They’ve graced the gaming community since the text-based era, now enjoy the 10 best roguelike games ready to charm you with 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 10 games with 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.
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 a the 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.
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 10 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.
Finally, a roguelike with art and gameplay fitting of the 21st century. Released in 2020 following its 2018 early-access, this game 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 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.
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 a 10/10 rating on Steam and over 60,00 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 horses of roguelikes, this is the indie game that has only gained 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.