Roguelikes are enjoying a surge in popularity, and it isn’t hard to see why.
Instead of leaning heavily on over-the-top visuals, dazzling cutscenes, elaborate plotlines, and complicated mechanics, roguelikes keep it simple and rely solely on the gameplay.
You might get a brief tutorial before they launch you into the central gameplay loop, but usually you kick things off and the game unapologetically whips you into shape through trial and error. It’s this trial by fire approach that makes victory so incredibly rewarding.
What is a roguelike?
So what makes a game a “roguelike” or “roguelite?” How do we know that what we’re playing fits the bill? Let’s lay down some quick definitions so we know what we’re dealing with here.
A roguelike is a game that combines permadeath mechanics with procedurally generated environments. The result is an experience that requires run after run of chasing perfection in pursuit of success.
It’s called “roguelike” because it’s literally like a game called Rogue, which came out in 1980 and set the standard for a new subgenre which would emerge many years later.
A roguelite, on the other hand, is a game that weaves elements of roguelikes in with other genres and subgenres for an experience that is similar to a roguelike but categorically different.
For our list, we will include roguelikes and roguelites.
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Underrated Metroidvanias on PS4 and Underrated Soulslike Games
What makes a game “underrated” is subjective.
Your garden variety Call of Duty player may have never heard of Dead Cells. Your Minecraft player probably never heard of The Binding of Isaac and would probably be frightened by the grotesque art direction.
That doesn’t make titles like these any less prominent in the gaming world or in regard to roguelike history. For our list, we’re going to leave out some of the undisputed greats, including:
- Dead Cells
- The Binding of Isaac
Don’t get me wrong.
I’d love to yammer on about any of the above, but it’s been done time and time again. If you’re a fan of the genre and haven’t played any of these titles, do yourself a favor– stop reading and grab one now.
Stop reading and play one of those titles now if you’ve never heard of them.
Once you’ve gotten that out of the way, we can move onto our list of the top 10 underrated roguelikes on PS4. Ranging from the totally obscure to the “well-reviewed but not widely celebrated,” here are our picks.
10. Wizard of Legend
Wizard of Legend is a top-down 2D indie roguelike that hit the scene in 2018 following a successful 2016 Kickstarter campaign which earned more than $70,000 against a $50,000 goal.
The game, in true roguelike fashion, starts you out in an unassuming museum when your main character, the only cloak-wearing character in the room, decides to inspect a mysterious item that transports him into a magical realm.
You are then tasked with the goal of completing the “Chaos Trials” to prove that you are, in fact, the “Wizard of Legend.” You know, as the title suggests.
Wizard of Legend is both a literal and figurative blast. Traipsing your way through each procedurally generated dungeon finds you battling back hordes of baddies at every turn, giving you ample opportunity to test out the generous quantity of spells the game offers.
There are over 100 spells to keep things fresh, ranging from fireballs to rock chunks, bolts of lightning to ice spells that summon a frozen shark to chomp down your foes; there’s always something new to discover.
Your loadout requires you select a spell for each of four unique slots– Basic, Dash, Standard, and Signature. What you put where will ultimately determine the success of each run. Shops are scattered throughout the dungeon offering you new spells, passive abilities, and healing potions, but your loadout is the ultimate “make or break” factor in each playthrough.
With so many spells to choose from and a staggering number of permutations, you’ll enjoy experimenting with different combinations for a long time in Wizard of Legend.
Flinthook is a platforming roguelike that takes the core mechanic of the grappling hook and features it front and center as often as possible through the game’s loop.
You play as a masked space pirate named Captain Flinthook as he journeys to stop a rival treasure hunter from unleashing an ancient evil on the universe.
It’s all pretty par for the course but, as with many roguelikes, you’re not going to spend much time pondering the finer points of the plot. Instead, you’ll be too busy zipping back and forth using the central gameplay mechanic– the grappling hook.
Flinthook sets you up to search many procedurally generated ships in space in pursuit of the boss. Along the way, you’ll find yourself tasked with completing a variety of platforming challenges or defeating all the enemies in a room before proceeding.
Beyond his trusty hook, Captain Flinthook has a plasma gun that shoots projectiles at enemies and the ability to slow down time for a brief period.
By keeping his abilities simple and straightforward, the player is tasked with really taking their time mastering the grappling hook and prioritizing positioning above all else in pursuit of the goal.
With enough content to keep you coming back for “just one more run” over and over again and a pixel art style that perfectly encapsulates that trademark retro feel, Flinthook is a fun title that more than deserves a spot on our list.
8. Nuclear Throne
Nuclear Throne fuses elements from top-down roguelike titles, run-and-gun arcade games like the classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and bullet hell entries.
The result is a colorfully chaotic experience where you’ll need well-honed instincts, unreal reaction speed, and a tactical mind, as running in guns blazing will surely guarantee your death even if you’re armed to the teeth.
You’ll start out each run by selecting one of twelve different characters, each with an inherent perk to provide variation during each playthrough. After each stage, you’ll be offered one of four different perks, called mutations in Nuclear Throne, that augment your abilities as the game’s difficulty scales.
If you’re playing your cards right, you’ll progressively become more powerful as the game ramps up in difficulty. However, Nuclear Throne is no cake walk and, even with great guns and useful abilities stacked, you’ll need to show some skills to make it to the end and overcome the last boss.
With loads of variety to keep things fresh run after run, Nuclear Throne presents as one of the best indie roguelike experiences out there, making it well worth the play.
7. Risk of Rain 2
Risk of Rain made waves in the gaming community when it released in 2013. Many Risk of Rain fans consider it the superior of the two titles, but we give our mention to the 2019 sequel Risk of Rain 2 which transitioned the series from a 2D sidescroller into 3D third-person shooter.
It was a risky maneuver, but it more than paid off!
Each run through Risk of Rain 2 places the player on an alien planet with the sole mission to survive long enough to teleport to the next stage. Reading through the logbook reveals a much deeper lore, but the game far from hits you over the head with it.
Instead, it keeps your focus on the frantic run-and-gun type action and loot-based system which tasks you with acquiring currency and making use of power-ups. Power-ups could be as straightforward as increasing your chances for a critical hit or as specialized as causing enemies to explode upon death, dealing AoE to other nearby enemies upon death.
To truly progress, you’ll need as many power-ups as you can muster, as the game employs a time-based mechanic that makes its monsters more powerful with every passing second. This places the player in a precarious position weighing the pros of fully exploring an area in pursuit of more power-ups against the risks that, by doing so, the enemies will become too powerful for you to proceed.
Between the action-packed gameplay, complexity of the loadouts, and the invisible clock that raises the stakes with every passing second, Risk of Rain 2 is an incredible gaming experience that will keep you immersed for hours at a time.
6. Crypt of the Necrodancer
In a sea of cookie cutter games that lean on the same cliche control schemes and gameplay mechanics, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a complete breath of fresh-air. You play the role of Cadence, who inadvertently falls into the titular Necrodancer’s crypt and is forced to defeat him and his minions in the most aggressive dance battle ever.
What’s unique about Crypt of the Necrodancer is the way it fuses music and rhythm into the core gameplay. The player may move Cadence in four directions, attack, parry, use items, and more, but every action must be performed to the beat of music, a masterfully crafted original soundtrack by composer Danny Baranowsky.
Because of this innovative rhythm-based component, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a roguelike unlike any other. Unfortunately, it also means that you will die, die, and die some more while learning how to dance your way through each dungeon and overcome the enemy hordes without getting overwhelmed.
It has a steep learning curve and it’s infamously challenging, but Crypt of the Necrodancer is loads of fun for anyone willing to stick it out during the awkward learning phase.
5. Darkest Dungeon
Darkest Dungeon takes elements from roguelike titles, including that trademark permadeath mechanic, and combines it with turn-based combat for an RPG roguelite like no other. Layer on the grim, grotesque, yet beautifully detailed art and animation, and you have a winning title.
After inheriting a sprawling estate from an ancestor, you’re tasked with recruiting and managing a dream team of heroes to dispose of the monsters occupying the property and in the adjacent Darkest Dungeon itself.
The premise is pretty par for the course for games like these, but Darkest Dungeon incorporates a variety of elements to make for a tense and unpredictable experience that conveys the gravitas of the world it is set in.
For one, it is incredibly challenging. There are fifteen different character classes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and failing to balance the team will surely result in death in any of the game’s many dungeons. Combined with the fact that each dungeon is crawling with different enemy types that will throw you for a loop during each outing, you’ll never know what to expect during a run.
Darkest Dungeon also taxes the player with keeping track of their characters’ Affliction levels, which indicates the level of stress. Forcing your heroes to endure conditions like questing without a torch, adventuring on an empty stomach, or witnessing the gruesome death of a beloved party member will all contribute to their stress levels.
Failing to manage the stress levels of your characters could have dire consequences, affecting their performance in battles or causing them a literal heart attack which could lead to their deaths. In true roguelike fashion, deaths in Darkest Dungeon are permanent, and so leveling a particularly powerful hero only to see them perish from unchecked stress is devastating.
Even with the game stacking the cards against you at every turn, there’s something very addictive about Darkest Dungeon. Taking the time before the run to assemble what you believe to be a winning team is an inherently satisfying process. Finding out mid-run that you overlooked key components of a build anyway and watching the monsters punish you for it, however, is never completely out of the cards either.
The uncertainty present in any Darkest Dungeon run is unsettling, but it’s also exhilarating.
4. Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire combines elements of deck-building with roguelike mechanics. Your goal is to fight your way to the top of the spire without dying by building your deck into a well-balanced, hard-hitting arsenal that provides all the ingredients for your victory recipe.
To really make sure you’re crafting the winning combo, there’s a lot of factors to weigh. First, the game gives you your pick of protagonists, each with their own unique playing styles that will determine which cards work best.
Despite each character favoring one style of play over another, Slay the Spire demands a level of adaptability from the player, as you never know what cards will turn up from your defeated enemies and it’s the deck that will ultimately determine your success or failure.
Since a successful run will only take about an hour, it’s incredibly easy to play for hours at a time simply seeing what the game might throw at you next. One successful run will never look identical to another, making Slay the Spire an absolute joy to play through over and over again.
3. Enter the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon emanates charm with its quirky, lighthearted presentation and expert fusion of roguelike and bullet hell subgenres. Similarly to The Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne, it’s your mission to navigate procedurally generated environments teeming with an eclectic array of baddies while dodging the permadeath mechanic that puts you right back at the start of the gameplay loop.
What is your mission in Enter the Gungeon? Apparently, it’s to find a gun that will “kill the past.”
As with most roguelikes, it’s not always plot heavy and it definitely doesn’t matter because you’ll be too busy zipping through each dungeon looking for zany loot like the laser rifle that turns into a lightsaber when you reload or the Mega Man X style buster cannon that blasts enemies with chunks of energy.
It’s never a dull moment in the Gungeon. When multiple enemies come on screen or you’re in the midst of an epic boss battle, the screen is so littered with glowing bullets that you’ll need to show some serious maneuvering skills to survive unscathed.
Enter the Gungeon gives you a most impervious dodge roll for when things get a bit too prickly, but you’ll need great thumbstick skills, an eye for bullet patterns, patience, and precision to survive the onslaught that is the Gungeon.
Overall, Enter the Gungeon is a colorfully engaging indie bullet hell roguelike that ranks among the best and most underrated roguelikes on PS4.
Moonlighter is an interesting gaming experience, to say the least, as it presents like a Link to the Past style dungeon crawler with roguelite elements and one major distinguishing factor. Not only are you an avid adventurer exploring your way through the mysterious dungeons on the edge of town, you’re also an enterprising shopkeep who must price, present, and peddle various wares by day to finance the journey.
Heroes have bills too, you know.
On paper, it may seem like a hindrance to break from questing to run your store, but it’s actually a refreshing twist on the genre. Finding out how much the customers might be willing to pay for the various trinkets you find during your run is a rewarding exercise, and provides incentive during each journey to prioritize taking only high value items to stash in your relatively small backpack.
Having a steady influx of gold guarantees you’re able to upgrade weapons, armor, and other essentials like the size of your shop, number of storage chests to stockpile your store’s inventory, and more. Moonlighter is one of those games where, even when you’re not progressing the plot, there is always something to do.
It’s not just these mechanics that make Moonlighter such a great play. The combat is tight and the art direction is wonderfully charming as well. Overall, Moonlighter offers a great play that, between delving into the dungeons and minding your store, will keep you busy for hours.
1. Rogue Legacy
One of the defining characteristics of a roguelike is the permadeath mechanic that forces the player to start from scratch after each failed run. The makers of Rogue Legacy put a spin on this by providing you your choice of three descendants of your recently deceased character.
Picking your heir is where the game gets interesting. Each descendant boasts its own class that adds a new ability to your character for that run. For example, the Spellsword class casts bigger, badder spells and can regenerate MP by successfully landing melee strikes on enemies while the Barbarian has the ability to shout, causing knockback to enemies and projectiles.
The heir may be afflicted with a buff or debuff as well, depending on RNG. For example, an heir with ADHD will move 30% faster than regular characters while an heir with glaucoma will perceive every room as dark. This forces the player to weigh each loadout, as you may get the class you’ve been hoping to use but have to manage an undesirable trait to work with as well.
Unlike most roguelikes, Rogue Legacy gives you some edge after each failed run by allowing you to keep all the gold you collected leading up to your demise. From the game’s hub, you can spend the gold on better gear, stat upgrades, or new character classes to give you an advantage.
Thanks to this mechanic, you’re not truly starting from scratch each time and you should eventually succeed, even if you aren’t particularly talented. Once you do complete the game though, it will tell you how many descendants you burned through along the way, giving you a metric to try to best on your next go.
Overall, Rogue Legacy is colorful, inventive, and entertaining, offering hours of fun and seemingly endless variety. It never lit the world on fire like Hades, but it’s an excellent game and well worth the play.