Gaming Respawn’s Top 10 Roguelites

The roguelite genre has become one of the most popular in all of gaming. Spawning out of 1980 classic Roguethe genre has come to mean different things to different people. Roguelike (with a ‘k’) games are copies of that original format — games that are procedurally generated dungeon-crawlers where every play session begins from the start with no sense of progression; your capability on each runs depends only on your own skill (and a lot of luck).

Roguelites (with a ‘t’) take some of the elements of that 1980s classic but mix in their own twists and styles. Many include unlockables as a permanent progression, even though their core format remains run-based. Many take cues from other genres, some even dropping the dungeon-crawling altogether. But these games are all tied not by their differences but by their similarities. The roguelite umbrella applies to every game in this Top 10 Roguelites list and, thanks to the sheer depth of the genre, will cater to players of all kinds of games. Below is our personal top 10, with a few extra recommendations sprinkled in throughout. Your favorite may be here — or it may not. Feel free to let us know in the comments!

 

10. Enter the Gungeon

enter the gungeon

Throughout this list, we’ll look at games that have blended elements of other genres in with the core mechanics of roguelites. In the case of Enter the Gungeon, that core mechanic is the twin-stick shooter bullet-hell style.

Unlike some of our other entries, Gungeon is fast. At times blindingly so, with screens filled with enemies, hazards, and weapons. Oh, the weapons! If the name wasn’t clue enough, the game is filled with guns of all types and varieties, from the simple semi-automatic Rusty Sidearm up to the Elephant Gun, which quite literally shoots elephants. There are over 300 guns buried within Enter the Gungeon, and much of the game’s appeal is finding and trying them all to experience the dizzying variety of unexpected effects.

The game’s roguelite elements come from its procedurally generated room layouts, enemies, and treasures. You tackle these obstacles using quick reflexes — dashing behind cover, overturning tables, and using dodge rolls to avoid gunfire that often leaves only the smallest opening for survival. Persistent unlocks in the form of guns and characters are earned from boss fights and carry over to subsequent runs.

Enter the Gungeon is comfortably the most reflex-based game on this list, and it follows in the vein of other roguelite classics, including Nuclear Throne and the seminal The Binding of Isaac, which remains one of the best dungeon-crawling roguelites today (and missed out on this list by a hairbreadth).

 

9. Galak-Z

galak-z

If there is a game that gives Enter the Gungeon a run for its money in the speed department, it’s Galak-Z. However, where Galak-Z differs is in that it recalls the style, physics, and movement of the 16-bit space shooter genre of old.

In Galak-Z you control a spaceship that transforms into a Japanese mecha — whizzing through space, weaving through space stations, and blowing up anything in your path. The gameplay and challenge are reminiscent of Gradius or Asteroids, but the gorgeous anime art style and roguelite trappings give Galak-Z its modern feel.

Each zone is procedurally generated (you’ll see that a lot on this list), with area items, enemies and asteroid arrangements changing between each run. Serial-style “Seasons” act as checkpoints, but if you are blown up before reaching one, you’ll begin the season again from the start, losing all your acquired wealth and power-ups. However, “Chase Coins” acquired throughout can be spent upon death, re-tooling your ship with weapons and abilities to help you proceed further next time. Unlike many roguelites, Galak-Z is also held together by a fairly engaging storyline and a cast of characters that interact during and between missions, giving you a reason to push forward beyond the thrilling gameplay and unlocks system.

 

8. Invisible Inc.

invisible inc

In a complete contrast to the previous two entries, Invisible Inc. isn’t fast paced at all. In fact, quite the opposite. Invisible Inc. asks you to slowly sneak into facilities and tactically plan your next move ahead of time. It is the most successful example of a game that chooses to blend turn-based tactics with the roguelite genre, inspired as much by XCOM as by Rogue itself.

As a team of secret agent super spies, your role is enacting espionage against shady corporations in the year 2074, using stealth and silent takedowns to move through heavily fortified areas. Action Points limit player actions per turn, so you need to think carefully before making your move.

Agents offer differing abilities, which can be levelled up between missions using credits acquired throughout levels. New agents can be found during missions, freed from their prisons, to join you on missions — but these are not unlocked permanently until enough XP is earned, whilst items and weapons are lost permanently when a run is failed. This is a roguelite, after all.

For fans of the tactics genre, Invisible Inc. is a must, harkening back to the days of XCOM, Commandos and Desperados, with a unique spy-thriller theme that sets it apart. There aren’t enough secret agent espionage games out there, but Invisible Inc. scratches the itch perfectly.

 

7. Spelunky

spelunky

Spelunky could make a solid argument for being the granddaddy of roguelites (that would make Rogue the great granddaddy, of course). The foundations were laid in an early 2008 freeware version but were refined to perfection in the full 2013 release. Spelunky combines the genre staple procedurally generated levels with random enemy placement and items to be purchased from the shopkeeper for gold.

At its heart, Spelunky is a challenging 2D platform game. Armed with a whip for self-defense and bombs to break the destructible terrain, you play the spelunker seeking treasure and fame at the bottom of a series of themed levels. Enemies become increasingly difficult, using unique attack patterns that are combated by an array of artefacts, including ankhs and crystal skulls (as if Indiana Jones wasn’t already an obvious enough inspiration).

Aside from different playable characters and shortcuts to skip levels, Spelunky has no other persistent unlocks, which actually makes it more similar to games of the true roguelike genre and less like many on this list. Due to the many games that evolved its format since, Spelunky seems a simpler offering these days, but don’t let that simplicity fool you. Spelunky is imitated for a reason, and its polished platforming, unique art style, and utterly addictive gameplay loop make it as relevant now as it was in 2013.

 

6. Into the Breach

into the breach

By far the least traditional roguelite on our list, Into the Breach is as much a tactics puzzle board game as it is a roguelite. The aim of the game is to guide three mech units around a grid-based city area to stem the invasion of the Vek, a bug-like alien race. That’s about as far as the plot goes, with the core loop of Into the Breach being a series of tactical engagements to outmanoeuvre the enemy units.

The trick is that you always know the aliens’ next move — who and what they’re going attack, and how much damage they’re going to do. Your job is to survive their attacks, protect the city from damage, and retaliate in brutal fashion. Surviving often takes the form of sacrificing your actions to simply move the enemy’s attack or the target to prevent harm being caused. Protecting the city might even mean sacrificing your own units to prevent building damage. Retaliating takes the form of many different unit attacks or moving enemies to attack each other, or even satisfyingly dumping them into the river. Games of Into the Breach become addictive in their chess-like strategy, each unit having special movements and abilities to be learnt and maximised (or exploited) to peak efficiency.

Into the Breach is a roguelite because it is run-based with procedurally generated maps (see, told you this would keep coming up!). Failing to save the city means losing power from the power grid, and a depleted power grid is game over. However, succeeding in certain specified achievements unlocks new squads for you to play with in subsequent runs, and units from squads can also be mixed for a pick’n’mix squad of your own devising to combat the Vek across multiple time streams.

 

5. FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL Faster Than Light

The debut game from the developers of Into the Breach, it’s easy to argue whether FTL: Faster Than Light surpasses its successor or not. Whilst some of the roguelite sensibilities remain the same, the comparisons end there. FTL is a top-down view real time spaceship strategy game, positioning you as the captain commanding a crew.

Selecting a narrow pathway through the sectors of space, you’re tasked with choosing responses to the randomly selected story missions, surviving encounters, and acquiring valuable resources to keep your ship operating. These resources may be fuel or scrap, ammunition or weapons, or even new crew members. In combat, you move your crew through the rooms of your craft to maximise their efficiency and to avert crises, like your engine being set on fire. At the same time, you must target and disable rooms on the enemy’s ship with your hull weapons or launch boarding parties to seize control directly. FTL is the ultimate Star Trek fantasy, a tense game of micromanagement where you’re always just one false move from complete disaster.

The roguelite trappings mean that any such disaster puts you right back at the start of a whole new playthrough. The only persistent features are new ships, which are unlocked through play, providing access to new rooms, weapons, drones and other features to increase your chance of survival. Beyond that though, FTL is all about luck of the draw and random chance, along with your own skills and planning, to determine whether you’re seeing the end boss or the game over.

It’s also worth mentioning Crying Suns, a 2019 game that narrowly missed being on this list, and which takes the procedural mission encounters and sector travelling elements of FTL but swaps the combat for tactical grid-based space battles and a sci-fi narrative story that arguably surpasses the scope of its inspiration.  

 

4. Hades

hades

From the creators of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre comes Hades. Hades takes the traits of those earlier Supergiant games and wraps them up into a roguelite bundle of gorgeous visuals, intricate combat, and unique storytelling. Taking on the role of the son of Lord Hades himself, players are tasked with reaching Mount Olympus via the depths of the Underworld. Of course, like any good roguelite, the path to salvation is wrought with dozens of failed attempts. It’s also a path of near infinite unlocks.

At its core, Hades is an isometric hack ’n slash dungeon-crawler, but unlike some of the other games on this list, it leans very heavily into its roguelite features. Olympian gifts and items from Charon’s store offer temporary upgrades, whilst Daedalus Hammers improve aspects of weapons, upgrading their attacks. Other artifacts, such as Diamonds, Titan Blood, Ambrosia and Darkness, are all used for more persistent upgrades and companions that last across runs.

This sheer volume of customisability provides player agency and experimentation in buckets (fiery hell-buckets, naturally.) Choice is a huge part of Hades’ appeal, and no death ever feels unfair. As with any of Supergiant Games’ works, the world-building and storytelling are second to none and will keep you coming back — if only to hear the uncanny dialogue or the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack.

 

3. Crypt of the NecroDancer

crypt of the necrodancer

A running theme in this list is how each of the entries couples roguelite traits with other genres’ gameplay, and in Crypt of the NecroDancer, that gameplay is…a rhythm game? Oddly, the only beat-based rhythm game on this list is also the most traditional roguelite in that it sees you working your way through a series of random isometric fantasy dungeons. However, in doing so you must time your movements and attacks to match the tempo of the game’s fantastic soundtrack, harmonizing heartbeats at the bottom of the screen, as if Rock Band used swords instead of guitars.

Killing monsters without losing synchronicity gives you a Groove Chain multiplier, increasing the loot gain, which can be spent for items with the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper sells weapons, armor, items and treasure, which can be spent on that run and, you guessed it, there are permanent persistent upgrades for your characters available for the cost of diamonds.

Dungeons are split into four sections, the first three containing a mini-boss and the last a dungeon boss, such as the dangerous King Conga, a giant ape that teleports around the map and moves diagonally but skips every eighth beat in his soundtrack—meaning you, the player, must remember to stay still on every eighth beat too. Crypt of the NecroDancer also supports co-op, if you want to drag a buddy into the pulse-pounding fun, and a Zelda-themed sequel, Cadence of Hyrule, was recently released on Nintendo Switch.

 

2. Slay the Spire

slay the spire

It shouldn’t have worked. We’ve already discussed some pretty crazy roguelite genre mashups, but this one really shouldn’t have worked. Not only did it work, it became one of the best-selling roguelites. Ever.

Slay the Spire is a deckbuilding card battler roguelite. It seamlessly blends the dungeon crawling of the latter genre with the addictive, strategic kleptomania of the former. Like FTL before it, Slay the Spire begins by offering you a procedurally-generated pathway to work your route up to the titular Spire, choosing between combat encounters, treasure chests, shopkeepers, random luck quests, and boss fights. The random element of Slay the Spire’s RNG is from the cards that you acquire on your route and, thus, the strength of the deck you build.

That deck is used in combat encounters against a range of enemies. Cards are used to build your shields, keep your health maintained, and inflict damage whilst the enemy attempts to do roughly the same thing. This simple description fails to describe the depth of complexity in the cards and the strategies they can employ, which you can only fully understand by seeing the decks in action.

Choosing from one of four available heroes determines which unique deck you will build, such as the Ironclad, who focuses on powerful strikes and defense options, or the Silent, who weakens foes with cuts and poisons.

Potions offer one-use buffs, whilst relics are passive items that remain with you for the duration of your run.

Slay the Spire doesn’t offer much in the way of persistent unlocks outside of adding a few new cards to the available pools for each character, but it makes up for that with huge replayability — including daily challenges and multiple endings, as well as a huge PC modding community on the Steam Workshop.

 

1. Dead Cells

dead cells

Dead Cells feels like the culmination of all of these roguelite ideas rolled into one. It features run-based dungeon-crawling through procedurally generated levels with temporary loot and buffs, which can be lost to permadeath, with long-term progression earned through gradual unlocks. See what I mean?

Dead Cells is a series of complex unlock systems overlaid onto a slick side-scrolling platformer and set in a vibrant but gothic world of oozing monsters and monolithic undead knights. You play a green blob called The Prisoner that possesses dead bodies. No, really.

If “Dead Cells” sounds a bit like Dark Souls, it’s probably no coincidence. The sensibilities of FromSoftware’s genre-defining series can be felt all over Dead Cells’ aesthetic, style, and that creeping, gnawing feeling that any enemy at any time could be the one that resets your last hour of progress. What makes Dead Cells so special is that those many deaths never feel unfair, and the simple pleasure of the platforming and combat feel so good that you never stop wanting to go back in for one more run.

Dead Cells is absolutely bursting at the seams with weapons, abilities, powers, mutations and other unlocks, meaning you can play it the way you want to — the long-range archer who relies on turrets; the close combat hammer swinger who spawns biters to gnaw at opponents; or my personal favourite, freezing opponents with an ice blast before following up with a crushing broadsword. Tinkering with loadouts is the main appeal for Dead Cells, constantly seeking that one incremental change that will get you to the Hand of the King as you unlock traversal skills in a Metroidvania style to find different routes through its many dilapidated worlds.

Dead Cells takes its inspirations from across genres, but it’s already beginning to spawn its own legion of copycats, including the recent and excellent West of Dead, which pairs Dead Cells’ roguelite style with an isometric twin-stick shooter set in a mystical Wild West.

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