They’ve graced the gaming community since the text-based era – now enjoy the 15 best roguelike games that are ready to charm you with their ingenuity and perfectionist game design.
Roguelikes aren’t the prettiest, nor are they the most gameplay intense – it’s just hard to compete against the blockbuster energy levels of today’s AAA releases. With fans craving newer, fresher ways to stimulate their minds, who would want to play a game priding itself on its repeatability? However, the genius of the best roguelike games is that they hardly feel repetitive at all.
As we head into an era where 4k/60FPS is king, here’s 15 games with a traditional charm that’ll keep you entertained for hours. This one’s for the players wanting to test their wits in order to adapt and overcome any obstacle.
Keep in mind that the list is in alphabetical order.
By Cameron Syme
One of the wackiest roguelike 3D platformers to make an entrance in 2021. In ALTF4 you take control of an amour-clad knight who needs to make his way through a medieval-style Ninja Warrior obstacle course armed with nothing more than his trusty chicken and quick reflexes.
The physics will have you laughing maniacally as your character is flung across the map to his death. Over and over and over again.
Crypt of NecroDancer
Combining two niche genres, Crypt of the NecroDancer hits a super sweet spot its rhythm-based roguelike adventures. Released in 2015, this game features catchy soundtracks and groovy boss fights — a unique title for those looking for a refreshing hit.
Crypt of NecroDancer will have you tapping your feet whilst dropping a cold sweat as you run out of time before your next move.
The gameplay betrays traditional roguelike experiences, forcing players to make quick and snappy judgements. Although the genre requires quick decision-making and foresight, the escalating rhythm of the game forces players to move at higher tempos to maintain their combo. And as well all know, you can’t lose that combo.
Best of all, it’s pretty damn cheap (under $10 during Steam/Switch store sales).
Combining the retro with the modern, Curious Expedition is a 2016 roguelike featuring old-school graphics and simple storytelling. This game feels like a sim whilst brimming with the wanderlust of the 19th century.
The exploration aspect of roguelikes tends to be overlooked, with flashy fights and wacky items usually taking the spotlight. But this time, we’re going full explorer-pioneer mode.
Bite-sized yet true to the genre, the game looks deceptively simple. Despite seeming like an older game with limited variation, it’s incredible just how random and unique each run feels.
An the price? Under $10, even without the sales.
Going towards the edgier side of the spectrum, Darkest Dungeon is highly regarded in the hardcore circles of the genre. The art itself speaks volumes in terms of how nightmarish things can get. Despite having limited animation and assets, this game boasts a full-volume UI with plenty of interesting game mechanics.
The caveat? Most of these game elements exist to kill your virtual brotherhood. You’ll spend resources and time building your perfect team, yet quickly lose to challenging foes or a crippling insanity mechanic. As a matter of fact, your character’s mental health can make or break your experience.
Aside from making tactical combat decisions, your foresight will be put to the test in team-planning and resource allocation. This is absolutely one of the best roguelike games out there.
By Cameron Syme
Described by the devs as an illegitimate child of a roguelike and a Metroidvania, this game incorporates the best of both worlds. It features both the adrenaline rush of permadeath and a sense of wanderlust from complex level design.
Players will seamlessly explore a series of interconnected levels that make up a larger, sprawling world. That is, if you can mercilessly crush anything that stands in your way. The game features 13 levels, each built with handcrafted assets that offer a fresh atmosphere. There are a total of four bosses that have been manifested from the darkest recesses of the dev’s brain.
Don’t be put off, the game offers over 90 different weapons and items to help you tackle the various mobs the game throws at you.
The combat is satisfying, the movement fluid and the pixel art stunning. What more do you need?
One of our favourite bite-sized games, this roguelike adventure takes a couple of minutes to complete each run. This 2015 title looks and feels retro, but don’t let that fool you. Its high-speed gameplay can only be described as thrilling and engaging, but you must also mix and match the best power-ups to boost your survivability.
Falling into an endless vertical stream, players are forced to survive by shooting or stomping their foes whilst avoiding danger. In fact, we’ve already covered the best bits of this game on our list of 15 criminally underrated games for the Nintendo Switch.
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup
Going retro again, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is the successor to an instrumental 1997 roguelike called Liney’s Dungeon Crawl. With many of the best roguelike games now deviating into the realms of platforming and other sub-genres, we simply had to include one of the classics.
The detail in this community-developed game is incredible. Each item, class, spell, and trait has hundreds of hidden (well, not so hidden if you’re bothered to study up on it) interactions that just elevates each playthrough. The game difficulty increases with each floor and the further you delve, the more you wonder if you should fight or flee.
Now, as much as we would like to show you a clip of the game, the game doesn’t have a publisher. Instead, we recommend grabbing this free game or studying up on the official site. If you want that extra level of retro gaming, there’s even a text-based version.
Enter the Gungeon
By Cameron Syme
Quite literally a bullet roguelike, I mean, even enemies are ammunition. Players can take control of one of four characters, each with their own perks and move sets, and traverse through the ‘Gungeon’.
There are plenty of secrets to be discovered within its bullet-damaged walls, but they are guarded by a seemingly endless cast of enemies of varying degrees of annoyance. This makes blasting them even more satisfying.
You’ll be offered a helping hand by the occasional opportunistic merchant along the way. Be sure to search every crevice for loot so you have some cash to splurge.
The game really shines with its boss fights. Your screen will become filled with apocalyptic amounts of projectiles as your character attempts to dodge, roll, and weave himself through narrow paths of safety. Pure. Bullet. Insanity.
By Cameron Syme
Loop Hero is a roguelike that ties a lot of different gameplay elements together. It has a bit of deck building, resource management, and city planning, all wrapped into a neat little experience.
Your character will make repetitive trips around a procedurally-generated loop. At first, a few monsters spawn which you’re character will automatically fight. Upon killing a monster, they have a chance to drop items that improve your character or deck cards. Deck cards can be placed on a loop – some spawn new monsters and others can add buffs. For each card placed the meter will slowly fill. Once it’s filled, the boss will spawn.
Thus you must strike a delicate balance of card placement so your character is always fighting at his maximum capability, allowing you to earn the best loot before taking on the level boss. the game offers a very different experience from most roguelikes, rewarding the patient and strategic player.
Finally, a roguelike with art and gameplay fitting of the 21st century. Released in 2020 following its 2018 early access, Hades has been polished to perfection. Despite having the visuals akin to any other contemporary release, the gameplay keeps true to the spirit of modern roguelikes. If art is any indication of quality, then you’re in luck.
Whilst avoiding damage, you’re forced to use a limited arsenal of abilities to hack and slash your way through randomly generated floors. Each time you progress further, you get new abilities and weapons to help you, improving variability and replayability.
This way this game teases you is perfection, feeding you increasing levels of adrenaline with each compounding run.
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer
Shiren the Wanderer is the roguelike series that pioneered the genre in Japan. The game actually had mixed reviews upon its release — I guess Japan in 1995 just wasn’t ready for a game built around replayability. Despite having absolutely zero game mechanics fit for the 21st century, the game flaunts nothing but pure perfection in staying true to the basics.
The game truly stands against the test of time. The 1995 game was successfully ported onto the NDS in 2006 (2008 for its English release) before coming onto mobile devices in 2019.
You can even begin your journey on the PC or the Nintendo Switch. Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is their latest release with spruced up combat mechanics.
Risk of Rain 2
The original Risk of Rain was a beautifully crafted 2D platformer roguelike that followed a lone survivor battling for his life on faraway alien planets. The sequel expands on this concept and even adds an extra dimension. I mean that literally, this game is a 3D third-person shooter.
Featuring 12 locales with a myriad of monsters and vicious bosses, this game will have you expelling blood-curdling screeches of fear and excitement as they wallop your puny human butt. Take this endeavour as a lone wolf, or invite up to three of your friends to join the ride.
At this stage, the game offers up to ten playable characters, nine of which you need to unlock. Each character has its own abilities, adding a bit of diversity to your playthroughs. A central focus of the gameplay is the accrual of items through runs that modify and level up your abilities. The item drops are random, so you never know what you’ll get on each run. There are also over 100 different drops so you’ll be discovering new combos for months.
I cannot recommend this game enough. Its chaotic action will have sitting on the edge of your seat whilst you prey for a 57-leaf clover to drop.
Slay the Spire
Throwing combat mechanics out the window, Slay the Spire is a deck-building roguelike relying solely on strategy and premonition. Despite having simplistic art and a very basic UI, this 2017 game has gained massive audience recognition with an overwhelmingly positive rating on Steam from over 75,00 reviews.
The variability in this game is quite limited in terms of the enemies and items. However, Slay the Spire features four classes with a massive arsenal of cards, each playthrough forcing the player to craft a better, well-synergised deck. Regarded as the best deck-builder roguelike, you would be missing out if you haven’t played it already.
Splelunky was the roguelike that brought pain to the genre. This 2008 game was originally released as a freeware for the PC, with several ports following its success. Paying homage to 1983’s Spelunker, this game kept the original motif of ‘literally anything can kill you’ and added an extra degree of precision in its keyboard controls.
Don’t let it’s cutesy visuals fool you: every step you take is a gamble between progress and death. It’s like someone took all the fun out of Mario and just spiked the difficulty scale. Yet, perhaps this is why each playthrough just feels so rewarding – even the tiniest victories grant a sense of satisfaction.
Best of all, there’s a sequel to all this. Spelunky 2 is also one of the best roguelike games out there – jot that one down as an honourable mention.
The Binding of Isaac
Ah, The Binding of Isaac. The dark horse of roguelikes, an indie game that has only increased in popularity since its 2011 release (despite some off-putting visuals). The game fuses the genre with shooters, creating an action-adventure that will make you sick in more ways than one — an acquired taste that has created a cult following.
The game has excellent storytelling, with biblical references providing a nice hint of lore in addition to some compelling gameplay. Although decision-making is important in roguelikes, The Binding of Isaac will also test your reaction speeds with some bullet hell-style bosses.
There’s no trailer, but if the most popular Youtuber played it, then you probably should as well.