfect game to get into when a player isn’t familiar with the tropes of roguelikes or RPGs. For veterans it is a nice game to put those familiar roguelike skills to the test.

Many of my runs were ruined because I couldn’t find enough loot to last through to the boss. Some characters fall because I poisoned myself with an unidentified potion, or paralyzed myself with a scroll at the wrong time, or equipped an unidentified piece of equipment that completely handicapped my abilities. Since these runs last a fraction of a playthrough during some of these other games, I didn’t really have as much attachment to my character, so there was nothing to get salty about. I just had hunger to restart with a new character to see what the dungeon would give me. It’s a brutal game that harvests a real addiction in mechanics anyone could understand throughout playthroughs that respect a player’s time. A great entry point for anyone looking to get into the genre, or if you’re looking for something to do for fifteen minutes.


spelunky screenshot.jpg

Spelunky is an open-sourced platformer by Derek Yu, and it released as freeware December 21st, 2008 for the PC. It was remade for the Xbox360 and released July 4, 2012. The remake saw ports to the PS3, PSVita, PS4, and back to the PC. Players control a spelunker exploring caves for treasure while fighting enemies, dodging traps, and saving damsels. The caves are randomly generated, producing playthroughs that differ from one another wildly. The freeware version of Spelunky was one of the first examples of a roguelite in that it borrowed aspects from the roguelike genre and blended it with the action platformer genre (wikipedia).

The game’s levels are structured in four progressively difficult areas containing designated enemies and items. Enemies range from snakes and spiders to yetis and tribal warriors. Enemies all have strengths and weaknesses that must be learned extensively often leading to deaths upon first encounter. Some enemies drop items, treasure, and weapons when defeated. The game is all about risk and reward with every element of its design, and it is brutally difficult. However each element of random reward creates that one more run mentality that makes the genre so dangerously addictive.

Health is obviously the most important resource of the game because when you lose all of it you have to restart the game (unless you have certain items). The only method of health recovery is the rescuing of damsels. Damsels are little blonde ladies with red dresses BUT you can change them in the options menu to instead be guys. OR PUGS!


Rescuing damsels nets you one heart at the end of the level. This is important. When you suck like me, stacking up hearts translates to higher chances of success later in the run, when things get extremely chaotic and hard to deal with. In order to rescue a damsel one must pick them up, which requires the player to give up most offensive capabilities, and carry them to the exit. When dropped the damsel runs around frantically until the player picks them up or they die, so make sure to drop them somewhere safe. They can also help protect the player against ranged attacks and they can be thrown like any other object in the game however doing so usually kills them and they are generally no use to you as corpses. Damsels can also be sacrificed if you’re evil, and I’ll save the rewards for you to discover! WOW

The items in this game are fantastically designed around its mechanics. The player has two consumables–ropes, and bombs. Bombs destroy walls in the environment. Everything can be destroyed, as well as enemies, but using bombs as a weapon is often a stupid idea since exploding the walls is often a necessary tactic the player will need to explore a level fully. The worst runs are those when the player hasn’t enough bombs, because you constantly see areas overflowing with treasure that you can’t get to unless you have bombs. Ropes are a bit less useful in my opinion, but they can still be viable in finding loot and especially when triggering dart traps safely. When consumed while standing the player throws a rope into the air where it will travel a maximum of 8 tiles unless encountering a solid object. A rope will fall down, enabling the player to climb it like  ladder. You can also descend using ropes which is useful because fatal gaps tend to generate in every level. To do so the player can crouch and consume the rope, where it will again travel a maximum of 8 tiles except the rope travels downward. Players can attack with ropes, which is useful when protecting oneself from spiders and bats (wiki).

The spelunker comes equipped with a whip that attacks much like the Simon Belmont in Castlevania. The whip does 1 damage, which isn’t enough during the entire run. Thankfully many weapons can be found, such as boomerangs and plasma pistols. These weapons can be found in item shops and in the chests which generate in every level. Other items help the spelunker’s defensive capabilities as well as his movement options, and these items come as equipable objects as well as passive upgrades. Only one piece of equipment can be held at a time, and they are one time use objects. Passive upgrades persist the entire run although they can be hard to come by. Weapons are picked up, and can only be used once the player has them in their hands. Most things in the game can actually be picked up by the player, such as rocks and skulls, and they can be thrown to trigger traps or cause damage to enemies. Because the whip is so weak, and the range of the whip leaves much to be desired, picking up and throwing objects such as rocks becomes a necessary tactic as ranged tools are extremely important. Movement upgrades also becomes important, as the later levels tend to require it. The jet pack is one item I see that becomes crucial if the player wants to win a run.

The point of the game is to find the most treasure before the ghost can spawn. Every level is set to an undisclosed timer of 2 minutes 30 seconds, and once the player reaches this limit they receive the message “a terrible chill runs down your spine!” The ghost is a slow moving enemy that kills the player once they meet them. It is completely invulnerable, but with practice easily avoidable. The game’s levels are short enough to insure the player can go through an entire run without seeing the ghost ever, but the risk/reward of combing the level for items, damsels, and treasure makes running into the ghost a high possibility (wiki). High level play often includes learning how to turtle the slow moving enemy to find the most treasure.


Experienced players also employ a tactic where they steal items from shops, or kill the insanely difficult shopkeepers. Shopkeepers have shotguns–an extremely effective ranged weapon that inflects four damage with every pellet of the gun’s six pellet burst. If the player kills the shopkeeper they can pick up their shotgun very early into the game’s run, and doing so requires luck and planning. Setting traps is often a viable method in some levels, but the shopkeeeper runs so fast after the player that it is extremely tense and difficult. An easy tactic that requires some luck is to lure the shopkeeper into spikes. Spikes kill everything in the game in one hit, so this tactic is useful as long as you don’t fall into the spikes yourself. At 10 HP, they can be a major challenge when using normal items. If the player has a shotgun they can expect to use it against every shopkeeper in the run, for if you piss off one shopkeeper, every single level with a shopkeeper will insure the player runs into another pissed off shopkeeper at the level’s exit. Apparently, the shopkeepers speak to each other telepathically. Or they’re fast texters, because how else would every shopkeeper in a cave know what you’ve done?

The reward for this is free items for the rest of the run, since the shopkeeper abandons their post. Because of this the player doesn’t have to spend as much time combing levels for treasure. It’s yet another risk/reward tactic that makes playing Spelunky, and watching people play Spelunky, so fun. The funniest aspect of the shopkeepers by far is the fact that they will be triggered if anything happens to the walls of their store. If the level generates in a way that spawns some sort of explosion beside the shop that shopkeeper will want to murder the player even if they’re off screen.

A fair estimate of my time with this game would be hovering around thirty hours. I definitely remember a few months where I insured one run a night. And I have never beaten this game. I’ve never gotten close. I hate this game. The way it plays is like butter in a shark’s mouth. You have to be so goddamn careful and exact with everything that you do. One false move and you’re fucking dead and your arm is dislocated because shark metaphor! You’ll die over and over, and you’ll look stupid with a bleeding hole in place of one of your arms!

I hate this game. I also love this game. Even more than I love butter!

butter on everything.jpg
I don’t actually like butter that much it’s pretty gross. (myproana)

The music is amazing. The graphics are amazing. The controls are amazing. The gameplay is amazing. FUCK. Thinking about this game, researching this game, writing about this game–I really want to play this game! It’s a shame I only own it on a console that’s gathering dust in my closet, because I would fucking play a run right now! What, you don’t believe me? That’s fine. I can’t do anything about that.

Spelunky is a video game that exists in the back of my mind as one I will someday get good at. It’s good enough to inspire me enough to create a fucking life goal in my brain. That’s rediculous. I’m rediculous. I can’t spell rediculous.

Ridiculous. Oh. An I instead of an E.

English is stupid. But I have a degree in english. So listen to what I have to say.

Oh yeah! Spelunky, the original version is free! I forgot…I’ll play some runs now!


I hate this game.



DoomRL, or Doom Roguelike, is a traditional, isometric, and turn-based roguelike with ASCII graphics. It came out December of 2002. A sprite-based tileset was made by Derek Yu, the creator of Spelunky, and said tileset has become the default graphical setting for the game. Apparently, the designer of the game took so long to implement the graphical tileset that Derek Yu went off to create Spelunky (roguelike radio).

The game was created by Kornel Kisielewicz, who also designed the roguelikes DiabloRL, Berserk!, and AliensRL. Among other projects he is working on a commercial roguelike that is explained as a spiritual successor to DoomRL–Jupiter Hell (roguebasin). His website is here, where he details the production of Jupiter Hell.

doomrl screen 01.png

This is one of the most important roguelikes to the community. It helped spawn the idea of the coffee break roguelike, which I described while talking about Pixel Dungeon as a roguelike that takes a comparably short amount of time to complete. This time to complete helps make the game feel faster than it is, leading to players moving through the maps as quickly as possible even though the gameplay is turn-based. Neat!

The game does a beautiful job creating a roguelike experience that feels like DOOM. You move quickly from level to level, killing every demon you can to gain XP, and searching for every weapon you can with the hope of collecting and crafting together powerful variants that aid the player in standing a chance against the hoards of hell. Every enemy from the first two games is represented in ways you would expect–there are imps that throw fireballs and pain elementals that attack by spawning numerous lost souls before running away. Since the game contains music and sound assets from the original games, the game really creates some of the same feelings the originals did. One moment you will feel unstoppable, the next you will find yourself utterly hopeless until you find that invulnerability pickup that makes you feel unstoppable again until it runs out while you’re in the middle of an ocean of lava. And when you get a rocket launcher you can’t help but grin.

doom guy grin
(DOOM reddit)

Players can choose to control the game with either the keyboard or the mouse. I generally do a mix of the two but I’ve grown to favor the keyboard for it’s more exact level of control. It takes a bit of time to learn how to play the game well, and to be honest I wouldn’t even call my play particularly well, but at anytime you can press the question mark key on your keyboard to look up the controls. The game’s UI is easy to learn, albeit confusing at first, and it’s quite a useful tool. Players can look at what each piece of armor or weaponry does, leaving no real mystery to how the game works. On the top left of the screen messages pop up to tell the player what’s going on with each turn, which is extremely handy for the numerous amount of times I’ve died abruptly.

The game is divided into episodes like DOOM–and those episodes conclude with a boss and then a wall of text for plot. Each successive episode has its additional layer of enemies, weapons, and items that have a chance to spawn. To travel to the next level you find the staircase. Red staircases can also be found, and those transport the player into secret levels as well as challenge levels that will net great rewards. These rewards often make it a good idea to do as many of these challenge levels as the player can. The second level, for instance, has a challenge level that has a chance to reward the player with a rocket launcher most of the time. This rocket launcher is immensely useful for the boss fight of that episode–the two barons of hell. Without taking that challenge room, the player will most likely have to fight those two without a rocket launcher. And that’s scary!

Every different creature and weapon contains a strategy. You use shotguns up close, miniguns from far away. You want to fight the shotgunners from around corners, because otherwise they can take a lot of your health away. Regular zombie marines, however, you can rush, because their pistols rarely hit the player and if they do they do inconsequential amounts of damage. Rocket launchers have a blast radius that will damage the player from up close. If used in situations when the player is being swarmed this can be a handy tool because of the knock back when used. There’s even an alternative firing mode for most of the weapons like the aforementioned rocketlauncher. With the alt fire you can rocket jump, causing the player to take some damage while boosting in the direction behind the shot. It’s a useful strategy for certain situations, and the game is full of these.

Doomrl Screenshot02.png

The way you build your character matters in this game. With every level the player earns a single point they can use to invest into several perks, such as Tough as Nails which allows the player to ignore 1 point of damage, or Son of a Bitch, which allows the player to do 1 additional point of damage. These perks matter because they are designed to be molded around the style a player plays the game. For instance one perk allows a player to reload their shotgun as they move–an extremely helpful and critically necessary perk to have if the player is going to be primarily employing shotguns. If they want to use miniguns, they’ll have to build their character to shoot more accurately, and to soak up more damage defensively because they’ll be shooting more often from a single position without attempting to dodge incoming missiles. There’s even a way to build your character so that they perform better in melee combat.

The thing that really sets this game apart from other classic roguelikes other than the fact that it’s got a sci-fi aesthetic (being that it’s DOOM) is the general focus on ranged combat (BEING THAT ITS DOOM YOU FOLLOW?). Most roguelikes have ranged capabilities but their focus is more on melee combat, which involves running into your opponent as the game simulates your character’s sword swing. Similar to that you have DOOM’s ranged combat, where damage and accuracy are figured against an enemy’s armor with random critical chance. But with a focus on ranged combat comes strategies and method of attack that are exclusive to this game. For instance you can hide behind a wall while an enemy is pursuing you and you can fire upon them as though your character is shooting from cover. Often the enemy will stop shooting because their line of site is broken; a glitch the developer left in as it became an unintended feature of the game (roguelike radio).

Falling in line with the DOOM aesthetic is the difficulty. I haven’t made it past the cyberdemon at the end of episode two yet, and I’ve only made it to him twice. Even if I roll up to him stocked to the teeth with large med packs he still kills me with his random ass critical missiles that knock me out to zero health. The game is generous with its several difficulty settings, and as a newbie I still find the easiest difficulty challenging. You have to employ movement and strategy when fighting everything, and level exploration is an absolute must. Building your character correctly, and then playing that built character correctly, is also as critical as your understanding of how the game works. It is an interesting romp that is a breeze to play, and my time with the game has been great so far.

doomrl screeshot 03.png

i am the tacos



One thought on “Roguelikes II: Pixel Dungeon, Spelunky, DoomRL

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