With the release of the latest PS5 exclusive, Housemarque’s Returnal, new players are being introduced to one of gaming’s most interesting and innovative genres. The roguelite uses non-sequential storytelling and engaging combat loops to offer some of the most addicting experiences out there. So, while Returnal will undoubtedly hold your attention for a good while, you may want to find some similar experiences to fill the void, or to hold you over till you can get your hands on a PS5. With that in mind, these are four great roguelites that this genre has to offer. Just for you to carve, shoot and explore your way through.
4. Dead Cells
Dead Cells has all the hallmarks of a great roguelite. Its breakneck combat and complex metroidvania style level design are the basis for a game that uses speed and momentum to differentiate itself from the competition. And speed is the name of the game here. Your character dashes through a beautifully designed world. A double kill will grant a speed boost that will push you ever forward into Dead Cell’s harsh levels. In turn, allowing you to reach doors that close if you aren’t quick enough.
While the story is on the lighter side, it is this focus on momentum combined with intricate build variety that makes Dead Cells unique. Indeed, from weapon variety to elemental differences your runs of this 2d ‘roguevania’ are rarely similar. This is all brought together in expertly crafted boss battles that allow for a multitude of approaches.
Ultimately, Dead Cells earns its place amongst the greats of the genre through its commitment to the state of motion, something that all of its best contemporaries strive for. Darting across the Castlevania style world at high speed makes it feel truly unique. This, combined with a gorgeous art style, tough bosses, and almost unending build variety cements Dead Cells as a great roguelite.
3. Risk of Rain 2
Similarly to Returnal, Risk of Rain 2, takes a formula that often exists in 2D into the third dimension. Thus, making a game with a sense of flow that is unrivalled throughout the genre. Combat is never far away in Risk of Rain 2. The lack of load times combined with the way enemies seemingly spawn on top of the player mean you are always in the thick of it. This is compounded by level design that while randomly generated has a sense of familiarity to it.
Further cementing Risk of Rain as a wonderful addition to the genre is its character choice. Each character has a different move-set and way of traversing the world. The sense of flow is aided by its choice to forgo some genre mainstays. This third-person shooter doesn’t feature traditional in-game shops to purchase upgrades like its contemporaries. Instead the stores are found in a separate space away from combat. This is all made even more impressive by the multiplayer function that adds even more depth to the experience.
Hades has quickly become the jewel in the roguelite crown. After leaving Early Access in 2020 this ancient Greek inspired tale quickly became a critical darling, winning 11 major Game of the Year awards. For what it’s worth, Hades deserves this praise. Perhaps the most polished game in the genre, this mythical experience has tight combat and an intriguing story.
What sets Hades apart in my eyes though is its unrivalled art and character design. The game’s protagonist, Zagreus, the discontented son of Hades himself, is the linchpin in the game’s presentation. His sarcastic remarks about the underworld lend the game a sense of its fantastic sense of humour.
The Greek pantheon is brought to life here in a way that rivals the source material. Every Greek deity is brimming with character, be that in their personalities or their design. These well known, and lesser known, gods and goddesses also have a gameplay function, lending the player aid to help them on each run. Hades has a deeper story then most of its contemporaries and even some romance options akin to something like Stardew Valley.
What often stands out to me however, is how Hades nails the intangibles that make this such an addicting genre. A run to escape the underworld never feels too long. A death never feels like a waste, because the journey is just as gratifying as the destination. The combat is frantic, and the build variety is vast. It is undoubtedly a must-play.
1. BPM: Bullets Per Minute
To put BPM down as simply a roguelite would be unfair. It has all the hallmarks of the genre, however it is so much more. Imagine a classic DOOM game, now combine that with your favourite rhythm game, and possibly the best soundtrack in recent years. Then you would have an adequate description of BPM. Taking the genre into first-person, this shooter is designed around one core mechanic. You have to shoot on time to the music. This results in an experience where one gets lost in the hectic and rhythmic structure of the game’s combat.
This core concept is taken about as far as you would hope. From a variety of different weapons that all feel unique and powerful, to enemy design that keeps the player on their toes. Add multiple characters and blazing heavy metal and you have a game that is always tempting you to do just one more run. Indeed, while this shooter wears its influences on its sleeve, the core loop is addicting enough to set it apart and make it one of the most unique entities in the roguelite genre.
Returnal is a rare AAA addition, but as this list shows the genre has a vast and unique selection of games that are all worth a try. From Greek gods to heavy metal rhythm games, there is so much to enjoy. What’s your favourite roguelite? Let me know in the comments!