If you don’t have hours and hours to sink into a game, Roguelikes are an appealing alternative that offer shorter playing sessions while still keeping a satisfying level of progression.
Named after the 1980 dungeon crawler Rogue, roguelikes typically include a couple of core gameplay mechanics that make them stick out. Levels are often procedurally generated, offering a different experience every game, enemies are tough and death will often be permanent. All these mechanics combined make for a pretty intense gaming experience, and games like these often take hours to really master.
Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the best roguelike games that are currently available. Not all of these games fall into the textbook definition of a roguelike, but they share enough common traits with the genre that they could be considered "roguelites" instead.
Release Date: December 21, 2008
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Chrome OS
When people think of roguelikes, Spelunky is often one of the first games that comes to mind. As the name might suggest, you’ll be making your way through procedurally generated caves, dodging enemies, and picking up loot. This makes each run-through unique, especially when you factor in the many different items on offer.
There are multiple enemy types to deal with which can be found in a variety of different levels including The Mines, The Jungle, The Ice Caves, The Temple, and a secret bonus area. There are also 20 different explorers that you can choose to begin your adventure with, which brings a lot of variety to the game.
Spelunky was originally released as freeware back in 2008 but eventually got the HD remake treatment back in 2012. The character design, soundtrack, and aesthetics of this game quickly made it a fan favorite and the community quickly got to work creating countless mods for the freeware version.
Slay the Spire
Release Date: January 23, 2019
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android
The newest title on our list today is Slay the Spire. This title has a fresh new take on the card games genre and introduced an interesting mix of roguelike elements that make each run as rewarding as the last.
Each game takes the form of a run to ‘Slay the Spire’. You’ll choose one of four characters and make your way through random encounters where you’ll face off against different types of enemies, elites, and a boss at the end of each floor.
All of the action takes place through turn-based card gameplay. You’ll start off with a deck of mainly basic ‘strike’ and ‘defend’ cards that you can use in combat as well as a special starting relic. Defeating an enemy encounter will allow you to improve your deck by adding a new card, or a relic if you defeat a stronger enemy.
As with a lot of card games, this is quite an addictive experience. You won’t slay the spire on your first attempt either, or your second...
The more runs you lose, the more you will learn and you’ll feel yourself progressing at an impressive rate in no time - one of the great joys of a roguelike.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
Release Date: November 4, 2014
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS, Xbox One, iOS, Nintendo Switch
The Binding of Isaac is a title that has a bit of a cult following in the gaming world. Originally starting off as a flash game, this title was later remastered and released on PC with a wealth of added content.
In The Binding of Isaac, you’ll make your way through procedurally generated levels with a boss to defeat at the end - standard roguelike stuff really. What makes this game stand out is the massive number of items that you can find, some good and some bad, that will affect your run in massive ways.
There are over 540 items to pick up and it’s going to take a long time until you remember which are good and which are bad. A huge selling point of this game is that the items that you pick up can easily make your character overpowered, or even cause you to accidentally kill yourself in the next room. With each death meaning the end of the run, you’ll have to start from scratch in your next attempt, picking up completely different items.
The gameplay in The Binding of Isaac is challenging and rewarding. You’ll have to learn enemy attack patterns, practice dodging, and weigh up whether you want to trade some of your hard-earned HP for a stronger item.
Enter the Gungeon
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
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If guns are more your thing, Enter the Gungeon is an exciting top-down roguelike where your enemies are bullets and you have over 220 guns to take them out with. This mix of dungeon crawling and gunplay leads to an interesting spin on the classic hack and slash dungeon genre.
The action here is so fast-paced that you won’t often be standing still. Instead, you’ll be dodging, rolling, flipping over tables, and avoiding bullet-hell boss attacks to survive. The levels, layouts, bosses, and item pickups are all randomly generated too, which makes each run feel fresh.
The mechanics are easy to pick up in Enter the Gungeon, but health pickups can be hard to come by and things can turn sour quickly. You’ll need to learn some of the patterns the bosses use and develop lightning-fast reflexes to survive.
Release Date: January 19, 2016
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
At first, Darkest Dungeon might not feel like a roguelike game as it takes place over a single, long campaign, but it does share some key elements that make it fit right in. Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based RPG with a terrifying level of difficulty. In a unique take on the genre, your party members will pick up injuries, negative traits and suffer mental breakdowns as they traverse dungeons - which is to be expected once you see the horrors inside.
You’ll have to be careful in your strategy in combat as the wrong move can quickly lead to one of your favorite characters dying, which in turn can lead to the entire party being wiped out. In Darkest Dungeon, death is permanent. The characters that you have personally named, spent hours playing with and formed bonds with can (and will) die.
This leads to some pretty intense gameplay, especially as some of the combat is luck based and will have you praying that your opponent doesn’t dodge your attack. You’ll pick up treasure on your journeys which can be used to upgrade your characters and even certain buildings in the town which adds another level of management to this game.
That brings us to the end of our list of 5 of the best roguelikes in 2020 today. If this is a genre that you think might appeal to you, it’s well worth checking out some of these titles. The best thing about roguelikes is that they are usually a fraction of the price of AAA games and can often be picked up for less than $10 on sale.
This article could easily have been called 50 of the best roguelikes in 2020 if we had the time. There are so many great games out there just waiting to be discovered. If you’re still looking for more ideas, why not check out other great games such as FTL, Dead Cells, Crypt of the NecroDancer, Dungeons of Dreadmor, and Hades.
Be sure to comment down below what roguelikes you’ve been playing lately and what it is you love about them. If you’d like to keep up to date with the latest news and see more lists like these, be sure to follow us on Twitter.