“Oh,” I thought. “This looks different…”
I had just embarked upon a new Roguelike adventure. On a whim, I had renewed my acquaintance with the rec.games.roguelike.announce newsgroup for the first time in an epoch, and lurking within were announcements relating to the usual long-standing suspects – epic saga ToME, fast-paced DoomRL, Rogue-with-mechs GearHead, classic Angband and its variants, and many others. But there were also lots of unfamiliar names, a testimony to the rate at which the Roguelike scene has expanded over recent times. Looking down the list, something drew me toward Brogue by Brian Walker – was it the clever name or the enigmatically plain description? Or was it just the fact it had an unusually solid-looking version number of 1.6? It’s impossible to say. Further investigation was required!
I was looking at a typical ASCII dungeon of hash signs and dots. But this dungeon had colour, variety, and life – not the usual console window of decidedly 8-colour visuals. Yes, yes – not judging a book by its cover is all well and good, but there’s no harm in making a good first impression, is there?
“Cool – there’s plants that block my vision. Let’s try walking through them. Oh, they grow back! Perfect for hiding in! Neat. Wait up, what’s that over there? Oh hello there, mouse control – this takes me back to playing Larn on the Amiga!” Good first impressions indeed. But there was plenty more to surprise me…
Brogue refines pretty much everything that was in the original Rogue. It takes what I thought I knew about Roguelikes and then tells me that actually, old boy, there’s a better way of doing this. Want to know what that monster is? Just hover the mouse pointer over it and you’ll get instant information. Want to move somewhere? Fine. Click and you’ll follow a highlighted path. If anything major happens along the way then the autopilot stops so that you can consider things. Although there are initially times when this mouse behaviour can get in the way, it quickly becomes intuitive.
“Oooh! Water! And it’s all shimmery ‘n stuff.” I had descended a couple of levels and was greeted by a softly coruscating patch of sky and cobalt blue tiles – an underground lake, just one of the several environmental additions that make the game more satisfying to explore. Walking through the shallow edge, I suddenly got zapped by a previously submerged eel and quickly hopped back to dry land. The eel milled around for a few turns in frustration at losing its prey, then disappeared, slinking back into its watery home.
You don’t just wander through a series of boring rooms – almost every place you go has some feature that can be beneficial or hazardous in the right circumstances. There are gaping chasms into which you can dive to quickly descend into the depths, or cross by frail rope bridges. There are sizzling lakes of lava. There are even boggy areas wreathed in explosive marsh gas. As nice as they are to look at, they also allow for new ways to attain victory in fights you might not ordinarily win – not prepared to go toe-to-toe with that Ogre quite yet? Lure him into a swamp and then casually sling a fireball somewhere into the gas. Boom! The fiery fallout will do the rest.
Meanwhile, after having found a reasonable number of Potions of Strength – vital attribute-boosting elixirs that let you effectively use heavier weapons and armour – I was feeling pretty confident. I ambled into a plain-looking room, and in the far corner was a pedestal with what seemed to be a key lying on it. How curious.
“What’s this for?” I thought to myself, strolling over and snatching the perfectly ordinary key from its resting place. A faint mechanical click punctuated the silence… and a portcullis clanked shut at the far doorway to imprison me. Just in front of it, a cleverly hidden vent started wafting out an unknown but toxic-looking vapour. It was a trap! But even as the gas eddied weirdly towards me, I remembered the spare scroll of teleportation I had in my pack. Breathing a word of thanks to the RNG, I read it and left the deathtrap behind. This time, quite by chance, I was lucky – but such luck can never be relied upon…
As you first play the game, you will inevitably get taken by surprise at these devious traps, and is isn’t always easy for veterans to recognise them either. The key I had narrowly avoided death for opened an iron door to a small treasure room stocked with tempting loot, but even then there was a trick: These rooms only let you take one item. And guess what? Sometimes one of those items will be another key… leading to another treasure room. Like the many other interesting things this game does, it’s a simple idea that genuinely adds to the fun – and to the tactical decisions you must make – as you explore.
There are many refinements, modernisations, and even surprises that Brogue has up its voluminous sleeves and to talk about it in any more detail would ruin a lot of the fun of discovery. For what my tuppence is worth, though, I’d very much recommend everyone – from the curious passer-by to the grizzled veteran – should give this one a go. It’s a good introduction to the permadeath world of Roguelikes, as well as being a great game in its own right. Wander over to the Brogue homepage to download it. Two thumbs up!