Everyone at one point comes across a game that introduces a new mechanic that really changes how they view a genre. Sometimes this new concept can be so radical, so paradigm shifting that it becomes hard to go back to any other similar game without feeling that something is missing from the experience. You will get games that come along and base their entire reason for being around that one mechanic, almost blindly to the detriment to the rest of the game, leaving the player with a very shallow experience. Sometimes you get others who try to cannibalise as many of these high concept mechanics that it can, leaving a bloated mess with no real identity of its own. But sometimes you come across a game that successfully manages to blend some of the best ideas and genres together into something that feels worthy of your time.
Your first 5 minutes of playing Rogue Stormers, you will probably be instantly familiar with the 360 degree combat from games such as Metal Slug, the arcade classic, Midnight Resistance and many other similar games. Soon you will be having flashbacks to Metroid and other Castlevana-esque type games when you start to explore and backtrack through the side-scrolling, multi-tiered levels. Then you start to experience the lite-rpg mechanics that sits underneath the game, allowing you to improve your characters abilities and make them stronger. Then, just when you think you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, you find that every time you play the game, the levels are randomly generated. The Whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
This fusing of mechanics could easily have been poorly implemented. But Rogue Stormers feels as if it’s machined each part to fit perfectly into its game. It isn’t a blind copy and paste job. The controls are tight and responsive, leaving no room for doubt when controlling your characters placement and movement. Exploring the randomly generated levels shows a high degree of polish, not only in the look and feel of the environments, but in how each of the levels feels put together. And the lite-RPG engine genuinely encourages repeat playing, knowing that each time your character levels up, makes you are that little bit stronger and more capable of progressing further in the game. Not one of these aspects feels half-baked, nor do they feel over engineered. I feel that if Rogue Stormers hadn’t fused all these different mechanics into what we have, we would definitely be left with a lesser game.
Loading into the game, the players are faced with the Rogue Stormers universe equivalent of a recruitment video, setting the scene. Our medieval/steampunk fused city has been overrun by a mutant horde of Orcs and Goblins, led by the Evilest Orc of all, Hector Von Garg. Players form part of the Troopers, sent into the city to clear out the Orc infestation. The story doesn’t progress much beyond this and really just acts as a backdrop to the carnage you’re about to engage in. And, being honest, this doesn’t affect the experience one bit. The story isn’t why you’re going to be playing Rogue Troopers anyway.
The 7 levels in Rogue Stormers are randomly generated each time you start a new game. Apart from the backdrop on each level being the same, everything else is randomly put together. And, most of the time, the random generation is successful. Most of the paths and areas that are generated feel natural and logically placed with only the odd platform placement sitting in peculiar locations giving away the random nature of the levels creation. Even the enemy placement and spawn locations feel as if they are correctly placed and never feel unfair. The levels created are also multi-tiered, which makes the natural feeling of the generated levels all the more impressive.
Also randomly dotted about these levels are chests, slot machines and drop off points. Chests cost you gold to open up, which you accumulate by killing enemies or find lying around the levels. Depending on how expensive the chests are, gives you a rough idea what to expect. Cheap chests drop health orbs and weapons, while the more expensive ones can drop game changing perks that last until your character dies. You can literally stack up lots of different perks which can turn your character into a veritable hard to kill, killing machine. There is one chest, called a Blood Chest, which demands you sacrifice some health to open, and finding these in the early stages of your game, this can be more than half your health pool, but you can be rewarded with powerful perks, assuming you can stay alive to use them. But every drop in the game stay where they drop. So, any health or weapon drops, can be for later use. Slot machines offer you the ability to gamble your gold for health, weapon drops of even more in game perks if you are lucky. And Drop off points are free pickups of health and new weapons.
The weapon pickups are secondary to your main weapon and can range from temporary shields, grenades, satellite bombardments to health grenades. There is lots of variety here and I know I probably haven’t even seen half of what’s available to use. Weapons have a durability which means they aren’t permanent additions to your arsenal and a cooldown which prevents you from spamming the more powerful weapons you can find. But given that all drops are persistent, you can strategically save weapons till more powerful enemies appear or the waves become too great to handle with other gear. As you gain more awareness from playing the game, you quickly start to identify which weapons are best saved for bosses or trickier encounters.
Enemies come in many forms and in great numbers. From lowly goblin cannon fodder, hulking armour clad Orks to airships and all manners of other weird contraptions the game throws at you. On their own, most enemies are easily manageable. Even in groups of the same type, most of their attacks can be avoided or you can manoeuvre around them to take them out. There are no complex AI routines to master or outsmart here, as each enemy type has a simple behaviour pattern that is quickly identified and easily exploited. But, most of the time you have to deal with multiple groups of different enemies at the same time, all with their aforementioned pattern. ‘Bullet Hell’ is a term reserved for some of the more hardcore Schmups that are available. But there are times, with the number of different enemies that can spawn in, bullet-hell is exactly where you find yourself in. Unless you can quickly reduce the numbers on screen or, in certain points of the levels, destroy their spawn in points to reduce their tide. Nimble controls and fast firing become the only way to survive.
To complete a level, you must explore as much of it as you can until you can find the entrance to the Boss’s lair. Sometimes you can come across it quite quick, thanks to the random nature of the levels. But you have the option to dive straight on, or wait and further explore the level untill you find some more temporary perks to equip, or a more powerful secondary weapon to tackle them with. The boss at the end of each level is the same each time, so you always know what to expect and, like the other enemies, have a familiar pattern to learn and manipulate to your advantage. But they aren’t just as easy as the smaller enemies.
The RPG system that runs in the background of Rogue Stormers is a simple one. By completing levels, killing enemies and picking orbs from some the chests and slot machines, you accumulate experience. If you accumulate enough XP to level up by the end of the level, you get to choose one of 2 random perks to apply to your character. These can range from giving you extra health, doing extra damage to increasing your weapons rate of fire. There is anything up to 50+ perks to be selected. Once applied, they stay permanent and can even be levelled up multiple times to increase the effectiveness of those perks. Progression when you first start is slow and can be a bit of a grind to start seeing the effects all the perks can have on your character. And I would really prefer being able to chose which perk to buy or upgrade rather than relying on RNG to choose for me. But once you have a few in effect, you can really see the difference they make and you genuinely want to play more to level up to see how more effective you can make your character be.
Then you have temporary perks which you pick up and unlock from the chests in game. Once picked up, these perks stay active until your character dies. As you run through the level you can easily find yourself sporting anything upwards of 10 plus temporary perks, making your character fly, jump higher, sport double jumps or any of the many other perks available.
Players will eventually have a choice of 5 different characters to play with, each of which has a particular weapon specialisation and their own strengths and weaknesses. However, 4 of them remain locked at the start, with progression through the game being the key to unlocking them all. With 4 player co-op being available, either online or the very welcome local co-op, having a full team of different characters ensures that everyone’s weaknesses are covered by someone else’s strengths.
Rogue Stormers has a lot going for it. It’s a simple and easy to pick up game, with a lot of hidden depth to it. Although that depth isn’t immediately obvious to the player and the game almost feels shy about telling the player what it has to offer. It’s one of those games that epitomises the ‘just one more game’ mentality, convinced that you can get that little bit further, or be that bit more careful than last time. It needs a little bit of time investment before you really see what this game has to offer. The sheer volume of permanent and temporary perks to unlock and find gives players a lot of incentive to come back to this again and again. Couple that with the excellent random level generation, ensures that every time you jump into Rogue Stormers, it will be that little bit different to the last time. Then, with 4 player local and online co-op, rounds off the game as a nice tidy package and will be a huge plus to some, especially given the relative lack of couch co-op games these days. Give it a try, I think you just might be surprised.