14 April 2012

It's only forever, not long at all

One of the all-too-many ways to bite the dust in Brogue. Bloody flaming Ogres.
Don't get me wrong, I love to play proper full-price studio games. I've been playing Skyrim since Christmas and have spent many months delving into the lavish possibilities of the many iterations of Civilisation. But I also love a good indie freeware game too. Last month I spent enjoyable hours exploring the randomly-generated platformer Spelunky, relishing its replayability and not a little frustrated by my lack of prowess in dodging leaping bomb frogs and evading angry shopkeepers who happen to object to me nicking their wares.

I found that game thanks to a tip-off in PC Gamer, and now another article has convinced me to try the daftly-named but engrossing Brogue. Like Spelunky, Brogue is a randomised adventure, but whereas Spelunky is a retro 8-bit platformer, Brogue harks back to the ultra-low-tech text-based adventures of the 1980s. Don't expect fancy graphics, because Brogue relies solely on ASCII characters. But it's surprisingly effective despite that limitation, and the seemingly laughable notion in this day and age that your character is simply represented by an '@' and monsters are represented by a single letter - 'm' for monkeys, 'k' for kobolds. This lack of graphics is no particular limitation because the gameplay is so enjoyable.

A typical randomly-generated dungeon entrance
Every level is randomly generated, with monsters becoming increasingly deadly as you descend towards the fabled 25th level, where the object of your quest - an amulet, from memory - resides. Oh, and there's no sound either, not that you need any. As PC Gamer explained, the simple charm of Brogue is its creativeness and the way its designer messes around with the game mechanics to create a fresh adventure each time you play:
Complexity: It has the ASCII ungraphics, the thrill of pockets filled by unknown potions and scrolls, the permadeath difficulty. Simplicty: It’s fully mouse-controlled, readable at a glance, and has an elegant skill system. It also has monkeys that will steal your shit and break your heart.
Ah yes, those monkeys can be a nuisance, but also a boon companion when you rescue them from captivity. The items you collect on your dungeon crawl are also pleasingly unpredictable, particularly the potions and scrolls, which you have to try sight unseen - it could be a potion of healing or strength, or equally it could also be a potion of bursting-into-flames (which is generally quite inconvenient, to say the least) or the ever-amusing Scroll of Aggravate Monsters.

That big pond will come in handy when you inevitably set yourself on fire.
Yes, Brogue does have a silly name; it's a play on the classic game Rogue, which has given its name to a whole genre of Roguelike games. Allusions to sensible footwear aside, Brogue is a great example of how indie games developers can compete with the big game studios by focusing on great gameplay and clever ideas. Download a free copy and let me know when you surpass my feeble top score of dungeon level 10 14 with 1428 5405 gold! 
Still looking for that bloody exit...
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