Ranking of (Modern) Roguelikes

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laughingman

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Edited By laughingman

Rogue is one of my favorite games, and the Roguelike is my favorite genre. The past decade or so has been very good to me. Developers large and small have embraced the roguelike design and refined it in creative and unexpected ways.

Inspired by @mento and @imunbeatable80 and their semi-regular series, I want to put together my own "ranking of roguelikes." I'll talk about how the title uses the roguelike formula, how well it works and why, and whether I would recommend it.

I'm not going to deal with the classics of the genre: Rogue, Angband, Nethack, and all their variants. They're fantastic, but they're a hard sell to the modern game player. Instead, I'll focus on their descendants.

I take a fairly expansive view of what a roguelike is: any game that has permadeath that sends you back to the beginning, armed with new knowledge for the next attempt.

What makes a roguelike "work?" A good roguelike rewards experimentation and improvisation; it has meaningful risk/reward calculations; and it allows for multiple solutions to a problem; and it teaches you something through your failures.

1. Rewarding Experimentation and Improvisation

Doing the best you have with the tools you are given is a crucial part of good roguelike design. It's a huge part of the appeal to a player, creating those one of a kind stories that only they experienced. Items and enemies interacting in unexpected ways is a core part of what makes a roguelike enjoyable.

Great roguelikes will let you do unexpected things by using those tools in creative ways. They might be beneficial or detrimental to you, but they make sense within the game world. Ideally, they should leave you saying "holy shit, that worked?!"

2. Meaningful risk/reward calculations

You are never going to have everything you need, and you're going to have to make decisions about what to keep, what to use, and what to abandon. This is true for every game, but it's especially important in a roguelike. Once your run is done, it's done. You don't get to carry items over to the next run; if you don't use it, you lose it.

This means that every one of your decisions has weight. Waiting too long to use that powerful item might mean certain death, but using it too early means you won't have it for the truly dangerous enemies later in the run.

Good roguelikes make these kinds of decisions the core of their game.

3. Multiple solutions to problems

I've seen people refer to "verbs" in games, the actions that you can perform and the ways that you interact with the game world. In a roguelike, there should be many verbs that allow you to deal with the challenges you face: run, fight, set a trap, use an item, sacrifice an ally, hide, and so on. Ideally, each of these verbs should offer a solution to any problem you face.

4. Teaching you through your failures

More than almost any other genre, a roguelike should teach you something important when you fail. You should be able to look back at the moments before failure and see what you could or should have done to succeed. The next time you find yourself in that situation, you'll be able to put that knowledge to use.

I'll try to put together the first entry in the next few days. I hope you all enjoy the journey with me!

The following is the list I've built for the series. I welcome any additions you feel belong.

Caveblazers

Chasm

Children of Morta

Convoy

Crown Trick

Curious Expedition

Dandy Dungeon

Dead Cells

Death Road to Canada

Deep Sky Derelicts

Don't Starve

Dragon Fangz

Enter the Gungeon

Everspace

Galak-Z

Griftlands

Hades

Has-Been Heroes

Into the Breach

Invisible, Inc.

Ironcast

Kingdom: New Lands

Mana Spark

Neon Chrome

Neurovoider

Nowhere Prophet

One Step From Eden

Out There: The Alliance

Rad

Risk of Rain

Risk of Rain 2

Robothorium

Shiren the Wanderer

Slay the Spire

Star Renegades

Sunless Sea

Sunless Skies

The Swindle

Undermine

Wizard of Legend

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bigsocrates

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Slay the Spire but no Monster Train = FAKE NEWS!!!!!

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I_E_Leibowitz

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How about "Caves of Qud", and "Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead"? I haven't actually tried Cataclysm myself, but I'd be interested in your thoughts.

I'm excited to follow this series, it's a great idea!

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bigsocrates

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#3  Edited By bigsocrates

Also where are Nuclear Throne, Neon Abyss, Into the Pit, Ziggurat, Immortal Redneck and Curse of the Dead Gods?

Do you even Ziggurat bro? Clearly you don't. But then again you don't Immortal Redneck either.

ETA: WAIT?!??! ROGUE LEGACY ISN'T EVEN ON HERE?

CRYPT OF THE NECRODANCER?

Flinthook? What do you have against Flinthook?

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laughingman

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@i_e_leibowitz: Thanks for the encouragement, hope you like it! I've heard a lot about Caves of Qud, but I don't usually play things in early access. Cataclysm looks excellent, I'll see if I can get it to work on my hardware.

@bigsocrates: Several of these are on my wishlists, and I'm sure I'll get to them eventually.

I guess I should have mentioned that I'm limited to what I can get on the Switch and my aging Macbook. That covers a lot of ground, but there are bound to be games that won't make the list.

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bigsocrates

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#5  Edited By bigsocrates

@laughingman: Almost all of these are on the Switch.

I honestly don't see how you can do a feature on modern roguelikes and not do foundational games like Rogue Legacy. Spelunky is also kind of a must for similar reasons. That's like doing a feature on FPS games and not including Duke Nukem 3D.

Also...Binding of Isaac? Nowhere Prophet and Rad over Binding of Isaac is...a choice.

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wollywoo

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Along with all the other games mentioned, list definitely needs some FTL lovin'.

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laughingman

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@bigsocrates: I've never played Binding of Isaac. I know it has a dedicated following and I'll consider picking it up. That's why I put up this post first, to get feedback and suggestions.

Rogue Legacy and Spelunky are games I haven't played in years and don't own on anything at the moment. That's why they weren't on the initial list, I was just going through my library and adding them as I saw them. Rest assured that they will be on it eventually.

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laughingman

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@wollywoo: Excellent suggestion, and one I am honestly ashamed to have forgotten. Thanks!

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TheRealTurk

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#9  Edited By TheRealTurk

Dungeons of Dreadmor

Rogue Legacy

Binding of Isaac

Spelunky

Jupiter Hell

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Rich666

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No love for Darkest Dungeon? Sad...

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laughingman

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@rich666: Darkest Dungeon is on the spreadsheet I made, I don't know how it didn't make it on this list. I promise it will get its due.

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MagnetPhonics

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#12  Edited By MagnetPhonics

This would be rejected as unrealistic if it were set forth as a parody of a roguelike fan's worst fears.

It is amusing though to see places like Giantbomb evolve over a decade or so, from places were people discuss their Nethack ascensions to, "The problem with kids Today is that they don't respect the *REAL* roguelikes like Spelunky or Rogue Legacy!"

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laughingman

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@magnetphonics: I mean, I specifically called it "modern" roguelikes for a reason. I grew up in the 1980s playing Rogue, Nethack, and their cousins. I'm as big a fan of them as it's possible to be. I still play them every once in a while on DOSbox. :)

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MagnetPhonics

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@laughingman: I'm reacting to the hypocritical responses as much as anything

Though you're doing yourself a disservice by not checking out Caves of Qud/Cogmind/Jupiter Hell et al. :)

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BisonHero

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#16  Edited By BisonHero

It sounds like Darkest Dungeon 2 is much more of a roguelite than the first game. I’d go so far as to say you don’t need to play DD1 for this roguelite feature at all.

The first DD has an XCOM-like town/base upgrading screen that honestly I’ve always thought was pretty poorly implemented because it doesn’t have any of the tension of XCOM. Instead, it’s just a menu where you have to grind like 50-100 missions worth of resources to upgrade everything. The actual dungeon crawling is quite fun and moody, but I really think that macro level is terrible and tuned in such a way that the campaign is 3 times longer than it needs to be.

Also Darkest Dungeon breaks your second rule about roguelites not letting you carry anything over into your next run: if your team survives a mission, you carry over literally everything. Those units stay in your roster, their skills stay upgraded and unlocked, you keep all their equipped items, etc.

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bigsocrates

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@magnetphonics: There's nothing "hypocritical" about pointing out that modern roguelikes are a genre more or less created by a few very influential titles from the early 2010s. Obviously Rogue is the true genesis of the genre, and there have been games that were heavily influenced by it ever since, such as the various Mystery Dungeon series, but Binding of Isaac and then Spelunky and Rogue Legacy are responsible for the subsequent explosion in the genre. They took the roguelike concept and expanded it to genres where it hadn't traditionally been present, and their popularity led to a massive increase in the variety and number of the games produced.

Every video game builds on what came before, but just like if you wanted to examine modern shmups you wouldn't have to start with Space Invaders you don't need to start with Rogue to look at modern Roguelikes.

It would be odd to do a feature on the modern Schmup scene without looking at the Treasure and Cave games that have heavily influenced so much of what the current scene is like though.

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heavyweather

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Just wanted to put Noita out there for this category. I can't think of a game that better encapsulates the genre. It's a magical gem of a game.

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themagicfishman

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BisonHero

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Also I would recommend adding Hand of Fate to your overall list.

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Ginormous76

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You're missing Rogue Legacy & Returnal

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SethMode

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@bisonhero: And the sequel! Both really neat games.

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MagnetPhonics

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@bigsocrates: nah.

After a decade or more of "Fuck history, 'Roguelike' is our word now!" It's hilarious to see the complaints when the same thing happens to them.

If you don't need to appreciate Rogue, then any other pet favourite is unnecessary too. (Not to mention that citing Rogue itself as an influence on Spelunky et al, is a good sign that someone's assumed their current understanding is 100% correct and attempted to cobble together a post-hoc rationalisation.)

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bigsocrates

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@magnetphonics: Trying to be prescriptivist with language never works. Roguelike means what it means at this point and insisting that it means what it used to mean is as pointless as insisting that "shooters" are 2D space ship games and not 3D first or third person games. You can try, but it's an inherently losing battle. That's why dictionaries describe how words are used instead of trying to enforce top down compliance with old meanings.

The feature OP is doing on Modern roguelikes and he specifically asked what was missing from his list. As it turns out the list is missing the most foundational games in what the genre has become, while containing games that aren't really Roguelikes at all like Chasm and Children of Morta. That's OP's business but he solicited feedback. It would be absurd to suggest Rogue as a "modern Roguelike" just like it would be absurd to suggest A Trip to the Moon as a modern film, even if both are foundational works in their respective media.

As for the suggestion that Rogue didn't influence Spelunky, I don't really know where it comes from but it's clearly wrong, even if that influence is not a straight line. Rogue is one of those games, like Street Fighter II, that has powerfully influenced entire genres and subgenres. Spelunky specifically draws on many of Rogue's core elements, though of course it also has many other influences as well. Spelunky is also, for example, a platformer, so it was clearly heavily influenced by Super Mario Bros. too.

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LonelySpacePanda

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I like 'em games, boy, I tell ya!

I discovered Enter the Gungeon and Binding of Isaac this year and both are in my -- or close to -- my top ten games of all-time. Playing these games now, it's absolutely mind-boggling how much content there is in each. Waiting 5+ years for these games to build is worth it becuase the end experience is truly unlike anything else out there. I love them so much.

Loved Slay the Spire. Even loved some small indie gems I discovered through Game Pass like that JRPG one and that Plants vs Zombies kinda one Atomicrops.

Returnal is my GOTY and it's not even close.

These games feel like the rebirth of the arcade game to me, where I can jump in and have a fun session or spend a whole day obsessed.

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HeyItsDale

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@bulllee said:
I've grown to dislike the rogue-like concept so much at this point that I breathe a disappointed sigh every time a game that looks interesting turns out to be run-based. Replaying the starting levels of any game for dozens of times just to maybe make it a bit further just seems like a waste of time that could be used to play other, more engagingly crafted games, or to clip my toenails or something.

I feel this. Someone in the thread above described roguelites as a modern arcade experience, and I agree with that, in that they all seem tuned to be as brutally difficult as possible. For what purpose other than punishing the player I've never been able to figure out. None of these games have any difficulty settings, so your only option is to endlessly grind the same areas and levels until you git gud enough to continue your progression. And literally every roguelite I've ever played has run its gameplay into the ground long before I'm remotely close to finishing the game

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@laughingman: Scanned through this twice and don't think I saw anyone mention Scourge Bringer and just wanted to give that a shout out.

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Nuttism

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Hey! Nice list. It was great seeing Shiren the Wanderer on there which is often overlooked. I just have two suggestions not on the list and which no-one else has mentioned.

Dicey Dungeons is a neat dice deckbuilder roguelike. I would personally say its rogulike connections are pretty tenuous, as you are not making as many decisions as some other games, the randomized "stage" is quite short and the characters play radically different, making it more of a traditional game with randomized runs, but it has a pretty neat style.

I doubt many people here have played it, but Demon Crawl consumed my life at the beginning of the year and till the end of summer. I seriously don't think I have ever been as addicted in a game. I love roguelikes (my favourite old school one is ADOM) and I love Minesweeper, but I still couldn't foresee just how badly this game would pierce my mind. It has over a 1000 items, but because it's Minesweeper it is heavily luck based. You go through several randomized stages with different modifiers in each "run", you have an item menu which gets wiped between runs, and through the runs you get money, equipment, can add to max life, can gain armour and all sorts of effects. To me, it is pretty amazing just how flexible the game is and how much the developer does with Minesweeper of all templates. You can break the runs to a ridiculous degree (seriously, it's amazing how many ways items can work together) but they can also end swiftly.

I have seen a lot of people complain about the difficulty and role luck plays in it, and while their feelings are valid, to me Minesweeper has always been about minimizing risk, and there are a lot of hard choices and strategies in regards with item use and equipment in Demon Crawl. If you have no interest in Minesweeper, you probably won't like this game, but if you do, I really think it is a great example of the modern roguelike genre.

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laughingman

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@nuttism: the Shiren series is one of my all-time favorites, and other games are going to have to do a lot to keep it from the top spot. Demon Crawl sounds fascinating, and I'll have to take a look at it.

I leave the thread for a day and it blows up! Thanks a lot for all the suggestions. They're going on the list.

I knew this might be a topic that brings out some strong feelings in people, and I appreciate the passion that everyone is bringing to the discussion. Like I said in the OP, I'm taking a pretty broad view of what the genre is. Perhaps there are a couple entries on the list that don't fit the descriptors, and I'm open to removing a few of them. Chasm is such an interesting experiment that I wanted to look at it in the context of these other games, but it might be best to remove it.

I'm sure my rankings aren't going to make everyone happy, but it's just one list by a random person on the internet. I'm not taking it too seriously, and I hope no one else does, either.

I'm working on Crown Trick at the moment. It's a game I have some complicated feelings about, and it's taking some time to work through them. Hopefully it will be finished in the next day or two. I hope you like it.

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Onemanarmyy

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#32  Edited By Onemanarmyy

This list needs Dungeon of The Endless on it.

Rewarding Experimentation and Improvisation

What's your team composition? Which abilities do you choose at level up? Do you opt for strong fighters or do you go for utility? How much do you spend on static defense?

2. Meaningful risk/reward calculations

Each door you open is a 'turn' where resources are gained, but the more doors you open, the more chances for enemies to overwhelm you. And the more difficult the 'end-run' to finish a level is. But if you don't open enough doors, you'll be missing out on a lot of stuff that might make further levels even harder. Which rooms do you power? Which doors do you close? Do you bring a dedicated 'crystal runner' in your team with high speed, even if it means that your team is weaker overall?

3. Multiple solutions to problems

Do you defend a room with a unit or spend heavily on static D? Do you focus on food to level up your fighty guys, focus on industry to produce more resources over time or do you research powerful new weapons by focusing on science ? Do you use your food to heal & level your current squad, or do you use it to expand your team with new heroes?

4. Teaching you through your failures

Especially with regards to unit composition there's always something to learn. Is it feasible to open all the doors on a level if you don't have dust-producing units? Should you really open all those doors near the level exit?

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laughingman

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@onemanarmyy: I bought Dungeon of the Endless a long time ago on sale, and I keep meaning to put some time into it. I am a huge fan of all the games in the Endless Universe, so I'm sure I would enjoy it too. Thanks for the reminder, and for the helpful head start on how I might answer all those questions!

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SethMode

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Boy, it seems like a lot of you could offer suggestions without being dicks about it? OP literally said That was the point of the thread?

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SethMode

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@laughingman: I hate the Endless games and I thought Dungeon of the Endless was amazing so definitely add it to the list! It's really good!

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Roboquest

Immortal Redneck

Dicey Dungeons

Othercide

Going Under

Gunfire Reborn

Skul: the Hero Slayer

Strafe

Void Bastards

Loop Hero

Exit the Gungeon

20XX

Monster Train

Noita

Despots Game

Bastion

I' sure I'm forgetting some

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Onemanarmyy

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#37  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@laughingman: The funny thing is that i never played an Endless game, and when i finally did, it didn't grab me as much as Dungeon of the Endless. There are two knocks i have against Dungeon of the Endless:

1. A good run can take... 3-6 hours i think. You'll be sitting down for one or two sessions at most. This ain't a Spelunky where you can quickly learn things and apply them in the next run 5 min later.

2. The actual combat. You'll just put your dudes in a room and the combat is mostly automatic, but you'll get to use abilities in real-time too. If you really want to defend with the thinnest of margins, it means you'll be doing a lot of clicking your low-hp heroes to move them to a different room, so the enemy AI decides to attack something else, and then you put your low-hp hero back in the room to attack again. It doesn't feel very elegant, but at the same time it's too good of a move to not use :D

But apart from that, it's a very engaging game that has you make a lot of important decisions throughout. Especially before you open a door, you look around the map 'okay.. which rooms do i want to have powered on? which doors should i close? where should i place some static D? Maybe i shouldn't open this door and just go for the exit right now?'

Final tip: If you don't have enough dust to power a room, put a hero in a non-powered room before you open a door. That way you get to prevent enemies spawning in that dark room, without it costing any resources. As soon as the door is opened, you're free to move your hero out of the room to go deal with enemies somewhere else.

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alianger

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What would you say are the easiest/most forgiving games on your list?

When it comes to real-time ones I feel like they don't get 1-2 right most of the time, and not really 4 either from the few I've played.

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Genessee

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What you need to experience is some Noita in your life.

Yet Another Stupid Death checkmark is a black blur.

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laughingman

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@alianger: That's a very good question. I'm very partial to Into the Breach; Invisible, Inc, and Shiren the Wanderer. I think they give you good tutorials and room to experiment, and each run is short enough that you won't get too frustrated if you lose one. They aren't easy by any means, but they do give you a lot of information about your and your enemies' capabilities so that you can make educated decisions about what you're going to do.

Hades on God mode is pretty forgiving, if your'e into the action roguelikes.

The ones that aren't turn-based are a mixed bag, as you said. They might be outstanding games, but not necessarily outstanding roguelikes according to my criteria. It will be interesting to see where certain ones land once I've had a chance to revisit them.

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spiketail

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#41  Edited By spiketail

Tossing this particular one onto the pile because Jupiter Hell has already been mention: DRL, formerly DoomRL and spiritual predecessor to Jupiter Hell. (DRL's site & GB's DRL page)

If you haven't come across it, just think Rogue but a coat of simplified Doom-themed paint over it. Currently uses a graphic tileset, but it was originally ASCII. Unsure if you can still get it that way.

And thanks to @nuttism for pointing out Demon Crawl. Minesweeper + Rogue-like? Sign me up!

EDIT: Some digging for DoomRL ASCII mode as the tileset was released in 2012: Add a '-console' to the command line startup or edit the config.lua line Graphics = "TILES", changing TILES to CONSOLE. Or launch through a console mode shortcut? I have no idea how old my Windows start menu folder of DoomRL is or if it was an auto-installer that set it up.

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MagnetPhonics

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#42  Edited By MagnetPhonics

@bigsocrates:Genuinely don't understand this weird pre-spelunky "Words have no meaning"/post-spelunky "genre definitions are so concrete that the original masters must be acknowledged at all times" split in the timeline.

The point about Rogue as an influence on Spelunky is that it completely removes it from the historic context of its development.

Knowing nothing of pre-Fortnite FPS, other than Doom and Quake, one can look at Fortnite: Battle Royale and infer the various ways in which Doom and Quake influenced Fortnite. But the much more meaningful conversation, now and at the time of release, was about how Fortnite: BR is a total rip-off of PUBG.

At the time of Spelunky's release. Nethack (and probably in the case of Spelunky; ADOM and Doom RL, which Derek Yu later contributed to,) Was the dominant roguelike of the time, and is/was revered to an absurd degree in the indie development scene. The adjacent Dwarf Fortress was also extremely popular.

Rogue was largely considered a historical curiosity at the time, (It's a great irony that the proliferation of false roguelike pseudo-histories has actually increased the profile of Rogue itself, from people trying to connect the dots backwards.)

The influence of roguelikes on Spelunky at the time of launch was discussed in the context of Nethack, et al. It's only people lacking that historical context that look at Spelunky and say "Oh that feature totally came from Rogue."

Incidentally. It's not just roguelikes themselves that get erased from this misunderstanding. But also the influence of platformers with Hell Worlds and the like (Cave Story/La Mulana.) And the similar "Icebergvanias" (Knytt) that were big at the time. Or in the case of something like Binding of Isaac, the proliferation of "Actually Zelda 1 was the best one" takes.

@spiketail: for a while DoomRL was distributed as a console only game with the OG Doom soundtrack mp3s. Which surprisingly worked perfectly.

I love the tileset Derek Yu made eventually. But the ASCII + Doom soundtrack is my favourite combination.

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bigsocrates

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@magnetphonics: You keep reading "modern" out of the title, which makes communication impossible. This is like trying to have a conversation about the best modern baseball players and having someone bring up Babe Ruth over and over.

Nethack is, of course, a foundational game in the roguelike genre and you couldn't do a complete history of that genre without it. It is itself, though, heavily and directly influenced by Rogue which is why Rogue stands in as a shorthand for those early games that inspired the new (and substantially different) genre from the late 2000s to now.

Your tangent about the influences of Spelunky also miss the point here. We're not talking about Spelunky qua Spelunky or about the complete history of the evolution of Roguelikes. The point is that in order to examine modern roguelikes the games that inspired the later waves from the last 10 or so years are important. Not including Spelunky and Binding of Isaac would be like doing a retrospective of modern superhero movies but leaving out Iron Man and The Avengers. Were those films themselves inspired by other source material and prior superhero movies? Obviously. But they set the template for the modern form of the genre and their influence is widely felt. The same is true of Spelunky, Isaac, and to some degree Rogue Legacy.

It's one thing to say "I don't want to look all the way back to the genesis of the genre" and another to try to do a cross section of the modern genre but leave out the modern foundations of the genre rebirth while also including a bunch of games that are almost as old (like Risk of Rain.)

This is OP's project and he can do whatever he wants because who's going to stop him? He can declare Spider-Man: Miles Morales the greatest Roguelike of all time and literally nobody will stand in his way. But if you're going to pick a representative Modern sample of the genre then leaving out the most influential games of the modern era is an odd way to go about it.