Running through dungeons with randomized elements, dying over and over, but getting different results each time. Borrowing elements from the 1980 game that runs on an ASCII terminal, Rogue, games have been borrowing procedurally generated elements for decades now. The genre of “Rogue-lite” has become its own thing where games don’t entirely rely on the harsher side of Rogue’s punishing methods, instead only using some procedural elements to enhance the gameplay and add longevity. Here are 10 of the best Rogue-lite games in ascending order.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
A banging soundtrack and procedural dungeons make this one of the best rogue-lites ever made. The original soundtrack by composer Danny Baranowsky provides some of gaming’s best tunes, but the real fun comes from this game’s support for custom MP3s. Players can pass an MP3 into the game’s soundtrack and it will generate a beat to go by, adding tons of replay value. Combined with a huge array of DLC and even an official Nintendo spinoff on the Switch called Cadence of Hyrule, there’s a bevy of content available for this title.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest Metroidvanias out there, Dead Cells brings tons of Dark Souls inspiration to the side-scrolling formula. The precise combat and challenging difficulty curve approaching the later sections of the game make Dead Cells a hugely rewarding experience. There are multitudes of items and weapons to craft the perfect build during a run through the castle. Even if you lose your pickups during the best runs, Dead Cells’ approach to permanent gains gives players an opportunity to almost always progress further with each attempt. This fairness in moderation while still providing a challenge gives Dead Cells a leg up versus other rogue-lites.
Supergiant Games already cemented themselves into the pantheon of the greatest independent developers in the industry prior to 2018’s Hades, but this isometric action game just hammered home the point these developers can almost do no wrong. A unique spin on Grecian mythology with colorful portrayals of classic gods and goddesses, Hades’ story carries it as much as its mechanics. Taking inspiration from games like Diablo, arcade shooters of the 1990s, and JRPGs, Hades is widely regarded as a nearly perfect rogue-lite and a shining example of the genre.
Developed by a single person, HighFleet by Konstantin Koshutin combines elements of real-time strategy, old-school arcade games like Missile Command, RPGs, and even fleet management simulations. Tons of random elements can haunt a run, including everything from your crew’s morale being affected by dwindling supplies to a salvage crew being killed in an incident when a nuclear reactor explodes. HighFleet is not a forgiving title, but once players learn the nuances of this game’s incredibly deep systems, the experience is like no other.
This procedural dungeon crawler takes its randomization to some serious extremes. Even the terrain itself has randomized elements where certain magic can react with it and produce some absolutely wacky results. In some runs, the water’s just water. In others, the water is all acid that dissolves living things in seconds. Combined with a deep magic casting system where mixing different elements produces reactions and unexpected results, Noita is full of mysteries and encourages tons of experimentation to get through a level.
A rogue-lite with inspiration from bullet-hell shooters, Hollywood films like Alien and Interstellar, and a unique approach to a cyclical story makes this PlayStation 5 launch title an absolutely solid reason to get into Sony’s latest console. The unique features using the DualSense controller features like adaptive triggers and detailed vibration make Returnal an immersive experience that very few rogue-lites really delve into. The precise movement and tight controls along with an incredibly satisfying arsenal of powers and weapons to use make Housemarque’s next-generation debut one for the ages.
Risk of Rain 2
What if you took one of the best rogue-like shooters, but added another dimension to the gameplay going from 2D to 3D? You get the venerable Risk of Rain 2. Elevating the game from a 2D perspective to an over-the-shoulder third-person shooter added tons of depth to the game and made it feel much more open. Large level maps and tons of hidden secrets buried in levels and lore entries give Risk of Rain 2 a surprising amount of breadth to its content. Whether with some buddies or playing solo, this is one of the best shooters on modern consoles and PC today.
It’s like Castlevania, but Belmont’s got a bad case of Hypergonadism and is colorblind. If you could boil Rogue Legacy down to one sentence, that would come close. 2013’s Rogue Legacy by Cellar Door Games was another 2D platformer, but borrowing more from games like Ghosts N’ Goblins, Castlevania, Dark Souls, and Metroid. This indie darling stood out by having each new hero have a negative quirk rather than positive changes. Things like Dwarfism which makes the hero incredibly tiny, or Peripheral Artery Disease which actually prevents floor traps from activating. The unique nature of trying out combinations of traits allowed for tons of experimentation on runs and no two ever felt the same.
Spelunky could arguably be where indie games began to really embrace the idea of procedural elements. Many games since hearken back to Spelunky’s influences of older platformers and the procedural level generation inspired by the original Rogue. Originally released in 2008 as a freeware game by creator Derek Yu, the more famous version of the game is the 2012 version on the Xbox 360. The randomly generated levels produced unique runs and tons of variety that could result in an easy run to the end or the most frustrating first experience in history. Rarely was doing a playthrough of Spelunky predictable.
The Binding of Issac
Who would’ve thought a game where you play a baby would be so challenging? Edmund McMillen’s twin-stick shooter masterpiece has seen multiple updates and changes over the years, but it has only gotten better with each one. Secrets and hidden challenges litter this game from start to finish and fans have only expanded this game’s huge variety of content with tons of mods available for the PC versions. One of the hardest but best rogue-lites ever made, this is a must-play for fans of older top-down shooters like Smash TV or even the original Legend of Zelda.