2020 in Review – The year of the Roguelike

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It has been a year filled with more challenges than most in living memory, and I don’t just mean my poor excuse of a memory, I mean everyone’s. It’s safe to say that 2020 has brought with it adversity and hardship to the vast majority of us – if you’re reading this, then that means you’ve survived it all, so well done to you! – so it’s quite fitting that 2020 also happens to have been one of the best years for the Roguelike genre ever.

This is a genre that’s all about overcoming adversity, about crashing up against the walls of a seemingly insurmountable challenge and chipping away at it until you’ve managed to become a good enough player to conquer it. There’s common ground with the similarly challenging Soulsbourne subgenre, but with the distinction of starting each run from scratch, with randomised obstacles lying in wait.

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Two exceptional examples of this made the transition from Early Access to full release this year. Hades has  undoubtedly had a better reception, and found itself in consideration for more than a few Game of the Year awards thanks to how it expertly integrates its story into the Roguelike form, but you’d be silly to pass up Risk of Rain 2. While a few people were a little disappointed by the full release (mainly because they ere expecting a few extra abilities for each Survivor) it’s still one of the best multiplayer Roguelikes around, and the additions to it make it a very hard game to put down.

We’ve also had a couple of really good ones start their journey through Early Access. Rogue Legacy 2 is one of those, already feeling like a solid improvement on the first game, even if there’s plenty of areas where it is a little unfinished. That’s natural given the way it’s releasing, but it’s a little rough when you compare it to Gunfire Reborn.

Gunfire Reborn is one that you might not have heard of, but it’s one that should definitely be on your radar if you like the sound of an FPS Roguelike. It’s currently got three characters, all of whom play differently and all of whom can be put into a lot of different builds. There are loads of incredible weapons, and it gets updated nearly every month with a handful of additions. It’s one of the best games I’ve played this year, which is saying something.

We’ve then got the ones that just flat-out released this year. Spelunky 2 came out, it’s more Spelunky and is therefore good, but it’s not one I’ve personally managed to find much time for yet. I’m hoping to do so at some point, because the original was excellent. We also had Going Under release between Hades and Spelunky 2 (which was very brave). It’s a very solid game, and although it’s a little easier than most of the other games mentioned on here, it’s also a lot funnier with an incredible style to it. It could certainly appeal to a broader audience thanks to that.

Monster Train and One Step From Eden were another two stellar games from 2020. Both of these are nigh-on-perfect, and together with Hades and Gunfire Reborn, they make up most of my favourite games of this year. Monster Train is a bit like Slay the Spire, but it makes things more interesting by offering more customisation options, loads of different ways to mix and match the cards, and a bunch of updates since launch.

One Step From Eden, meanwhile, takes the combat system from Mega Man Battle Network and turns it into a Roguelike. It also has an excellent soundtrack, and lovely pixel art too. If I had to pick one game from this year to recommend aside from Hades, it’d almost definitely be One Step From Eden.

It has, as you can see, been a pretty extraordinary year for the Roguelike genre in all its many forms. I can’t remember a year that’s had this much quality and this many hits in it, and honestly, I’m fairly certain I’ve forgotten some as well. [Might I suggest the pretty great strategy RPG Roguelike Star Renegades? – Ed]

I can’t imagine that next year is going to reach quite the same heights, but with Gunfire Reborn apparently launching towards the end of 2021, I’ll be very happy to be wrong about that.

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Written by
Jason can often be found writing guides or reviewing games that are meant to be hard. Other than that he occasionally roams around a gym and also spends a lot of time squidging his daughter's face.