PT Guides: Like... Roguelikes? You'll Love These!

By Nick Vigdahl 17 Jan 2017 21

We review a lot of roguelikes on Pocket Tactics, and we like them—Hoplite, Auro, Space Grunts, and Imbroglio have all gotten 5 star reviews—for good reason. There's a lot of challenging tactical gameplay to be found in the genre. Naturally we haven't reviewed all of the good roguelikes out there, and what follows is a look at five great options for gamers looking for more options. We'll start out with some more standard fare and then trend toward titles that have worked in a twist or two to keep things interesting.

Cardinal Quest 2 (2014) [ Available on: iOS | Android ]

Cardinal Quest 2 is a couple years old but no less entertaining for its age. It captures the quintessential roguelike experience—turn-based combat, procedurally generated levels, and permanent death. There are seven classes in the game, each with its own talent tree and optimal gear. As you level up the playstyle differences between the classes widens considerably leading to strong replay value.

Cardinal Quest 2 plays fast, every step is a turn and in each turn your foes close in on all sides. In this way it feels a lot like an action game, but it's not. You will need to be smart about each turn, especially in the thick of combat. It's a fun game and easy to recommend given it is free to play. There are IAPs to buy more morale. Morale can bring you back to life, extend the game, unlock additional classes, and other goodies. You earn morale through normal gameplay so these things are possible without spending anything as well.

Pixel Dungeon (2015) [ Available on: iOS | Android ]

Pixel Dungeon is one of the most popular recent roguelikes with more than 2 million mobile downloads. It certainly satisfies the basics of what fans of the genre look for in a game. You explore the extensive and increasingly dangerous Pixel Dungeon. You collect weapons, armor, and other useful loot. You fight vermin and monsters to the death. All this in a quest to find and recover the Amulet of Yendor, the most powerful magical artifact in the world.

Pixel Dungeon

Gameplay is fast and simple: tap to move or attack. Click your backpack to access your inventory of items, scrolls, and potions. Survival, on the other hand, is not quite as simple. You will die a lot. Which is true in any properly challenging roguelike, but Pixel Dungeon seems to take it a step further. The game is difficult and requires you to ascend it's learning curve to be successful. A key factor is figuring out which weapons, armor, and magic items to use and when.

Pixel Dungeon is surprisingly deep and tactically challenging. You die early and often, but once you get the hang of it you'll play again and again and descend deeper and deeper in search of the amulet. One does not simply leave the Pixel Dungeon, after all. 

Crowntakers (2015) [ Available on: iOS | Android ]

Crowntakers is a roguelike RPG where you, an underachieving princeling, must rescue your father—who was betrayed and deposed by the dastardly Duke Tomas of Esire—and restore him to his throne. To do this you will need to travel across the land, hire mercenaries, fight bandits and unfriendly lords—all the while growing in power and ability. When you are ready, you might be able to save the day and your father from his dungeon…or not. There's a lot of "not" in this game, all kinds of not. This is a roguelike after all and failure is expected. 

But in failure comes the fun, and one of the real joys of this game is the heavily tactical battles. Combat is turn-based and takes place on a hex grid. It is much closer to what you'd find in a tactical RPG than most roguelikes. You'll make use of action points, opportunity attacks, backstabbing, and potions. Battles are short but intense, and it is rare that you won't be, at a minimum, a little concerned you won't make it out alive. There's also been more than a couple times that I thought I had a fight won, only to snatch defeat from the claws of victory. To Crowntaker's credit, however, I have always wanted to go back for another run.

There’s also a heavy RPG influence in Crowntakers. You'll level up your hero prince and his mercenary retainers and apply bonuses to strength for damage, health for durability, chance to score the all-important critical hit, and so on. You'll upgrade and enhance weapons, armor, and magic items. You'll see your hero and his hirelings go from newbies to solid fighters. Do try not to get attached…

Recently Crowntakers was updated to be universal in the App Store. Where once the game was only available on an iPad, now you can play on your iPhone as well. It's also available on Android. If you like roguelikes that twist toward the RPG genre, this one is definitely for you.

Dungeon of the Endless (2015) [ Available on: iOS ]

Dungeon of the Endless is a roguelike/RPG/tower defense mix that despite the "dungeon" in the title has a science fiction setting. You control a team that crash lands on an alien planet and right into a mysterious complex of underground rooms. You must explore room by room, level by level, through this dungeon-like complex and find your way to safety. Luckily, you have a crystal, a super-powered energy source that allows you to make some modifications to rooms as you go. The game operates on three main types of energy: food, science, and industry. Food lets you heal and level up your team—each member has its own RPG-like tech tree. Science fuels your technological advancement. Industry allows you to build new tech in rooms as you go, such as generators to create more food, science, and industry.

Dungeon of the Endless is a turn-based game where entering a new room starts a new turn. You get additional industry, food, and science as you open the door—that and attacked by whatever aliens lurk on the other side, and there are plenty of aliens. Not only will they attack your team, but they will go after your crystal, both are bad. As with any roguelike death is permanent in this dungeon and if your team dies or crystal is destroyed, that's it, you must start over.

Dungeon of the Endless

The tower-defense aspect of the game comes into play when defending your crystal. You can spend industry to erect gun turrets and other defenses to protect the crystal. These become essential once you've found the exit to a new level and have retrieved your crystal. At that point the attackers come in waves and you need your defenses, and a good plan, to successfully survive the alien onslaught.

Dungeon of the Endless is a fun mix of genres and is humorous to boot. I like the challenge of the roguelike level-by-level progression with a tower-defense flourish at the end of each level. Gamers who aren't fans of tower defense or just prefer a more traditional roguelike experience may not want to play this one. If you like both genres, however, you will have fun in this dungeon. 

Swap Sword (2016) [ Available on: iOS ]

Swap Sword is a roguelike set on a match-three battlefield. You control a samurai well-schooled in the use of her blade, which is good because she's not alone on the gameboard. A horde of blade-wielding monsters is coming for her, and they're just the start.

The normal match-three rules don't apply to the samurai and her foes. She can move in any direction, swapping with whatever tile is in her path. Unfortunately, her foes have similar exemptions, and come toward her turn by turn. Luckily, she can cut them down and remove them from the board, or even better, they can be lined up for a match and removed from play. If they get close, however, they can cut the samurai. The first hit takes her shield and further strikes take her health, represented by hearts. If your samurai loses all her hearts the game is over.

Swap Sword

Swap Sword is a high-score chaser. Your goal is to match a certain number of keys per level at which point a doorway arrives on the game board. Once you get the samurai to the door and pass through it you're on to the next level. Time is tight, however. If you linger the deadliest of foes arrive and it's best not to cross swords with them.

A key to Swap Sword is to use your surroundings to your advantage and make smart matches. Matching three or more shields, for example, can replenish your samurai's shield if she's been hit. Wall shapes block monster's access to your samurai, so they are often best left alone. Crystal matches add mana, which can be used to cast spells. Each time you advance to the next level you get to pick a spell which do things like destroy nearby shapes, add hearts, or provide your samurai extra moves.

Games of Swap Sword are quick, a perfect fit for short bursts of play, and a great deal of fun. If you like match-three games, this combination with a roguelike is a must-play.

A new year means new roguelikes to review and report back to you on. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these great candidates. Got any roguelike recommendations I missed? Leave them in the comments.

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