What are Roguelites?

So I’ve been a huge fan of the Roguelites genre for a long time, playing all sorts of games with their own clever twists. Before I talk about what makes them so great, let’s talk about what exactly a Roguelites game is in the first place.

Roguelite games have a common feature among them, perma-death. Once you die, all the items and achieved in that run is lost, and back to the beginning you go. There has been a distinction between Roguelites and Roguelikes, where Lites typically have a progression system underlying with the progress made in the game. For example, in Risk of Rain 2, you can unlock new characters and items depending on the achievements you complete in every run. While typical Roguelikes, the only form of progression is how far you can make it into the game.

Art from Risk of Rain 2

Roguelites seem like the pinnacle of frustration in games. Why would anyone enjoy them? What fun is there to playing the game over and over from the start until you beat it. Well, Roguelites typically counter this with exploration and procedural generated structures. Okay, so to simplify the terms, it means levels are randomly generated or at least cycled between each other to make every experience different.

Let’s start with one of the most popular in its genre, Enter the Gungeon. The basic idea of the game is you are thrown into the dungeon, you get different guns to shoot different bullets, and your goal is reaching the end. The game has proven difficult, with different enemies having different attacks, bosses with scaling difficulty as you get closer and closer to the end, and limited resources to prevent you from just mindlessly blasting forward. You only start with so much health, so every hit feels the end of the run is coming closer.

The game’s difficulty might seem frustrating, but the procedural generation and extremely large variety of guns makes the game fun with every run. Sometimes it comes off short and you die in the first floor. Sometimes you almost get to the end, taking one too many bullets against the 2nd to last boss. Every run feels like an entirely new game, especially with all the different synergies guns have as well.

Screenshot of the wiki for the guns in Enter the Gungeon. I could not screenshot the entire thing.

Roguelites don’t even have to be shooters as well. My personal favourites have been Roguelite card games. I think my favourite examples have been Slay the Spire, Ratropolis, and Monster Train.
Slay the Spire, one of the first Roguelite card games, introduces 4 different classes with a variety of card for each. Your goal is reaching the end, which varies depending on how much progress you’ve made. Rather than collecting items or guns, you collect cards, and essentially build the deck as you play the game. So, the start might be a bit slow, with every class having a default starter deck, but you’ll find yourself trying different combos with different relics towards the end every time.

Ratropolis takes this deck building idea on a defensive stance. Instead of mana, you use money to cast cards. To get money, you use economy cards that generate money, or you can use building cards to create buildings that make money. You use that money to create units which defend your town from the monsters outside. As a kid, I loved playing defense flash games online like tower defense or those games where you just sit on a wall and defend your base. So this hit right at home, introducing a lot more depth and difficulty.

Monster Train was also a favourite of mine as well. It was also a defense based deck-building game, like a good mix between Slay the Spire and Ratropolis. You’d summon goons to defend the core of your train in turn based combat, crunching the numbers and ensuring minimal damage to your core as you went along. My favourite race being Awoken, due to their Thorns combo. There’s something satisfying about watching bosses prick themselves to death. Different classes would come with different spells and units, and you would pick two classes at once, giving a LOT of options for combos.

Roguelites might be a bit fearsome to get into, especially when they’re known for their high difficulty, but don’t let that push you away. This genre offers hours of fun with many games adding their own clever twists to it. If any of the games I liked interests you, check them out! Or maybe give the Steam store a good browse for any upcoming Roguelites you might find yourself interested in.

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