It’s good practice for a developer to find something unique to get the game up and running. Whether it be a core mechanic or aesthetic choice, there needs to be that certain hook that draws players to a game. With the trend of roguelikes in particular, there’s plenty of unique and interesting ways to evolve the player’s experience through scenarios simply by introducing procedural generation.
Despite how much developers try to skirt around a set of core mechanics by introducing those randomly-generated disruptors, there’s always the possibility of a game feeling familiar once the high of its gimmick begins to fade. That’s where something like Streets of Rogue steps up to the plate, swings for the bleachers and hits a home run. That and chicken nuggets. Trust me, it’ll all make sense.
By all accounts, Streets of Rogue capitalizes on its brawler/roguelike play on words. Thanks to its pixelated top-down perspective and slavish devotion to the genre, there’s little about it that catch your eye visually. Even the gameplay seems eerily familiar: choose a character, get a task, progress through randomly-generated levels, beat people up, shoot them, kill them, get upgrades and make a specific level of currency that carries over to your next run once you die. Sometimes potions are unnamed and you must roll the dice to figure out if they’re good or bad. That pretty much sums up all aspects you’d expect from a game branding itself with the roguelike/roguelite sticker and it does them quite well.
And yet…it’s the character select that changes everything. Regardless of which character you choose at the start, the endgame of reaching the top floor is your main and ultimate goal. It’s how you get there that can be vastly different depending on who you choose. And there’s a lot to choose from.
The basic Soldier is given all those tasks above and the necessary means to achieve your goals. Weapons, armor, explosives are all meant to forward your progress into taking out enemies and leaving a trail of dead. On top of the ultimate goal, each character class has a “Big Quest” which adds an additional overarching questline that’s character specific that garners a special ability for that class.
In the case of the Soldier, you take it upon yourself to destroying every generator for each level you visit. As with everything else Soldier related, it deals heavily with things that go boom and, if that’s what you want, perfect.
The Doctor’s Big Quest involves the complete opposite of the Soldier’s and requires you to not harm a single person, but is flexible to about 30 for the entire run (every floor) if absolutely necessary. If you pick up a gun, you might as well sell it at a Sell-O-Matic to recoup some money because you won’t need it on your trip. Your main special ability is having access to a seemingly unlimited amount of Chloroform that’s set to a cooldown timer. It’s handy for letting you sneak behind an unsuspecting character to make them 1000% sleepier than they were seconds before. It’s effective and quick as doing so lets you steal whatever they have/had in their pockets.
There’s also Cops who arrest, Comedians who tell jokes, Gorillas with super punching strength, and Hackers who hack. Each character adds their own unique take on the game’s designs that it truly does make it feel like a different game for each of the classes.
My favorite class is the Shapeshifter who, for all intents and purposes, changes the entire game to a Hitman-like experience. You play as a little tiny shape-shifting creature who can go into the body of any NPC you come across, giving you access to their abilities. Turn into a guard to go by their security cameras unnoticed or slip into a Slum Dweller to avoid cops since they don’t seem to like your kind very much. Shapeshifter’s Big Quest is also extremely Hitman-esque in that each level has a mission of “Kill X while disguised as Y” element.
While the biggest draw for me is the flexibility of character classes, there’s tons to do in each level as well with each floor offering a number of clockwork AI roaming the streets doing their own things and living their lives. Before heading up to the elevators to move to the next level, you’re asked to complete quick side-missions first. Most of these involve retrieving items but you’ll be asked to free prisoners, destroy generators, kill targets, etc.
While some classes are more inclined to go guns ‘a blazing, hackers can use their laptop to infiltrate building systems to get their way through sight unseen. There’s also treasures, items and just overall mayhem that you can enjoy at mostly your leisure.
I say “mostly” because even some of the levels have a degree of variability that help change the game into something completely different. There are a few levels you need to finish before going to the next stage, including Slums, Industrial, Downtown, etc., each with several floors. The real fun comes from how the floor before the next stage introduces a mechanic that can be anything from bombs dropping on you to radiation blasts requiring you to seek shelter every 20 seconds.
It can also go as far as turning the whole floor into a zombie outbreak that’s entirely overrun by undead NPCs. It’s different every time and ensures that you never feel too safe throughout your runs. When not making attempts at reaching the top, you’re more than welcome to spend time in your Homebase, which allows you to set up which upgrades and items might populate your next run. These are purchased with chicken nuggets (obviously) that you collect throughout your runs by levelling up and performing extra tasks.
Also included here are mutators which help alter the game even further by allowing you to change things like speed, unlimited ammo, removing level types (like zombies), and bunches of others.
There were times when playing Streets of Rogue I felt like I was making good progress just to have my hopes dashed early on. Whenever I felt slight fatigue within a session, I remembered the variety in different classes and it was just a matter of switching things up to help revitalize my desire to reach that top floor. I can’t stress how refreshing this was, especially within a genre that prides itself on offering “the expected” over anything truly innovative or original.
For it’s simplistic design, Streets of Rogue offers so much diversity and variance throughout each and every run, always managing to keep me – as the best roguelikes often do – coming back for “just one more” run. Those looking for a new roguelike obsession, or if you’re absolutely sick to death with all these roguelike games, I suggest taking a closer look into what Streets of Rogue has to offer. With all its variety and balancing, it feels like you’re buying several different games at once. Real chicken nuggets, sadly, aren’t included.