Rogue Islands from Big Fat Alien and Blue Sock Studios
It always bodes well for a game when I forget that I’m playing it for a review and find hours vanishing in its virtual world. Rogue Islands is such a game.
Whilst superficially reminiscent of Minecraft, this is no simple clone; merging first-person shooting, crafting, procedurally generated worlds and perma-death, Rogue Islands brings a lot of ideas to the table and manages to merge them into something unique and compelling.
The narrative of Rogue Islands launches with a short intro setting up the purpose of its protagonist’s adventure: to sail off into the unknown and restore the “Great Tree Network.” This is then supplemented by far more engaging narrations at the start of each level. Where the introduction is brash and bold, the level-by-level narrations are more subtle and mysterious, hinting at the tragic downfall of civilizations consumed by their own hubris or decadence.
This has the effect of infusing each island level with character and triggering the imagination to provide a history to the now monster-infested lands. In this way the game almost invokes Dark Souls’ style of storytelling, creating a melancholy setting where the defining events of the game world took place countless years before our fingers touched the keyboard.
Do…Or Do Not. There Is No Tutorial
Rogue Islands doesn’t indulge new players with much of a tutorial; a few screens of instructions are provided and that is all. I found this to my liking, as Rogue Islands encourages learning through failure – or very careful experimentation – and anything a tutorial could teach us, the game proper can teach us better through its merciless insistence that we learn or die. Rogue Islands features permadeath, although on normal and easy difficulties a second chance can be bought by crafting a “Nightmare” from certain materials.
In terms of moment-to-moment action, Rogue Islands is at its core a first-person shooter. A selection of nine upgradeable spells provides the arsenal from which to draw during battle. These spells are split into three categories: Raw, Earth and Fire. Raw spells are useful at the beginning of the game but eventually take a back bench to the more powerful abilities of Earth and Fire.
Rogue Islands manages to ensure there’s always a use for each of the three schools. The accuracy of the raw spell “Spark Shot” is such that it will always be essential for mining, whilst the more flexible offensive options in Earth make it a steady, balanced choice to dispatching enemies. Fire, on the other hand, is immensely powerful but requires some care; when I first unlocked the basic Fire spell, I killed myself twice before I learned how far its area of effect reaches. Choosing the right spells for the right circumstances is essential.
Under the Lucent Cherry Moon
Supplementing the arcane blasting is a comprehensive crafting and survival game. Starvation is an ever-present threat, and Rogue Islands cleverly ensures that this remains a pressure by limiting the number of each food item that can be carried (on Normal difficulty it’s just two of each kind).
Some items have special uses that make them particularly important; lucent cherries – the nomenclature in Rogue Islands is wonderfully quaint, by the way – for example, make you invisible to ghasts, a deadly and invulnerable enemy that comes out in force at night. Gurgleweed is another useful item that cures poison and is an essential component for crafting Nightmares.
I found that, as a result of the limited inventory space, Rogue Islands trained me to memorize the location of every lucent cherry and gurgleweed that I found, in case of emergency.
Gnome Time Like the Presence
In addition to food and survival items, there are many collectables that are important for upgrading spells or increasing mana bar size. Hoarding these items makes up a big part of Rogue Islands, and the game manages the rarity of these items almost perfectly.
I say “almost,” as either because of my cautious playstyle or simple good luck, I ended up fully geared up by the time I reached the last quarter of the game, rendering loot relatively unimportant. That being said, it felt great to be a fully powered up magical bad-ass gnome immolating everything in sight (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d utter, let alone put to print).
Rogue Islands is beautiful, both visually and audibly. Comparisons to Minecraft are inevitable, given the blocky style, but Rogue Islands opts for a more “rounded off” effect than the sharp corners of Minecraft, making for a softer and more cartoonish style. The music is atmospheric and helps to reinforce the sense of mystery and wonder surrounding the randomly generated isles.
Rogue Islands is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Rogue Islands below: