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Classically Trained: A New Generation of ASCII Adventures

Games with mechanics inspired by Rogue are nothing new, but now we're seeing more titles return to the classic visual style.

  • Text: Mike Holmes
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We've talked about roguelikes here at Gamereactor many times before. The influence of this extremely niche sub-genre is huge, surprisingly so considering its humble origins and the difficulty offered by games that stick closely to the script and feature procedurally-generated worlds and permadeath. Over the last decade, however, we've started to see an increasing number of games that borrow one or two of the key traits that define the genre, mixing them up with other mechanics and genres to create hybrid experiences. You could also argue that roguelike-inspired mechanics have flourished in tandem with the rise of indie games, and we regularly see their implementation thanks to the replayability and depth they can offer to game makers working with a strict budget who are looking to turn short and snappy experiences into something with more longevity.

However, while we've seen the unabated spread of roguelike mechanics into indie games and even fringe areas of the AAA space, we're also starting to see increasing numbers of games going back to the ASCII aesthetic that defined the first games in the genre. Abbreviated from American Standard Code for Information Interchange, ASCII in this context refers to the visual style of Rogue, which was subsequently adopted by developers who used the simplistic aesthetic so they could concentrate on gameplay depth over artistic expression. It was that focus on gameplay, on creating the deepest and most engaging experiences possible, that kept the genre alive for decades, long enough for the rest of the world to catch up and see the appeal of a devilish challenge built around near-endless replayability.

And thus we thought we'd profile a handful of new and in-development games that not only borrow mechanics from Rogue, but that also champion a style that can be traced back to the 1980 dungeon crawler. These games aren't all strictly ASCII in terms of their graphics, but they are all heavily inspired by the style, or offer an ASCII mode alongside a more visually stimulating overlay. Either way, they're part of a minor resurgence that we think's here to stay. Thanks to the growing popularity of roguelike mechanics across the both independent and AAA development, these reverent nods to the past are going to continue. And so, without further ado, here are some of the most interesting ASCII-inspired games currently available.

Cogmind

One of the best games we've played while researching this article is Cogmind, a futuristic roguelike with a focus on technology. The predominantly green and black colour-scheme also reminds us a little of the binary visuals used in The Matrix, although there's much more detail here. There needs to be too, because there's a lot of information on the screen to absorb, and the player will need to master a number of hotkeys if they're to survive for long in this inhospitable sci-fi world. While the execution is deep and complex, the premise itself is actually very simple; you're a robot who has to rebuild and then enhance itself using parts found in the world. And by found, we mean taken from the crumpled metallic bodies of your foes, naturally.

Cogmind is currently in Early Access on Steam, but it's in a polished state and its already easy to recommend, both for roguelike fans and for those who like a quirky robo-themed adventure. Oh, and a final word of warning (one that applies to all of the games in this article), it's nails.

Golden Krone Hotel

From the self-assembling robots of the future, we're now heading to vampires (and other assorted beasties) found in a gothic medieval castle (the title would seem to indicate that it was a hotel, but don't be fooled, this ain't no Travelodge). There's a fairly simplistic albeit cute visual overlay that most players will gravitate towards, but hardcore ASCII fans will no doubt appreciate the inclusion of a more traditional visual filter where the pixelart graphics are peeled back to reveal something more classic.

Golden Krone Hotel is a fairly traditional roguelike in most respects, with procedurally generated levels and turn-based combat, but there are a few clever little ideas that have been implemented (mainly relating to potions) that we really appreciated. The biggest addition is definitely the use of sunlight in a game; if you're a vampire then we'd advise avoiding the beams of light that pierce the windows the game's various levels.