There aren’t many genres in gaming that offer quite as much replayability as the roguelike. There are even fewer genres that can boast so many bona fide classics across the board — whittling down to the very best roguelike games is like trying to pick from some of the indie sphere’s greatest ever games.
But what exactly is a roguelike? Inspired by a classic 1980 game by the name of Rogue, there are two key components that define the genre the most: permadeath and randomised levels. Permadeath means that once you die, that’s it, all of your progress is lost and you have to start all over again. Randomised levels are usually either hand-crafted and shuffled or generated via procedural generation, meaning that players are guaranteed to have different levels each time.
Another thing that makes the roguelike such a popular genre is how flexible it is with many games putting their own spin on the formula. Purists may draw the line at certain points (and even be pretty militant about definitions), but the creative freedom of the genre has allowed things like roguelites and roguevanias to prosper, and we’re also seeing more and more deckbuilders embracing rogue elements to be some of the most beloved around.
The following games take the best parts of the original game that inspired it all and add something new to the formula, providing some of the most enthralling experiences across any genre. Whether you’re after a roguelike, roguelite, or one of the many other spin-offs from Rogue, here’s what you should be playing on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Switch, along with some older generations.
Starting things off with one of the most startling hybrids of genres out there, Book of Demons is an on-rails ARPG that’s also a roguelike deckbuilder, as well as being an isometric dungeon crawler. That’s a lot of different things to appeal to a lot of different people, but they somehow combine well and make Book of Demons unlike much out there.
Following your quest to save the Paperverse from the Archdemon, Book of Demons’ innovation continues as you get to decide how long or short the journey is, thanks to its Flexiscope engine. While the actual deckbuilding part of it might be underwhelming for some as it’s basically just equipment you collect, there’s enough in Book of Demons to either provide a quick distraction or an utter timesink.
One of 2018’s most underrated games despite hoovering up awards left and right, Cultist Simulator’s immediately eye-catching art style and unique hooks have helped it, fittingly enough, achieving cult status in the years since release. It’s still definitely not for everyone, though.
Made by the same mind behind Sunless Sea and Fallen London, Cultist Simulator is a roguelike narrative card game with a steep learning curve that’s best reserved for those with plenty of patience. It’ll also help if you like doing lots and lots of reading. Stick with it and unfurl your own Lovecraftian story in the midst of an apocalypse with the future of everyone in your hands.
13. Streets of Rogue
Developer: Matt Dabrowski Publisher: tinyBuild Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Ever felt like roguelike games are a little too restrictive, like you could do with utterly random nonsense each time? Enter Streets of Rogue, a roguelite that revels in the random while also allowing you to put together a story of your own making, whether that’s by fighting, sneaking, or hacking your way through a city bustling with life.
While it may not immediately look like much, there’s much more to Streets of Rogue than its pixellated visuals might suggest. The developers themselves bill it as “Nuclear Throne meets Deus Ex, mixed with the anarchy of GTA,” which is actually kind of underselling it. They don’t mention that you can be a gorilla with their very own army, for one.
Developer: Klei Entertainment Publisher: Klei Entertainment Platform(s): PC
Continuing the already established trend for our list of the best roguelikes and roguelites, Griftlands is a deck-building roguelite where you must fight your way through a sci-fi world. You can make plenty of friends along the way, take on dangerous jobs, and, most importantly for a deckbuilder, collect a tonne of cards. It also helps that it’s absolutely beautiful.
Klei have shown that they are creators to be trusted over the years, so it wasn’t a surprise to see them use the game’s time in Early Access properly, helping Griftlands to become quite the feature complete (and inherently addictive) game at full launch. Whether you build a team or buy mercenaries, look for alliances or play like a lone wolf, Havaria begs you to dive in.
11. BPM: Bullets Per Minute
Developer: Awe Interactive Publisher: Awe Interactive Platform(s): PC
BPM: Bullets Per Minute is a game that juggles so many genres that it might as well be called a BPM-like. To try to boil it all down, it’s basically a rhythm-action FPS rogue-like with dungeon crawling, and also there’s a giant bird angel who sells you stuff. Miraculously, it all comes together to create one of the most innovative and wildly fun yet also challenging games around.
There’s a story here, something about being a Valkyrie within Asgard, but that kind of melts away to the background pretty quickly once the rock opera kicks in and you find yourself shooting to the beat. BPM is a really unusual game to get to grips with that will frustrate the impatient, but you won’t forget the first time you shoot and dodge your way past your way its seven bosses to its brilliant soundtrack in a hurry.
One of the true progenitors of the modern roguelike as we know it, Nuclear Throne is a top-down shooter set in the post-apocalypse with no moody teenagers or chosen ones in sight. Instead, you play as mutants who are further shaped by what you find out in the wasteland. While it’s simple to learn, all of the different mutations and weapons makes this a game that just keeps on mutating itself.
You’ll see a few more games inspired by Nuclear Throne the further we go along in this list — its impact on the genre simply cannot be denied. The same goes for its developers Vlambeer, who called it quits as a development duo after ten years of success and making people want to smash their keyboards over their heads. So many years after release and Nuclear Throne is still brilliant and maddening in equal measure, so play it if you hate yourself just a little bit.
9. FTL: Faster Than Light
Developer: Subset Games Publisher: Subset Games Platform(s): PC
Is it fair to say that FTL was one of the first games to make people really sit up and start taking notice of the indie sphere? Developed by Subset Games, who would later go on to make the also excellent Into the Breach, Faster Than Light is a spaceship sim that can be over as fast as the speed of light if you’re unlucky.
While its RNG-heavy nature may drive some to insanity, it’s a large part of what has compelled so many to return to FTL one more time, time after time. Maybe this run they’ll say and do the right things, or maybe they won’t come up against a supership on steroids that undoes all their hard work.
Developer: Dodge Roll Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Remember when we said Nuclear Throne had influenced a lot of roguelikes? Well, Enter the Gungeon is definitely one of them, but we argue that it exceeds what Vlambeer did a few years prior with its frenetic bullet hell combat and addictive appeal that makes it so dangerously great.
Picking from a selection of the brilliantly named Gungeoneers, Enter the Gungeon sees you lock horns with 22 bosses in a random order as you basically John Woo your way through, bullets flying and sprites a-rollin’. It’s as tough as its reputation suggests with post-launch updates only adding to the challenge, but if you can get past the early frustrations (and that damn rat), Enter the Gungeon will steal dozens of hours from you.
Exit the Gungeon is also a fun little fight against the Gundead, if you need more pain.
7. Risk of Rain 2
Developer: Hopoo Games Publisher: Gearbox Publishing Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
It would have been easy for Hopoo to push out another 2D Risk of Rain with a few extra enemies and weapons, slapped a 2 on the box, and called it a day. That’s not what they did, not even close. Risk of Rain 2 is as big a leap from a previous game as Metal Gear Solid was from Metal Gear 2. Pretty much every facet and mechanic of the original has been updated or replaced with something better, every rough edge smoothed out and improved.
Either solo or with friends, travel to a dozen different locations and basically light everything up in sight, collecting loot and praying to the gods that you’re able to scale with the enemies as they get stronger and stronger. With unlockable characters that change the way you play alongside countless weapons, items, and modifiers to unlock, Risk of Rain 2 is one of the best indie sequels ever released and also an absolutely devilish ride that will put you at risk of high blood pressure.
The game that launched a whole load of roguelike deckbuilders, it says a lot about Slay the Spire’s brilliance that few seem to have nailed the formula quite as well just yet. Playing as one of four characters, you must make your way through the Spire’s many hazardous, procedurally generated floors and upgrade your deck from potentially hundreds of new finds as you ascend.
Pretty much the definition of “easy to learn, difficult to master”, Slay the Spire doesn’t stop once you’ve reached its highest point for the first time. Whether speedrunning against others in Daily Climbs, experiencing the different modifiers to drastically change your run, playing as a new character, or simply experimenting with all the cards you can find, Slay the Spire will absolutely slay your free time.
Even if you’re not keen on deckbuilders, Slay the Spire may change your mind.
Just like what Nuclear Throne did for twin-stick shooters in the roguelike space, Spelunky has inspired many roguelike platformers over the last ten years and is often revered as one of the most important games ever made, eggplant and all.
Spelunky doesn’t have the most complex setup, but it doesn’t need much to draw you in when the gameplay is this good, each run so dynamic, and the difficulty so eye-gouging. No two runs are ever the same in Spelunky, so whether you’re angering shopkeepers, getting brutalised by ghosts, or saving damsels in distress, it’s still an ambitious, compelling roguelike to this day.
A sequel, surprisingly named Spelunky 2, released in 2020, but for its broad influence on a whole genre and how it kept a dedicated community going for well over a decade, the original Spelunky has to make the cut here.
4. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
Developer(s): Edmund McMillen, Florian Himsl Publisher: Edmund McMillen Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox 360
A game so brilliant that it feels like they’ve updated and re-released it as many times as we’ve been sent back to the start of the basement after a bad run, The Binding of Isaac really flourished with Rebirth, a remake that added all the right things and buffed out all the roughest edges. It’s right up there with the best remakes ever, and is also just about the least Christian game ever made, even giving DOOM a run for its money.
Isaac, a baby who shoots tears from his eyes, must escape to the basement after his mother believes she hears the voice of God telling her to sacrifice Isaac to appease him. A dungeon crawler with rooms absolutely overflowing with poop (you wouldn’t believe this game actually exists if it wasn’t a landmark in gaming, would you?), you must make your way through countless randomly generated rooms, collecting items and shooting absolute abominations as you go.
While most runs start off slow and arguably a little on the boring side, Isaac escalates like few games out there until it resembles the most hellish of bullet hells. And then you die and start fighting poop all over again. Now that’s what God would really want.
3. Rogue Legacy
Developer(s): Cellar Door Games Publisher: Cellar Door Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox One, Switch
More a roguelite than a roguelike due to you being able to carry over progression between runs, if there’s any game that epitomises the randomness of the rogues, it’s Rogue Legacy. When you can go from being dyslexic one run to an angry dwarf in the next, it’s almost impossible not to try one more run each time.
Taking place across a constantly shifting castle, you play as a member of a regularly updating family tree. Each new member brings with them some gameplay benefit or quirk in the form of traits, so whether you’re playing as a farting lady or a colorblind giant, Rogue Legacy constantly feels fresh.
The RNG nature of traits that give hindrances, along with the game’s generally high difficulty and utter lack of balance, will almost certainly drive some players mad, but the robust skill tree, Blacksmith, Enchantress and more can help to balance things in your favour. Either in short bursts or entire days, Rogue Legacy has plenty to offer.
A sequel released in Early Access on Steam in 2020, but it sadly doesn’t seem to have earned itself quite as much love just yet.
The game that popularised the idea of a roguevania (even though Rogue Legacy arguably did it earlier, they just didn’t coin the phrase), Dead Cells is one of the most complete games ever made and perhaps the textbook example of how to use Early Access well. From its lighter beginnings to the content monolith it is now, Dead Cells utilised Early Access better than most games ever have. And Motion Twin aren’t done with it yet.
Playing as The Prisoner, effectively a big load of purple sentient goo that make its way into a set of armour, Dead Cells is set across an always-changing castle (they love castles, these rogue-esque games) with you even being able to change paths depending on how deep into Dead Cells’ layers you’ve dived. You could technically finish a run and not see every location and level, and you almost definitely won’t be able to sample every one of the ninety weapons and items, ranging from the frying pan to the katana.
With permanent upgrades to soften the blow of permadeath, Dead Cells is a roguelite that also borrows from Metroidvania and Dark Souls, providing combat that is initially going to make you want to put your face through a window but eventually leave you feeling like a god. After time, the bosses that took you forever to beat will become barely any more of a distraction than the grunts, a nuisance for you to swat aside with your trusty frying pan.
A brilliant game that rewards patience with a power trip, it doesn’t really matter whether you play Dead Cells for the fifth or fiftieth time, you’re going to want to sell your soul for this game once it gets its hooks in you.
Developer(s): Supergiant Games Publisher: Supergiant Games Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, Switch
While Supergiant themselves may feel like Hades is a roguelike, the community leans more towards it being on the roguelite side of things. Though people may disagree on which it is for years to come, one thing’s for certain when it comes to Hades: it’s one of the best indie games ever made, an absolutely brilliant blend of story and action, and more than deserving of our top spot.
You play as Zagreus, the son of Hades who’s had more than enough of the titular boss man and wants to escape from the Underworld. Each time he dies, Zagreus is returned back to the Underworld, but rather than everything being reset, his father chides him for his insolence, often laughing in his face. While each failure returns you right back to the start of the escape, you’re able to improve your skills and also build relationships unlike pretty much any other game in the rogue space.
Hades’ story, whether that’s the main narrative or simply trying to talk to a fatally anxious disembodied Gorgon’s head, often means that failure isn’t always the worst thing. In fact, you may sometimes even welcome death so that you can build relationships (some even romantic) with other characters, discover more of the absolutely absurd amount of dialogue, and beat a skeleton up while bantering with them.
Of course, no action roguelike is worth much without the combat to match, so it’s lucky that Hades boasts some of the most fluid and dynamic encounters around with tonnes of weapons, each with their own unlocks, to play around with. All this praise is without even mentioning the stellar soundtrack, variety in builds, stunning art style, bountiful boons, and the fact that you can pet the dog.
Hades is a brilliant game from a developer who just keep producing hit after hit. It’s hard to see how they can top Hades, or how any other games in the rogue sphere can hope to match it, but I can’t wait to see them try.
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