You’ve Played This Before
Rogue spawned from the earliest days of the earliest computer processors when folks first decided it might be fun to simulate dungeon crawls using these new fangled machines. As a game, it’s been around the block a few times. Even if you’ve never played one of the many incarnations or rewrites of the basic Rogue game, you’ve almost certainly played a game that borrowed basic elements from Rogue’s design.
Rogue gets the rewrite treatment so often for a simple reason: good design. The mechanics seem simple but the complexity begins to reveal itself the more you play – and the more you die. Rogue presents tough choices – the cornerstone of meaningful gameplay that keeps players coming back to die again and again.
100 Versions of Rogue on the iPhone
Almost as soon as the App Store debuted on the iOS platform, adapted versions of Rogue began to appear, many of them for the low, low price of free. Because of the plethora of choices, Dinofarm Games needed to come up with something a little bit different, especially if they wanted to charge for it.
The opening sequence of 100 Rogues tells you something about the design paradigm right away. The game offers a total of 3 character classes at time of writing: the (Fairy) Wizard and (Human) Crusader are available for the initial purchase price ($2.99 when I purchased), with a (Skellyman – it’s a skeleton) Scoundrel available as a 99 cent in app purchase. Once you choose your class you approach the “Court of the High Council”, demanding a quest to prove your heroism. With boredom in their faces, the High Scouncil instructs you to “Go kill Satan.”
Right away 100 Rogues exhibits a self awareness of what the quintessential roguelike experience is all about. You will die. A lot. And no one will particularly care. You, “hero”, are dispensable, and nobody thinks you actually have a chance to succeed. Rogue emphasizes failure intentionally, and 100 Rogues does not deviate except to provide two difficulty levels: Easy and Normal. You’ll die constantly in both of them. If you have played pretty much any roguelike before, you understand this – but it bears repeating in case you’ve just relocated from under that rock or you are simply too young to know any better.
To be clear, “Go kill Satan” pretty much summarizes the plot here. If you are looking for a complex study of Jungian Archetypes, you have purchased the wrong game. I give 100 Rogues a passing grade on story simply because it actually bothers to provide some humorous context to the proceedings.
A Long Way From @
100 Rogues looks fantastic. Crisp, playful graphics make it easy to see what’s going on. We’ve certainly come a long way from the days of monsters being represented with letters and the hero being represented by an @ symbol. The Crusader’s game flows behind him when he walks. The monsters look fun and are easily distinguished. 100 Rogues introduces whole new monsters that mimic the behavior of some of the old staples of the game but with some playful twists. Banditos wear masks and fire guns at you, deadly winged babies attack in hordes, and bullies hurl cries of “Nerd!” and dodgeballs at you in equal measure. You can even pick up the dodgeballs and fling some disparaging remarks of your own! The graphics in 100 Rogues do a great job keeping up the playful tone, which really helps since the game provides enough challenge without trying to decipher what’s happening on the screen.
100 Rogues also features different dungeon motifs the farther you descend. This keeps the game looking fresh during longer play sessions and also provides a great reminder just how deep in the dungeon you are if you had to step away from the game for awhile. The Bandit’s Cave looks like an old west gold mine, while Hell looks like the burning terror you’d expect. It all looks great.
100 Rogues features great sound effects also. Weapons thud in satisfying fashion against your foes (when you don’t miss that is). Every attack features a different noise and you quickly begin associating the audio cues with monsters as well. The music may be pretty bland, but the sound effects really make up for it by serving the primary purpose they must in any game: help the player know what’s going on.
Crusader Needs Food Badly
Did I mention 100 Rogues will kill you? There are easily more than 100 ways to die in this game. You can starve to death. You can be beaten to death. You can be paralyzed and THEN beaten to death. You can be dodgeballed to death (truly the cruelest of fates). I can’t emphasize this enough – if you hate losing, stay far, far away from this game.
But if you like a challenge and can get into the spirit of 100 Rogues, you’ll find that losing can actually be just as fun as winning. Sometimes MORE fun.
100 Rogues features random dungeon layouts, with the exception of some planned boss encounters. This means random treasure. Sometimes victory or death can depend on exploiting what you find to the fullest possible potential. Food in particular quickly becomes a valuable commodity – every step you take moves you closer to starvation. Wandering aimlessly looking for things to kill so you level up to the max will get you dead in 100 Rogues. You need to balance being strong enough to kill the creatures on that next floor with an ever increasing victual deficiency.
The random nature of the game can also put you in some very tight spots. It can be a brutal feeling to emerge from the staircase onto a new floor when the door shuts behind you and you find yourself surrounded by foes. You’ve got all the time in the world to decide what you want to do in 100 Rogues – you are not on the clock and everything will stand perfectly still until you decide where to move or attack. What you do with your very next turn may either begin to heroically extricate you from a horrific situation, or simply put you on the first step toward the corpse pile.
Special mention needs to be made about the boss fights, one of the more unique features of 100 Rogues compared to other roguelikes. The boss fights provide a fun puzzle to be solved the first couple of times you encounter them with a specific class. However, once you figure out the correct strategy with a given class, the boss fights seem to outlive their purpose as they just become a time consuming obstacle to overcome on your way to the next randomized dungeon. It feels wrong to criticize these unique fights, but I’m just not sure they add that much to the game when the best parts of 100 Rogues remain the unscripted portions. If Dinofarm continues to add new classes, perhaps the boss fights could provide some additional value, but you’ll almost certainly pay for that value.
A note on classes as well – all require completely different strategies to succeed. On top of that, each class has a skill tree. Depending on how you progress through the tree, your strategy with that specific class will alter as well. This provides some pretty outstanding replay value during the normal randomized dungeon levels. For example, depending on whether you find a heavy weapon early in the game, you may not want to ever build out the Crusader’s ability to wield axes and focus instead on his projectile shooting spell. The choice changes the way you crawl the dungeons dramatically, and the skill points are so precious that you’ll find it’s usually best to wait a bit before you assign any points. But then, if you wait to long, you might die in an encounter where the point might have saved you… and again, you’ve got interesting choices to make.
Lastly, 100 Rogues controls like a dream on the iPhone, particularly compared to its competitors. I’ve played a couple of other roguelikes on the iPhone and after playing 100 Rogues it is very tough to go back to the others. Easy to navigate menus and well calibrated touch sensitivity set this one apart. Very rarely do you find yourself in a situation where your character goes the wrong way or attacks the wrong thing. This is absolutely essential in a game as tough as 100 Rogues where one wrong step can end your dungeon run prematurely.
Somebody Get an Exterminator
Clearly, I love this game. But sadly, technical problems keep this game from getting an Editor’s Choice award. I’ve experienced crashes in 100 Rogues. Sometimes I’ve lost progress after a crash, particularly frustrating if I near miraculously got myself out of a tough spot. On other occasions I’ve seen things where skill points have gone missing or I’ve been unable to equip certain weapons. When I first tried to buy the Scoundrel class, it wouldn’t work.
Dinofarm recognizes the game has bugs and every patch really does clean a number of things up. I see fewer problems with each release, and with the latest 2.5 patch a lot of the bugs I described that have to do with weirdness in gameplay (equipment problems, etc.) have been fixed. But I still do get the occasional progress losing crash, which are the worst kind of bug in a game like this or probably any game for that matter. Just as I have warned you repeatedly that you will die in 100 Rogues, you unfortunately will also probably experience a crash at some point. Hopefully it won’t be as often as you die.
Go Kill Satan
Even with the bugs, 100 Rogues is one of my favorite games on the iPhone right now. If you enjoy roguelikes, you should have this game already. If not, I still recommend it, especially at the price point of three dollars. 100 Rogues provides a perfect gameplay experience for when you’ve got a few minutes of downtime since you can always pick up right where you left off an hour later or several days later. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself caught up in it, just trying to get one level closer to that dastardly Satan – or more likely, one level closer to another ignominious demise.
Go kill Satan. Go buy 100 Rogues.
Note: Version 2.5 of this game was reviewed on an iPhone 4 running iOS 4.2.1.