I don't have children. I don't plan to have children. My womb is a dusty, windswept crypt devoid of hope for the future, and that's how I like it. But even I have to admit there's something compelling about playing games where you conceive and raise up future generations for your own ends. Fire Emblem Awakening is a great example of a game where your long-term success revolves around making your characters swap DNA. Dragon Quest 5, one of the best RPGs ever made, is appealing because you make babies who eventually adventure alongside you.
But those games only let you produce one or two generations of exploitable progeny. Cellar Door's Rogue Legacy 2 shackles an entire bloodline to a cursed fate that stretches for innumerable years. It revisits the same premise that made the original Rogue Legacy a hit in 2013, and it's still satisfying and fulfilling in 2020. In other words, it's fun to breed children for the sole purpose of monster-slaying. I doubt that sentence would fly with Earth's child welfare agencies, but Rogue Legacy 2 is a digital slaughterhouse, and the fruits of your busy loins are the meat.
Rogue Legacy 2, which entered Steam Early Access on Aug. 18, plays much like the first game. It's a side-scrolling action-adventure title that tasks you with exploring every corner of a mysterious stronghold. The sprawling castle is the domain of the damned; enemies are everywhere. The first hero you send in will almost certainly die quickly.
That's not the end of your adventure though. It's only the beginning. As soon as your premiere adventurer bites the dust, three of his successors offer themselves up as potential sacrifices—er, potential warriors. You choose one and continue where Papa left off.
There are two big caveats. One: the castle is a creature of chaos, and its form shifts as soon as a new adventurer enters, so you will never walk the same hallways twice. Two: Each heir to the adventure has a different mixture of strengths and weaknesses thanks to the blessing and curse that is heredity. You won't know an adventurer's traits until you take them onto the battlefield for the first time, so it can be a shock to take a near-sighted warrior into the castle (for example) and realize your field of vision is extremely diminished. On the other hand, you might luck out with an "OCD" warrior whose mana recharges with every object she breaks. Oftentimes, you have to choose between three fighters who lost big in the genetic lottery. There's no such thing as a wasted run, however, since even the feeblest adventurer can collect money and treasure for their children to use. Good parents invest in their kids, after all.
(I expect some people will want to have words with Cellar Door over its controversial use of OCD. As someone who rips away layers of her skin because of perceived "imperfections," I don't have an issue with it, but your mileage may vary.)
Rogue Legacy 2 has the same "One more time!" quality of the first Rogue Legacy. I dive into the castle again and again, even though the dog needs to be fed and I should really take a moment to use the washroom. I love the fighting, the platforming tricks, and the renewed sense of excitement that comes with exploring a fresh new castle at every turn.
It's a funny little obsession since I generally don't like roguelike games. However, the Rogue Legacy games are considered by some roguelike aficionados as "roguelites"—games that offer randomized levels, but don't punish you too severely when you're forced to start again. I hate losing everything when I bungle a run in a roguelike, but I like how repeated deaths are necessary for advancement in Rogue Legacy 2. Each castle run begins with a chance to permanently upgrade your bloodline with your collected loot, which stays in your pockets after your hero croaks. The money is then used build up your own castle, which unlocks more warrior classes, permanent health upgrades, and tons more goodies. You can also find runes and blueprints that let your (unlockable) Blacksmith and Enchantress infuse strength into your weapons and armor. Rogue Legacy 2's roguelite action, combined with its exploitable bloodline (sorry, guys), rich upgrade system, and challenging but satisfying platforming and exploration is everything I crave from a 2D game. I mapped the first Rogue Legacy so thoroughly that I found the hidden mural that pays tribute to Cellar Door's very first game, Don't Shit Your Pants. (Try to earn all the achievements before Flash dies at the end of 2020; you probably never knew there are so many creative ways to soil your breeches.)
Rogue Legacy 2 successfully retains the elements that make the first game a hearty journey, while also adding new elements like the Archer class. Attacking enemies with a long-range weapon that can be aimed in different directions brings a new dimension to Rogue Legacy 2, so to speak.
But said Archer class brings up a whole new conundrum: Cellar Door dropped D-pad support in order to let Archers aim in any direction with the analogue stick. This wasn't a popular decision with platformer purists, and Cellar Door has since confirmed it's adding D-Pad support to Rogue Legacy 2. More patches and fixes are also in the works according to Cellar Door's Twitter account. There are also some scattered complaints about the game not being long enough. It's a good reminder that Rogue Legacy 2 is still an early access game. That said, it already seems like it's destined to be a well-bred child of the still-beloved Rogue Legacy.