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10 Rogue-like video games for true dungeon crawlers to explore!

Updated on January 30, 2016
Len Cannon profile image

Len is a writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York and has had a fascination with games and media that has lasted a lifetime.

The original Rogue
The original Rogue

If you've looked at any recently released video game, chances are you've seen a few described as "rogue-likes." What used to be a niche genre has increasingly become part of the mainstream over the past few years. More and more titles are incorporating rogue-like design into their games and it's led to a surprisingly large number of choices for fans of the genre.

What is a "Rogue-like?"

As you might have guessed, "Rogue-likes" are based off of an old PC title called Rogue. In Rogue, you explored a randomly created dungeon populated by monsters. Your goal was to make it to the end of the dungeon and win. If you died, you would remain dead and have to start over from the beginning. Rogue-likes are similar games that have followed in the original Rogue's footsteps.

Qualities of a Rogue-like

  • Randomly created dungeons
  • One life per characters
  • Equipment and treasure to find in a dungeon-like environment.
  • High difficulty

Rogue-likes are typically RPGs with stat-based encounters, although some modern twists on the genre have moved away from that.

Read on for the top ten Rogue-like games!

10 - Nethack

While Rogue was the game to coin the title "Rogue-like", Nethack is the game most people are thinking about when they talk about the genre. Take a huge variety of races and classes deep into a dungeon and see if you can return to the top floor with the ancient treasure found deep underground.

Nethack is famous for featuring a seemingly endless number of ways to horribly die. Be careful you don't starve to death, set yourself on fire, choke yourself out by wearing a cursed necklace, get poisoned, or fall down a hole and die. Oh, or get stabbed to death by a horde of monsters. Y'know, no big deal.

9 - Crypt of the Necrodancer

One of the many genre mashups featuring rogue-likes, Crypt of the Necrodancer is one of the best of the new breed. Featuring classic rouge-like gameplay, Crypt of the Necrodancer takes all of the dungeon-crawling, monster fighting ,and treasure looting and adds a new twist: now you have to do it all to a beat.

As much a rhythm game as a dungeon crawler, Crypt of the Necrodancer challenges players to hop around to the pounding beat of a fantastic electronic soundtrack. Miss the beat? Miss your attack. But if you can dance along to the tune, you'll find yourself rewarded with extra gold.

Crypt of the Necrodancer is unique and exciting and I strongly recommend anyone looking for a new addiction to check it out.

8- Risk of Rain

Risk of Rain plays like a side-scrolling shooter, but at it's heart it is a pure rogue-like. Each play through is punishingly hard, featuring maze-like randomly generated side-scrolling stages and a time limit that only serves to make things more difficult as each second passes.

There are dozens of unique items to find, some of which work together to create an incredibly powerful player character. Unlock new items and classes as you play to create even deeper experiences each time you play.

7 - The Binding of Isaac

Taking the randomly generated dungeons, perma-death, and treasure hunting of classic rogue-likes and mixing it with a top down, multi-directional shooting made The Binding of Isaac one of the most popular indie games of the last decade. Part Smash TV, part Nethack, The Binding of Isaac's dark religious allegory adds an intriguing story on top of the innovative game play. There's also some poop jokes, if you like to keep it low brow.

Players can either stick with the original Binding of Isaac or play the recently released remake, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Both are excellent additions to your gaming library and are available on Steam.

6- Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy wear's it's influences on its sleeves. Taking the Rogue-like format and applying it to a 2D beat-em-up adventure resulted in one of the top indie games of 2013 when Cellar Door game's debuted their new title.

Fiendishly difficult, players will choose a new class of knight with a number of different hereditary quirks to try and defeat a mysterious castle that changes it's layout every time a new person enters. In one game you might be a Wizard with Alzheimer's disease, in another a Barbarian with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

What makes it different from most rogue likes is there is a progression system. Although your character is permanently dead at the end of every run, you can use the gold they earned to upgrade your characters or purchase new equipment to make subsequent runs easier. This is a great rogue-like for players who are put off by having to start from scratch at the beginning of every game.

5 - Angbad

Despite decades of trying and several large budget attempts, it seems that the simple Rogue-like Angbad is still the best Lord of the Rings themed video game available. Using the classic rogue-like interface and styling, players are able to adventure over and over again in the punishing high-fantasy world of Middle Earth.

Join the world of hobbits, elves, and men and venture into a shockingly difficult hundred level dungeon.

4- FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL plays quite a bit differently from the classic Rogue-like. Players are in control of a renegade space-ship, racing against a nearly unstoppable fleet to provide your allies with valuable information that just might save the galaxy. Featuring real-time space combat, a variety of skill-based events, and a brutal fight for survival, FTL is unique.

For fans of show's like Battlestar Galactica, there's no better way to experience a sci-fi struggle against the odds than FTL. Every story is different, and you'll find yourself growing attached to your plucky crew as they fight off pirates, work together to put out dangerous fires, fight space-spiders, and keep one step ahead of the deadly rebel fleet. Just don't get too attached, the odds are not in your favor.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon

3 - Mystery Dungeon

Mystery Dungeon isn't just one game - it's a long running series that has multiple versions for players to try out and enjoy. The Mystery Dungeon series is a Japanese take on the traditional Rogue-like experience and has become one of the most financially successful attempts at bringing it to the mainstream.

A number of different franchises have been worked into the Mystery Dungeon mold: Dragon Quest, Pokemon, and Final Fantasy versions of Mystery Dungeon join original creations like Shiren the Wanderer into the Rogue-like genre. Featuring randomly generated dungeons that reset on death, these titles are a great introduction to the genre for new players.

2 - Spelunky

Like Rogue Legacy, Spelunky combines Rogue-likes with 2D platforming. Aside from that, the two titles couldn't be more different. In Spelunky, the player is tasked with exploring a mysterious cave filled with monsters and traps. Using your wits, a few well placed bombs, and some ropes to reach out of the way spots, you must try and make your fortune and escape with your life.

Filled with secrets and exciting moments, Spelunky is the perfect way to get your gaming fix in quick. Most runs don't last more than ten or fifteen minutes, but be careful: you might find yourself attempting the maze-like cave over and over again and wondering where the hours have gone.

1 - Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

Have you ever played a Rogue-like before?

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By far my favorite Rogue-like, Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup is the classic game play of Nethack and all of the other grandfathers of the genre refined to perfection. The "Stone Soup" portion of the title refers to how the game is designed. Dungeon Crawl is an open-source game where a gaggle of designers, programmers, and fans work together to create the best game they possibly can.

Featuring some of the most unique races and classes, Dungeon Crawl is filled with surprises and opportunities. For the creators, this is a passion project and it shows. Dungeon Crawl takes everything you love about the genre and takes it to the next level. And it's free! Try it out at the official website.


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