We’ve debated the concept of Rogue-likes for years now. Some take many of the tropes, while others use the features in completely different genres to turn-based RPG dungeon crawlers. Yet the original game was made in 1980, a time where graphics were almost non-existent, so the entire game had to be created using ASCII text. [email protected] takes this style and puts a modern twist on it, creating a visually fascinating looking Rogue-like dungeon crawler.
Discussion about this game has to start with said striking visuals. The use of ASCII text as a basis for literally everything is unique looking, simple to understand, and refreshingly clean. It’s easily the highlight of the game and coincidentally the main selling point. Menus are well designed and the characters and monsters are easily identifiable. Because of the lack of clutter, it’s easy to get into for new players.
Much like Supergiant Games’ Bastion did a few years ago, the world forms when walking into new rooms in each of the 26 dungeons. The procedural generation is a major trait of Rogue-likes in general since Rogue pioneered this feature, but it’s how each of the segments form that had that modern twist that further adds to the character of the visual design.
Upon first playing the game, it feels pretty mindless. Gaining experience is as simple as beating living or inanimate objects which can feel somewhat tedious as you smash every pot, fence, or pillar. Sure, the pots can uncover items or enemies to make them more interesting, but the game features a lot of busywork.
However, there are a few things about the combat that flesh it out. The main thing is that while blocking, you can press the jump button to dodge around your enemy, thus confusing them briefly for free hits. This combined with throwable shields or magic staff attacks for mages makes the initial move set more expansive than at first glance.
Hazards in the dungeons are not limited to just monsters; explosive crates, traps, pools of lava/acid, and even bottomless pits. The pits do highlight a problem in that they’re instant-death, which considering how clunky jumping is makes double jumping a necessity. More dangerous hazards do appear in later dungeons, so that balancing is certainly welcome, but there are some auto-generation dungeon patterns that have a steep difficulty curve to avoid.
While items can be found, such as potion bottles and arrows, there are also letters to collect. White ones allow for you to craft new weapons, while the coloured ones are used to enchant previously created ones using one of the six elements. A torch can also be lit on fires to be temporarily imbued with the fire element, meaning one element is always accessible.
Weapons can be used to not only increase your damage output, but also unlock previously sealed doors and chests once enchanted. This adds to the simple to understand nature of the game, yet given the random nature of the progression means that you may not have access to a particular element to get past a certain door. Some may find this mildly annoying; others will accept it as a genre quirk.
By closely following what made Rogue such a hit in 1980, there are more familiar tropes such as crafting potions where the effect is randomised until drunken that gives the game replay value. It does also follow other tropes, including having game overs be permanent. In fact, unlike other Rogue-likes, [email protected]’s only thing that carries over are the entries in the monster encyclopaedia.
Luckily though, there is a way to take out some of the randomness thanks to the fact that you can note down which “seed” you are playing if you get particularly far. It’s similar to how Minecraft did this for generating worlds and is hugely welcome here. Of course, this is entirely optional and should you always want a random seed to be generated, then this is the default option.
Cooperative play is also available, but highlights two small problems. The first is that it’s local multiplayer only, which given the PS4’s Share Play capability is not as massive a problem as it could be. It would have been nice to have an online option though as the game unfortunately restricts movement to a predefined area. Combined with instant-death pits, this makes things needlessly dangerous.
Online functionality is exclusively for leaderboards and sharing dungeons created using the Dungeon Creator. You have a surprising amount of control, including the ability to imbue enemies with elements and control what they drop upon being defeated. The fact it doesn’t tell you that the touch pad changes the view to ASCII text in this mode and some of the limits are a bit tight are a worry, but otherwise this mode is a nice addition that enables players to craft devious dungeons with relative ease.
[email protected] is certainly a punishing experience for those not used to Rogue-like tropes. Yet it’s a visually attractive game that pays tribute to Rogue in its ASCII style that’s genuinely appealing, as well as having a clean interface and enough flair in the combat to not be devalued as a button masher. A few issues rise when it comes to cooperative play, which make this a harder sell, but [email protected] is otherwise a fitting tribute to Rogue and the genre that came from it that dominates the indie scene.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4