One of the basic scenarios for a roguelike is of a hero plunging into the unknown dark depths of some sort of dungeon that’s filled with danger. However, the most threatening danger in this game aren’t the monsters, but the darkness itself.
Roguelight is made by Daniel Linssen, which he considers to be his best game if the set-up on his itch.io page seems to say. As the name indicates, it’s a roguelike with light being a big focus. You spend the game going deeper into the dark underground, the environment getting darker with each floor, hiding any and all threats.
What can you do to navigate the darkness, besides the few torches here or there? Your character comes packed with a few arrows that they alight. If they keep the arrow notched, they can walk around with it as a makeshift torch. Eventually, that light will fade away, which forces you to let loose your current arrow so you can light a new one. Arrows will still provide small patches of light where they land and if they hit a lantern, it creates a permanent light fixture along with some cash.
Of course, it’s not a roguelike without enemies. Cloaked ghouls are found shambling around in the dark and while their movement is predictable, the actual challenge is spotting them in time before they run into you, as they’re pretty much invisible without any illumination. The flying skeleton enemies – also capable of being cloaked in darkness – are a bit more dangerous, having more freedom in moving and using that freedom to try to home in on you. You could always use an arrow to kill them if you’re backed into a corner or looking for money, but keep in mind that it’s one less light to depend on in the future.
To “get good” at the game, you’re going to have to manage your arrows carefully. Would you like to waste your arrows on lighting lanterns and killing enemies to grind for money, hoping that you’ll find arrow refills in the dark? Or maybe you’ll use the arrows strictly as a light source, avoiding having to shoot until the light goes out to get the most use out of them. Good conservation saves you from wandering in the dark where enemies and spikes can’t be seen, which can be an outright death sentence on the lower floors, where natural lighting is far less common.
After an inevitable death, you get to shop around with the money you got that run to get upgrades that will make later runs a bit easier. Any coins that you don’t spend simply get trashed, so you’re still incentivized to play good to get the more high-end upgrades instead of just sort of throwing yourself against the wall over and over until you make enough cash.
Roguelight‘s Gameboy palette is used well to fit the game’s mood, mostly leaning toward the darker colors even in illuminated areas. The game goes on to add details to provide some variety, with grass growing out of stone blocks that come in different varieties, vines hanging down from ceilings while fireflies fly about. There’s this oppressive drone that plays for most of the game and while I don’t think it’s particularly memorable, it helps add to the game’s atmosphere.
While I like the game’s mechanics, there aren’t really any curveballs thrown at you until the seventh floor. The seventh floor’s a sort of boss battle where you’re chased by a tough skeleton in the style of that ghost from Spelunky, who hits pretty hard on touch and can’t be shot. Instead, you’re presented with the ultimate test in navigating the darkness: looking for four big lanterns to shoot, which forces you to look everywhere as opposed to simply looking for a way out of the level.
I wasn’t keeping track of how long it took me to play through this game, but I’d say that it’d take a few hours to get all the upgrades and beat the game at least once. Roguelight’s real easy to get into and provides a nice challenge, though aside from trying to speedrun this game, there isn’t a lot of replay value once you finish everything.