Roguelikes may be an obscure genre of notoriously difficult indie computer games with a strong retro association. But that doesn’t have to prevent casual gamers from enjoying this unique genre.
The genre’s defining characteristic of permanent character death actually makes the games more friendly to casual gamers by providing plentiful stopping points. Starting over again after permadeath is not tedious, thanks to randomized gameplay that offers a new experience with each new game. Apart from dying and being forced to start over, playing in short, deliberate sessions is good strategy, because mortal mistakes are less likely to occur when you only play for a few minutes before saving.
Still, not all games of this type are completely casual-friendly. Some have complicated character creation processes, complete with long menus of skills and talents to read through and select from. Others have complicated controls that may not be intuitive or involve stories that invite heavy immersion. Here are five roguelikes that are fun and rewarding for people who play games during short sessions between other activities or while multitasking.
FTL: Faster Than Light
Offering the chance to relive adventures from space opera television, the commercial indie game FTL incorporates simple gameplay mechanics and a natural, mouse-driven interface. The game’s story is generalized enough that players can almost project their own favorite space opera franchise onto it — there’s a good Federation like in Star Trek, a network of navigation points for traveling through the galaxy like in Babylon 5, and non-humanoid alien races that evoke old pulp sci-fi.
FTL simplifies gameplay by making it more linear. The game’s map is divided into sectors, each composed of interconnected jump beacons. You start out at the far left of the sector map and advance to the special long-range beacon near the far right to get to the next sector. The sectors are analogous to dungeon levels in the old traditional roguelikes, but unlike in those games, in FTL you can’t return to a level after leaving it. Within a sector, you’re free to hop around the beacons as much as your limited fuel permits. However, there is a time limit to each sector, as the enemy fleet advances across the sector behind you. The randomized encounters at the beacons have an element of real-time strategy, but the pace remains gentle, and tactical decisions can be made while the encounter is paused.
A hybrid platformer-roguelike, Red Rogue puts a pixely Gothic dungeon crawl into your browser. The game has both turn-based and real-time settings. Gameplay is primarily controlled with the arrow keys like a platformer. Other features — including the inventory — are accessible by a somewhat unwieldy menu, while a few special abilities are assigned to other keys. The theme is dark, with surprisingly graphic blood effects rendered in the pixel aesthetic. The game is also humorous. You can dress up your rogue with top hats and fedoras found in the dungeon.
Also a hybrid, Kerkerkruip incarnates the genre’s style of gameplay into the geography-based structure of the text adventure. The game’s prose-based interface only presents one location at a time, and you can only be confronted by enemies in the current location.
There aren’t many of those locations. Originally created for a competition requiring entered games to be playable within two hours, Kerkerkruip is short and tightly packed. As a text adventure, the game is controlled by typed commands. The primary combat mechanics use about four commands. Kerkerkruip depends on strategy more than on tactics; you have to plan your method of confronting the various opponents. The game’s style evokes pulp sword-and-sorcery.
Kerkerkruip‘s greatest feature may be the way that it naturally introduces its more complex features without any player input. There are special abilities, but they are acquired only when defeating opponents, at which time a side panel on the screen informs you about the ability. The game even scales its difficulty level automatically, increasing the difficulty after the first time the final opponent is defeated.
Gaming doesn’t get much more casual than playing a couple turns on your phone when you have a spare half minute. Available for Android and even for most non-smart phones, Dweller‘s turn-based gameplay is actually fairly complex. The only decision made at character creation is the choice of a class, which determines the style of gameplay. The mascots representing the warrior, ranger, and wizard classes are the most iconic of the tile graphics.
Brogue is traditional, its graphics rendered with the ASCII keyboard characters. Far from being a retro throwback, the ASCII graphics are used convincingly in conjunction with the mouse to provide an intuitive interface. Moving the cursor over a creature or object on the map automatically calls up information about that creature or object. The informational texts and the response messages are well written, providing a strong narrative experience without a complicated story that would require more concentration from the player. The game is hard, but it can be played casually.