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100 Rogues Review: With this magic ring, I thee wed …

Much like Monty Python’s Rabbit of Caerbonnog, 100 Rogues‘ charming exterior belies the vicious beast within. “Death is essentially inevitable in 100 Rogues. It’s not all about winning, though; it’s about getting a high score!” advises one of the game’s many loading tips, and these words should be take as dogma. Developed by DinoFarm Games and published by Fusion Reactions, the game is a new take on the classic roguelike, a roguelike being a genre of role-playing games typified by randomization for replayability, permanent character death, turn-based movement, dungeon crawling, looting and a high degree of difficulty. In keeping with tradition, most roguelikes — even the modern ones — staunchly adhere to a legacy of serviceable, but humdrum visuals. 100 Rogues takes a different tack, offering sprite-based graphics bursting with personality and charm. You will coo and chirp as the Crusader’s cape flaps out behind him, “Oh, isn’t he cute!” The game will lure you in with its adorable Crusader and Fairy Wizard, captivate you with its tongue-in-cheek antics, and fill you with a warm, fuzzy feeling even as it crushes your cold, dead heart in its icy fingers. It will hold your hand only long enough to lead you into its trap, then all bets are off. If you’re looking for a walk in the park, then you’d best find a park to walk in, because 100 Rogues is not for the feint of heart. Welcome, boys and girls, to my new favorite iPhone roguelike.

There’s no sense in going easy on roguelikes; they certainly don’t go easy on you. To-date, iPhone roguelikes have been about as cogent as Bush-era politics. Typically, roguelikes will utilize the majority of a full keyboard to facilitate interactions with items and objects in the environment, allowing you to get, drop, hit, throw, zap, talk, cast, jump, climb, shoot, look, search, eat, drink, pray, dance, hoola-hoop, wash the dishes, shave the cat, change the channel and more. Attempting to translate all of that into a device without keys of any kind presents obvious challenges. And so we have games like Rogue, which attempt to translate all of these commands into a grimoire’s worth of finger gestures requiring amazing feats of dexterity and memory to execute, or Rogue Touch, a valiant effort except that you’ll spend more time exploring command menus than dungeons. There are no words to describe how unplayable I found iNetHack, and I can only bemoan the sad fate of my beloved POWDER, the desktop version of which is one of my very favorite roguelikes, while the iPhone port basically sucks. Don’t even get me started on the watered-down, overrated roguelike that isn’t, Sword of Fargoal, more roguelike-like than roguelike, in the same way that Weeble-Wobbles are like playing with G.I. Joes. It’s pretty and well-supported, and other reviewers are besotted with it, but I find the game about as fascinating and fulfilling as a Cup’o Ramen. Some months back, I favorably reviewed the J-roguelike The Isle of 8-bit Treasures, which until now has stood as my favorite genre entry on the iPhone. But much as I like it, it’s more SNES game than traditional roguelike. It’s enjoyable, but doesn’t scratch the same itch … And that brings us nearly up-to-date with the disappointing state of roguelikes on the app store.

In the realm of iPhone, the great Castle Roguelike hath crumbled and gone to waste. Bull-doze the rubble, clear the site and erect a new pedestal, for into these dark times hath sauntered 100 Rogues, the new love of my life. I’ll keep The Isle of 8-bit Treasures on to serve as my dainty foot servant in this new era, but it is now upon 100 Rogues that I shall lavish all of my attention for roguelikes. The game effectively walks the fine line between traditional roguelike and enjoyable iPhone gaming experience. It doesn’t struggle to cram a dictionary’s worth of verbs and status ailments into a keyboard-less device; it doesn’t stubbornly choose to serve up Ascii characters in place of graphics for the sake of “authenticity”. It manages to feel like a roguelike and to play like a roguelike, but without the clutter and without the pimples. It strips the roguelike down to its bare skeleton, discards the gore, then reskins the bones with reverence for the genre’s roots, while also building in approachable mechanics, attractive visuals, loads of good humor, and healthy doses of pure fun. 100 Rogues is a textbook study in how to adapt classic gaming to modern standards, and how to translate a game to a device that is quite literally worlds apart from the classic’s PC origins.

Presently, 100 Rogues allows you the choice of two characters, with additional characters promised in future updates. The Human Crusader is a melee character built for the frontal assault and well-rounded in offensive and defensive power. Meanwhile, the Fairy Wizard is a ranged character, physically fragile but capable of diverse magical feats. The character you choose will dictate how you play the game, as the two represent entirely different styles of play, bringing different strengths and weaknesses to the table. Each character possesses a unique skill tree of eight abilities which can be purchased and improved by spending skill points, earned by attaining new experience levels. The characters are well balanced, and so your progress will depend more upon player strategy and intelligent use of skills, than on character attributes or faults.

The introductory story caters somewhat to your character selection, but outline regardless remains the same. The game begins as you present yourself before the Court of the High Council, a group of curmudgeonly churchmen who would obviously prefer to be elsewhere, doing anything other than giving audience to your pleas for a heroic quest befitting your heroic aspirations. Without interest, assured of your only getting yourself killed, they solemnly command you to “Go kill Satan.” And off you go.

Satan, Satan — everyone’s so afraid of Satan. Am I the only one who remembers a time when wild Satans would stampede through the great plains?

From the get go, 100 Rogues refuses to take itself too seriously. There is a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humor to be found throughout the game, with the introduction of the High Council being only the first of many gags. As a knight’s crusader, for example, you will do battle with cowboy bandits in the mines. And by investing a skill point into Faith, God himself will occasionally lend a helping digit, appearing as a gigantic finger from the sky either to heal the crusader or crush his enemies like insects. But while the game may take a lighthearted approach to setting and narrative, it will not go soft on you. This is a roguelike, after all, and dying is all apart of the fun.

There are hundreds of monsters, but you only have to die once to end the game, so the odds are ultimately against you. Don’t take unnecessary risks.

There are no continues, no restarts from previous saved games, and no resuming play from the beginning of the last dungeon floor. When you die, you’re just dead. Though rest assured that your name will live on forever on the score board.

As in all roguelikes, dungeons are randomly generated and treasure randomly distributed. What’s not random in 100 Rogues are the monsters you will encounter on each dungeon level. While their placement is randomized, the enemy types are set. On the first level, Bandit Hole 1, you will always face rats and bandits. Bandit Hole 2 introduces bats and the more powerful blue rats.

100 Rogues is turn-based; for every move or attack you make, your enemies will also be able to move or attack. There’s no need to be hasty, and it’s best to take your time deciding what to do. Making the wrong move or being stingy with your resources may prove fatal. Characters may move in four directions by tapping in the desired direction on-screen. To attack, tap your desired target or, in the case of melee attacks, in the direction of your enemy. When standing beside a door or chest, tapping in the direction of the object will open it, and when standing on or beside an item, tapping the item will pick it up. Items may be used from within your inventory, or may be assigned to quick-slots for easy access in the dungeon. The quick-slots are a great place to store thrown weapons like knives or rocks, restorative potions or magic spells. The controls are very intuitive and well-suited to the iPhone. Unlike other roguelikes, there are no sprawling menus and no complicated gestures to perform actions. Executing skills is as simple as tapping your character, then selecting the desired skill from a radial menu. Eeeeeasy.

Likes:

Strategy: Strategy plays a more important role in 100 Rogues than players may at first realize, and takes on many forms. For example, consider the game’s weaponry. Daggers are weak, but offer the chance to back-stab opponents for massive damage when they are facing away from you. Wands cannot deliver critical strikes, but allow you to attack from a distance and ignore your enemies armor. Axes are extremely powerful, but require two hands to wield, meaning that you cannot use a shield. Bows are not powerful, but grant accuracy bonuses against flying creatures which are normally difficult to hit with standard weapons. Depending on the situation at hand, it may often behoove you to carry a variety of arms. But keep in mind that equipping a new weapon will cost you a turn, and that may at times be too high a cost.

Strategy also plays an important role in your selection and use of skills. The crusader’s hammer attack can knock opponents away from you; but when their back is already to a wall, it can be used to inflict critical damage instead. His healing spell can bring him back from the brink of danger, but can also be used to overheal, providing him more than maximum hit points. The Fairy Wizard’s teleport spell can allow her to escape danger, or it can be used to position her behind the enemy for a back-stab attack. Many skills can be used in interesting, alternative ways. Discovering the full flexibility of your powers is half the fun in using them.

Overall Presentation: The sprites are adorable and well-animated, especially the crusader running. The music is delightfully old-school, but still feels grand. The use of humor is excellent, and prevents the game becoming dry. Little details like palette swaps for armor, the way your character blocks attacks with his shield, and your equipped weapon showing on-screen when you attack do much to set the game apart from other roguelikes, whose tile-based characters move not at all.

Challenges: In addition to the main quest, 100 Rogues includes a number of challenges to be completed. Each challenge drops you into a defined situation with prescribed equipment and skills with which to win. Some challenges must be completely within a set number of moves. The challenges can be difficult, but serve to instruct you in some of the game’s more clever tactics. Completing ten challenges also rewards you by allowing you to begin the main quest with an extra energy potion!

Bosses: Every fifth level of the dungeon throws you up against a boss monster. The bosses are big and the fights can get pretty hairy, but they’re also a lot of fun. The bosses are not pushovers, so be prepared if you want to survive. Carry a big stick and plenty of restorative items if you’re lucky enough to have found them. Some bosses will have multiple hit locations; a good trick to find them is to cast an attack spell that requires you to select a target. The bosses’ target areas will be highlighted in red.

Dislikes:

Hunger: Killing Satan is hungry work, the game tells you, and it makes good sense that it should be so. You are warned not to dilly-dally too much, because you could starve to death. The problem with this mechanic is that item drops and treasure finds are completely random in 100 Rogues, and so there is no guarantee that you will find the food so necessary to your own survival. Exploring consumes food, fighting consumes food and resting consumes food, and so you’re always on the prowl for the next hunk of meat, which may or may not ever come. Real people get hungry, but real doesn’t always make for good video gaming. And in most games, 100 Rogues included, realism only goes so far. If it really came down to starving or making due, I’d be chewing on dead rats and bandit corpses; you leave plenty of corpses lying around the dungeons. 100 Rogues just doesn’t allow you to eat them.

The Little Things: 100 Rogues is overall a wonderful game, but there are a number of little things that prevent it being perfect. For example, there’s no way to return to the main menu from within the dungeon. Also, once you hit New Game, there’s no backing out to the main menu again, so you’d best not hit the wrong menu button by mistake, or change your mind and decide you’d like to play Challenges instead. When selecting Challenges to play, there is no indication of which character you will be saddled with. The game cannot be played in landscape orientation, which I find more comfortable for long play sessions than holding the phone vertically. You can rearrange your inventory, but when you exit and return to the inventory screen, the items will have returned to their original locations. Scrolls, though possessing different spells, all look exactly the same in your inventory.

Needs More QA Time: Much as I adore 100 Rogues, the game was released before its time and should have been withheld for additional quality assurance. Version 1.0 was riddled with crash errors, and the 1.0.1 update intended to address these issues has issues all its own. Crashes are less frequent, but still occur; the upshot of 1.0.1 is that when crashes do occur, you can now recover your game and resume play. The scrolling as you run around the dungeon isn’t as smooth as it could be, and sometimes snaps back a turn, as if the move were aborted mid-stride and taken back. There are also graphical glitches where game tiles will black out. And since upgrading to 1.01, my Challenges list has become blank. On one of my best runs, the game crashed just as my character died; I was not able to continue his game, and he never appeared in the high score list. At this point the game is playable, and 1.0.1 is more playable than 1.0; but there is no getting around the fact that 100 Rogues’ release is premature. The game needs more testing.

DinoFarm and Fusion Reactions have expressed to me a ongoing interest in continuing to improve and support 100 Rogues, with many additions planned for future releases including new characters, items, dungeons and enemies, opening the item shop, more challenges, new game modes and more. Their commitment to the title is admirable, and I have no doubt that in time and with updates, the bugs will be squashed and many excellent features will be revealed.

100 Rogues is not a completely traditional roguelike, but takes the best of the roguelike tradition and adapts it for a modern audience playing on a modern device. Though flawed, it now stands as the best roguelike the app store has to offer, and there’s not a single thing about that game that could not be fixed in an update. I only hope the developers will manage to iron out the kinks quickly, and to deliver a title as technically proficient as it is fun to play. For my part, I haven’t been able to put the game down since first playing it. I’ve persevered through the crashes, accepted my losses, and have stubbornly refused to stop having fun with it. I’ve played no other game on the iPhone from which I was willing to accept such issues, and the fact that I’m willing and eager to forgive 100 Rogues its flaws is a testament to its greatness.

If you are a fan of the roguelike, the dungeon crawler or the role-playing game, then 100 Rogues is a game you cannot live without. If you — like me — are a fan of all three, then stop reading, drop everything and start downloading immediately. As much as I obviously love this game, though, there are two major reasons I cannot recommend it to everyone. This is simply that roguelikes contain a high degree of difficulty that may frustrate some gamers; it’s essentially a game you can never win, except by fluke. The goal is not the end, but simply to survive for as long as you can, to earn a high score and to enjoy the ride. The second reason is simply because of the game’s many glitches. I’ve been able to look past them and to enjoy the game nonetheless, but other gamers may want to hold off until more of the bugs are resolved. After all, $4.99 is a high price to pay on the app store for a game that’s still not quite all together yet. And ultimately, it is for these reasons that I cannot award 100 Rogues the hallowed “Must Have” designation, much as I would like to do so.

EDIT – 2010/06/13 – 100 Rogues was today updated to version 1.0.4, fixing the many glitches that plagued the 1.0.0 release. Now very stable indeed and with several balance improvements, I feel comfortable bestowing upon the game our hallowed Must Have rating.

My final words are thus:

100 Rogues has taken me by the heartstrings and drives me by them as if they were reigns. At work or anywhere else I’ve not been able to play, I’ve only looked forward to coming home and hunting Satan. I am thoroughly rapt and constantly hungry for more. After all, hunting Satan is hungry work.

100 Rogues is developed by DinoFarm Games, published by Fusion Reactions and available now for $4.99. Reviewed on an iPhone 3G at version 1.0.1.



  1. Hope on Saturday 8, 2010

    Interesting suggestion about eating the corpses! I wonder if that can be implemented.

    Review is great and fun read! I am enjoying the game immensely as well.

  2. Matt on Saturday 8, 2010

    I’ve heard from 100 Rogues developer Keith Burgun on the issue of Hunger. He describes Hunger as a necessary mechanic to prevent players from abusing and breaking the game. Dungeons begin populated with enemies; once a percentage of those enemies are defeated, enemies begin to respawn indefinitely. Without Hunger to push players forward, it would be possible to grind experience levels indefinitely on any given floor of the dungeon. He explains, gameplay could be expressed as:

    Your success = experience / food

    He makes a very good point, though I still maintain that Hunger should be reworked. You could be doing everything else right, but at some point your ultimate success in the game boils down to a random item drop. With any luck, DinoFarm will revisit and retool the Hunger system to find some middle ground between these two ideas.

    Changing gears, more goodness! I just found that the 100 Rogues soundtrack has been released as a free download from the DinoFarm forums. Can be nabbed here.

  3. Travis on Saturday 8, 2010

    Thanks for the link to the soundtrack. Awesome review I’m so putting this one on my to-be-played list!

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