1980 saw the game Rogue released to the middle aged nerds of today, a time when zombies represented by a capital Z were cutting-edge. The game popularised dungeon-crawling game play, combining it with brutal permadeath and randomised procedural generation of levels. An avid gamer may hear this and immediately think of Diablo III with its “hardcore” mode turned on, and this goes to show how far into today elements of the roguelike genre have extended. Although turn based combat, an old staple of roguelikes, has declined in popularity over the years, many of the genre’s addictive elements have surfaced in games today.
Any well-versed dungeon-crawler will already know what makes these games hook you so well. Delving deeper into a fantasy world, seeing your surroundings get darker and more dangerous, turning a corner hoping you’ll be met by a treasure chest and not an irate skeleton with a bone to pick. It’s the sense of possibility, of potential wealth, of likely danger that keeps you going through just one more level. Games like Level-5’s Dark Chronicle, which combined in-depth weapon development and world building against a fantastic story and randomised dungeons, make for a thrill every time you slay an enemy, for maybe they’ll drop a rare item or enough XP to level up your weapon.
The Binding of Isaac throws together masochistic, fast-paced, twin-stick-like combat with a risk-reward approach to resource management, in which you have to weigh up going into an unknown combat scenario which may use up your health and items for the chance of coins and power-ups. This lends a crushing tone that fits superbly with the dark fantasy of Isaac’s self-reflective journey. The constant pressure of losing your health and wealth in roguelikes taps into our basic survival instincts, that rush of dopamine when we advance our own chance of surviving or even thriving. This sense of risk, of losing everything, keeps the player fully immersed and invested in their character. You never know how much you value something until it’s gone, and roguelike players know this all too well.