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The Search for the Perfect Roguelike – Pirates, Tyrants, and Gladiators!

Tears of the Kingdom has broken my gaming brain, so I'm checking out a few recent roguelikes to try to break my addiction.

I have a big problem with The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. It’s been two months since the game came out, but I feel like its shadow has been hanging over the Switch release calendar this entire year. There have been a ton of excellent games that have hit both before and since it came out, but it is tough to focus on anything else because Zelda is just right there!

Anyway, I have been trying to find games to drag me away from Tears of the Kingdom with pretty mixed success. I sort of want another big, epic adventure to go on, but instead, I keep trending toward smaller experiences. There are a few roguelike games that dropped earlier this year that I didn’t give enough time to, so I’ve decided to jump back into them to see if a quick, pick-up-and-play game might hold my attention.

Geek to Geek Media was provided with review copies of these titles.

Pirates Outlaws

It would feel reductive to say that Pirates Outlaws is Slay the Spire with a pirate theme but, well… it is. The game has several characters that you can take out on voyages through several randomly generated worlds where you battle with a deck of cards. Defeating enemies grants you new cards to use in battle, relics that provide passive abilities, or currency you can spend later to purchase, upgrade, or discard cards. This game follows the roguelike deck builder structure to a T, but this is a case where familiarity is a boon.

Pirates outlaws lets you play up to five cards on every turn.

Pirates Outlaws is incredibly easy to pick up for anyone who has played this sort of game before but also does a pretty good job of onboarding new players. The game starts you off in the “Gunner” character class, which has both melee and ranged attacks. On your turn, you draw five cards and can play as many as you want in any order, except that ranged attacks use up ammo. Not being limited by arbitrary “action points” makes this a really easy-to-understand combat system.

You'll constantly be unlocking things in Pirates Outlaws.

The other way that Pirates Outlaws welcomes new players is in its progression system, which was actually a massive turn-off to me at first. The menu in this game has lots of options with lots and lots of locks on them. Playing the game earns you experience that unlocks characters, worlds, and more, but at first, the game looks like a bad mobile port full of in-app purchases. Once you get a feel for the game, though, you realize that the progression system means the game is constantly introducing new mechanics to the player, and a list of challenges serve as both in-game achievements for hardcore players and a guide on things to try for new players.

I think that Pirates Outlaws is a really well-structured game that feels great to play. Between its odd title and how closely it reflects Slay the Spire, it’s a game that’s easy to dismiss, but there is a lot of fun to be had here.

Tyrant's Blessing

  • Title: Tyrant's Blessing
  • Release Date: February 23, 2023
  • Price: $19.99
  • Suggested Audience Age: Rated Everyone 10+ by the ESRB
  • Availability: Switch, Steam, GOG
  • Recommended for fans of: Tiles, Into the Breach, Dragons

I do not understand why Tyrant's Blessing isn’t clicking with me. It’s a roguelike game that uses tactical combat with puzzle elements for fast, snappy gameplay. Every time I pick up this game I have a blast figuring out how to make my way through encounters, but then I completely forget the game exists as soon as I put it down.

Tyrant's Blessing plays out on tiny tactical battlefields.

Let me back up. Tyrant’s Blessing is a roguelike game that has you controlling a squad of four characters in tactical encounters. Each character you control is equipped with different abilities that they can use to attack or, perhaps more importantly, move enemy combatants around a chessboard-sized isometric arena. Like Into the Breech or Fights in Tight Spaces, you start your turn with an understanding of exactly how the enemy will act on theirs, which is where the more puzzley feel comes into play. On top of that, your characters leave behind a vulnerable ghost when they move, so figuring out how to eliminate threats to your characters on a turn is always the focus.

Tyrant's Blessing has a story, but it doesn't stick with me at all.

My problem with Tyrant’s Blessing is that the overall structure doesn’t work for me. Each encounter has your characters responding to some threat, like trying to help a hapless, harassed farmer. There is good motivation for each level. When you zoom out, though, the story loses focus. I know the game has told me who my characters are, who the villains are, and why I should care about completing enough small missions to start a boss fight, but it just won’t stick with me.

Tyrant's Blessing over world structure has you reclaiming land for the titular Tyrant... I think?

Still, the combat is interesting and unique enough that this is probably the game on this list I have played the most.

Space Gladiators

  • Title: Space Gladiators
  • Release Date: May 4, 2023
  • Price: $14.99
  • Suggested Audience Age: Rated T for Teen by the ESRB
  • Availability: Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam
  • Recommended for fans of: Rogue Legacy, Newgrounds, Dead Cells

Space Gladiators has been around for a while but just came to the Switch at the same time that a follow-up from the same developer, Brotato, was announced for Nintendo’s hybrid console. Both games use the same art style that looks absolutely stupid, and I love it. They look like Flash games I would have played on a school computer, desperately worried that a librarian would come by and notice the risqué banner ads plastered across the screen.

Space Gladiators has you stepping into the shoes of one of eight unlockable characters as they attempt to battle their to the surface of a prison planet full of monsters, traps, and guards. Gameplay plays out as a 2D hack-and-slash platformer, with optional pickups for ranged, defensive, and crowd control style abilities. If you’ve played the Rogue Legacy games, you’ll be pretty familiar with the formula.

Space gladiators looks kind of terrible, but in the best way.

After fighting through a few rooms full of enemies you’ll come to a gladiatorial arena or a more traditional boss fight, where waves of enemies charge at you from both sides of the screen. One of the really cool hooks in this game is that there are a lot of opportunities to customize your character and the challenges you face, including the ability to choose different difficulty levels of boss arenas for different tiers of rewards.

Space gladiators boss design is just as stupid and wonderful as the rest of it.

This game is way more fun than its silly art style had me expecting. There’s still something a little loose and silly about the whole thing, but that means that losing to a poorly balanced encounter is more likely to make me laugh than frustrate me. I don’t necessarily get the “just one more run” itch in Space Gladiators the way I do in Pirates Outlaws, but this is the one I’m most likely to boot up for a quick and satisfying play session.

Final Thoughts

I'm not sure if any of these games are the game I'm looking for. Pirates Outlaws is addicting and Tyrant's Blessing is engaging and Space Gladiators is pure dumb fun… but every time I boot up my Switch I still crave more Zelda over anything else.

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