Of All The Roguelikes That Exist, This Is One Of Them
It’s not that Rogue Stache is a terrible game, by any measure. The graphics are nice, everything runs smoothly, and there’s plenty of unlockable weapons and equipment which should, in theory, keep you coming back for more. The problem is simple: you’ve played this game before. From Risk of Rain to Nuclear Throne, indie pixel art roguelikes are a dime a dozen, and while the execution of Rogue Stache is competent enough, it doesn’t do anything to set itself apart from the enormous throng of games just like it.
Let me tell you some stuff you already know. Rogue Stache is a randomly generated set of twenty levels with a boss every fifth level and a big boss at the end. Death sends you back to the beginning of the game, meaning you lose the experience, weapons, and perks you gained throughout your run, but you do keep your money and Stache Tokens, which allow you to get slightly better each time you face the dungeon. Typically, such a game would start off impossibly difficult and become more conquerable as you purchase better gear and learn the game’s systems, but that’s not the case with Rogue Stache, which is the first roguelike I’ve ever played that I won my very first run.
Most of these sorts of games have That One Item that’s incredibly overpowered, and which you always hope will spawn on the run you’re doing. In Rogue Stache, that’s every gun. From the shotgun (ostensibly the second-least-powerful weapon) to the laser sword to the rocket launcher, everything kills enemies in one or two hits and is ridiculously spammable, especially when you use Stache Power, which allows you to fire without reloading and bestows other benefits based on the mustache you have equipped.
This game really likes mustaches. We’ll get to that.
The game’s simplicity and the overpowered nature of all the weapons makes it fun…for a little while. The pure spectacle of it all as projectiles and blood and guts flies everywhere is nice to look at, but it’s spectacle enacted by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. In less pretentious terms: watching everyone in your path explode into gooey chunks is only fun the first two times, and you’ll be doing that hundreds of thousands of times in a single run. Combat doesn’t require any strategy or careful thought – if you know how to move with WASD and click on something to shoot it, you already know everything Rogue Stache has to teach you, young grasshopper. I guess having everything be useful is better than something like Ziggurat’s habit of occasionally screwing you over by dropping only unusable garbage items, but every gun is instant death and available on the starting run, why would I feel the need to play multiple times?
The one thing I do have to admit to being a cool mechanic is the Stache Token system. Certain things in a level (usually locked chests or killing a boss) will grant you a golden Stache Token, which can be entered into a slot machine when you finish a run. This slot machine creates a hat with randomly generated perks (equal to the number of Stache Tokens entered, up to three) which is then a permanent item you can bring into battle. The idea of equipment that’s useful and earned through playing the game well, but also has an element of randomness to it, is a really neat idea, and makes it feel like your Rogue Stache playthrough is something unique to you. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the game, which is still 99 percent mindlessly clicking on everything to destroy it instantly. I like the idea of trying different playstyles with different randomly-generated hats, but why try different playstyles when there’s only one and it’s the 2D equivalent of “W+M1”?
I said the graphics were pretty, and for the most part I’ll still stand by that, but the backgrounds are dull as ditchwater. The whole thing takes place in a space station overrun by
metroids “Eyeliens”, and each of the four areas can be summarized as green lines on a black background. Slightly different green lines, sure, but in a genre that contains such gorgeous entries as Flame in the Flood or The Binding of Isaac it heightens the feeling that you’re playing a vastly inferior copycat. Enemies, too, are repetitive after the first couple of runs – everything’s either an eyeball or a zombie, neither particularly unique. Again, it’s a matter of replayability – the sprites all look cool in a still image, at least the first time you see them, but when you have to play through twenty identical areas with the same six identical monsters, it gets real old real fast.
So if the graphics are barebones, the gameplay’s nothing special, and the rewards system doesn’t add much reason to play the game more than once, what unique selling point does the game have going for it? In a word: mustaches. Do you think that the contextless existence of mustaches, in and of itself, is hilarious? Then boy howdy is this the game for you, complete with early 2010s Internet humor up to and including the phrase “Like a Sir.” Humor is subjective, but in my personal opinion, LISA did facial hair jokes better, mainly because the mustaches in the Men’s Hair Club did something funny, rather than just kinda existing.
Rogue Stache is fine. Everything it does, it does as well as it could reasonably be expected to, and maybe to you the sheer spectacle of it all is worth the $5 asking price. But in a world with so, so many better games of this kind, roguelikes with challenging gameplay and incredible atmosphere, I have to wonder why you would bother getting something that’s just kinda “meh.”
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Black Shell Media; Developer: WubsGames; Players: 1; Released: January 6, 2017 ; MSRP: $4.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Rogue Stache given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.