The Best Roguelike Games On Mac & iOS [Feature]

roguelikes

An infinitely deep and replayable world of RPG gaming awaits.

If you love to game, and you’ve never played a roguelike, shame on you. You can hardly call yourself a gamer at all.

Born in the era of computing in which games were played on cathode-ray terminals tethered to massive, churning mainframes, Rogue was an attempt to replicate in a single player, ASCII environment the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons on pen and paper. It even recreated the experience of having a capricious, pimply, power-mad Dungeon Master as best as it could with a punishing difficulty level and insane, randomly generated levels. You could die at any time and never see it coming, only roll a new a character.

What makes a roguelike?

  • Randomly-generated levels.
  • Turn-based combat.
  • Permadeath
  • Optional: RPG-like, ASCII graphics

The graphics were rudimentary. In Rogue, you play a lone @ symbol navigating a dungeon comprised of periods and equal signs, fighting a menagerie of monsters represented by the full spectrum of capital and lower-cased typography. Despite all this, though, Rogue is a game that is played to this day. There’s a port of Rogue for every platform under he sun.

And the cherry on top? Rogue has inspired an entire genre of games that are even better than Rogue is! They are called roguelikes, and while they can look and play very differently than Rogue, they all have a core formula in common: randomly generated levels, turn-based gameplay and permadeath — once you die in a roguelike, you start all over again from scratch.

A question that is often asked is why anyone would want to play a game with graphics so crude that they can literally be represented by just a bunch of punctuation marks and gameplay so cruel that you might have to start over from scratch after pouring hours into a game. Why bother with roguelikes?

The answer is scope of imagination. Roguelikes routinely put players in situations that would be downright impossible in other games. In what other genre of game can you choose to play a flying wizard octopus wielding eight rings of power, commanding an army of undead warriors, who worships a snail god as old as the universe itself,  which in turn gives you the power to turn back time? The best roguelikes not only let you play any kind of character you can possibly imagine, they let you use a variety of tactics to achieve your ends that other types of games simply can’t match… and the truth of the matter is that when gameplay is satisfying and infinitely variable, beating a game ceases to be the reward mechanism. Playing it is the main thing that matters. Roguelikes aren’t designed to be played until they are beaten; they are designed to be played until you die.

Roguelikes aren’t designed to be played until they are beaten; they are designed to be played until you die.

Roguelikes are one of the most infinitely rewarding and replayable genres of games you can play, and in the last few years, they have experienced an incredible renaissance… not just in popularity, but in creativity as well.

Here are the finest roguelikes you can find on the Mac and iOS platforms. We’re ranking them according to accessibility and how easy they are to get into, so if you’ve never played a roguelike before, just try the first one we list on your platform of choice and wait for the addiction to set in!

Roguelikes on Mac

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  1. Dungeons of Dredmor
  2. DoomRL
  3. Brogue
  4. ToME
  5. Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup

Dungeons of Dredmor

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Most roguelikes faithfully adhere to the idea that every object, enemy or player in the game should be representable by a single alphanumeric character, so that the game can be played in ASCII mode. This goes back all the way to the roots of Rogue, and it’s actually strength of the genre: because there’s no graphical overhead to creating an object in a roguelike short of picking an ASCII character to represent it, developers can implement new monsters, items or radically new gameplay ideas extremely easily. Even when roguelikes do have graphics, they tend to just be static images of monsters and items “tiled” over the corresponding ASCII character.

What Sets It Apart:

  • Fully animated.
  • Great sense of humor.
  • Weird and wonderful skills.

What makes Dungeons of Dredmor different is that it’s a roguelike game with actual production values. In a traditional roguelike, when you hit an enemy with your sword, you just bump into him with it. In Dredmor, you can actually see your character swinging a blade When you drink a potion in most roguelikes, you just get a message telling you that you quaffed it. In Dredmor, you can see your character pop the top off a vial and glug it down.

It’s this visual aspect that makes Dredmor probably the most immediately accessible roguelike for the Mac. It’s also a fantastically funny game, a roguelike with a goofy sense of humor. You won’t find many other roguelikes with skills like “Communism” or “Emomancy.” An extra feature to recommend it to new players? Permadeath is optional, meaning you won’t necessarily lose all of your progress in the game when you die.

You can buy just the core game of Dungeons of Dredmor for just $4.99 here. The complete edition, featuring the game’s two expansion packs, can be purchased for $9.99 here.

DoomRL

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How’s this for a game idea? You play a lone space marine on Mars, fighting bio-mechanical demons from hell and exploding them into a gib-spray potpourri of meaty chunks using a panoply of futuristic military hardware.

What Sets It Apart:

  • First person shooting in RPG form.
  • Based on id software’s Doom series.
  • Fight off demons from hell on Mars.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the rough plot of id software’s first person shooter masterpiece, Doom, which hails all the way back to 1993. And it’s also the plot of DoomRL, which isn’t just one of the best roguelikes out there, but which has also been called “the greatest Doom spin-off ever.”

The great thing about DoomRL is, if you’ve ever played a first person shooter, it’s all familiar. While DoomRL has all the hallmarks of roguelikes, like randomly generated levels, permadeath, turn-based combat and an RPG-like leveling system,the gameplay is pure Doom: the same Doom enemies and weapons, the same Doom setting, even the same music and sprites. If you know how to play Doom, you know how to play this… except it’s strategic instead of frenetic, and the levels are different every time.

DoomRL is free to download here.

Brogue

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One of the aspects of the original Rogue that has been lost as the roguelike genre iterates upon its formula is the inherent simplicity of the gameplay. There’s no bones about it: while roguelikes have become more accessible thanks to new trends like  attractive graphics, helpful tutorials and UI features like auto-explore, they’ve also tended to get more complicated through the addition of multiple race and class combinations, gods to worship, different stats and skills to keep track of, with a mess of inscrutable gameplay logic seemingly proscribed at random by a thousand unseen generations of sadomasochistic beardos slathered all over the top of the hot ASCII mess.

What Sets It Apart:

  • Beautifully stylized ASCII graphics.
  • Surprisingly deep environmental effects.
  • Roguelike gaming, stripped to its essence.

For a long time, this fact tended to make modern roguelikes a lot harder for a newcomer to infiltrate than Rogue was of yore. Even if you, oh ye product of the Xbox generation, can see past the simplistic graphics of your average roguelike, you might find yourself slaughtered during your first game because you didn’t know, for example, that that dungeon sink you were prompted to kick had a 20% chance of a brain-consuming water nymph snaked up inside the drain, and the only way to escape it once woken is to use your dagger to write ‘Elbereth’ on the floor. And why would you know that stuff? It’s insane.

Luckily, in the last few years ago, we’ve seen roguelikes swing in the opposite direction: a return to deep gameplay, but simple , accessible mechanics.

Few games better sum up this shift than Brogue.

The first thing you need to know about Brogue is that it’s the game that will convince you that ASCII can be beautiful. Although everything in Brogue is represented with alphanumeric characters, the quality of implementation is stunning; during a game, you will explore the depths of shadowy subterranean lakes, come upon fruit-filled dales glittering with sunshine, dangle above vast gorges upon rickety rope bridges, and see entire rooms incinerate into flame.

But Brogue is also notable in that it takes everything complicated about the mechanisms of roguelikes and strips it away, leaving only the gameplay. In Brogue, you don’t have to worry about classes, or learning spells, or training skills skills, or keeping your piety level up, or what the command is to tell your minions to attack, Your character just explores the dungeon. You “level up” by finding potions that increase your strength. Your strength determines what weapons and armor you can use. You don’t even earn XP for killing monsters: it’s possible, but not likely, to beat the game by taking a stealth approach.

Brogue is a beautiful game, the purity of the original Rogue as scried through the filter of the 21st century. You can download it free here. 

ToME

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Most roguelikes have a very simple premise and a very small scope: you’re a brave explorer delving into a dungeon, in search of a treasure or some ancient evil to defeat. It’s the equivalent of going through Moria over and over again when there’s all of Middle Earth hanging invisibly above you.

What Sets It Apart:

  • Interesting quest system.
  • Unlockable classes, achievements, online chat.
  • Vast game overworld.

ToME is a roguelike that gives you Middle Earth in addition to Moria.

That Tolkein connection isn’t accidental: ToME originally stood for “Tales of Middle Earth” when it was first released back in 1998, although it’s since created its own fantasy mythology. Either way, in ToME, you don’t just explore dungeons… you solve quests and find adventure in a massive overworld in which one haunted dungeon or orc-ridden wood is just a single level in an entire globe of adventure.

The latest version of ToME released last year is about as modern as roguelikes get. The game features an MMO-like leveling system, Diablo-like special powers and abilities, a rich and detailed game world, multiple free-flowing quests, a cool achievement system and unlockable classes.

And those unlockable classes? They get awesome quick. ToME has entire classes built around chronomancy powers. A spell that lets you revert time back to a previous point, a spell that move enemies forward in the timeline, a spell that lets you split the timeline in 3 to try different approaches to a problem and then pick which one to stick with, and more.

Don’t like the graphics? You can switch them out with any tileset of your choosing (I’m fond of the OldRPG tileset here, but there are many more). The game also has an elegant permadeath system, in which you can earn extra lives by pleasing the game’s spectral overlord who presides over the domains of death. There’s even a social aspect: you can chat with other ToME players as you grind, asking them for advice or linking cool new gear you’ve found.

ToME is a shining example of how polished and advanced a roguelike can be in 2013. The fact that the game is 100% free while matching the polish of commercial efforts like Dungeons of Dredmor just boggles the mind.

You can download ToME for free here.

Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup

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I have friends that I regularly bore with tales of my adventures in Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup. Well I know the glaze-eyed, thousand-mile stare as I regale a friend with a tale about how I lost my last spriggan enchanter, charging the ghost of a fire elementalist with my backpack stupidly stuffed full of fireball scrolls (“I exploded.”) or try to explain to my girlfriend, in earnestness, why I was okay with having been stomped to death by a herd of death yaks (“I had it coming.”)

What Sets It Apart:

  • Unmatched depth, seemingly infinite scope.
  • Powerful, intuitive interface.
  • The absolute best of the modern roguelikes.

Over the past few years, I’ve spent hundreds of hours with Stone Soup, and I’ve never even come close to winning it. And in the next few years, I’ll doubtlessly spend several hundred hours more.

Stone Soup scratches an itch. Ever ytime I play a game, I walk away feeling that I learned something new about how it works, and yet satisfied that I didn’t need to know it beforehand to have had a chance to beat the game.

Stone Soup is an exquisitely fair game, the antithesis of the diabolical design philosophies that went into earlier roguelikes like Nethack, where an act as simple as eating an egg you found could instantly end your game because, hey, you didn’t hear? It was laid by a cockatrice. But not all eggs are laid by cockatrices. Only some eggs. You just can’t tell which ones.

Stupid and unfair, and exactly the kind of thing Stone Soup’s designers think is stupid and unfair too.

Although Stone Soup is an extremely difficult roguelike, there’s generally only one mistake you can make: being too reckless, and therefore making your next move before you’ve properly thought through the situation you’ve landed yourself in and the skills and items you have at your disposal.

The design philosophy of Stone Soup is exquisite fairness, and the Dev Team is committed to making the most devilish, dastardly, insidious and addictive game that they can make… that is still technically winnable by any player picking it up for the first time with absolutely no experience playing it whatsoever!

In what other game can you play a sentient housecat monk, a gladiator mermaid or a vampire warrior?

Then there’s Stone Soup’s incredible scope. In what other game can play a vampire warrior, or an ancient mummy reanimated from the dead, or a sentient housecat monk, or a gladiator mermaid? In what other roguelike will you meet gods that grant you magical decks of cards that conjure up ancient demons to fight for you, or snail gods as old as time itself who punish you if you run too fast? When else will you find yourself trapped in a labyrinth with a minotaur, banished to hell with demons, fight your way back, plunge your way through a demesne of snake men, then die because you were gored to death by a bunch of zombie yaks?

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even in its genre, Stone Soup is the grand patriarch, the roguelike against which all others are measured. It’s the game that saved roguelikes from themselves, rightly calling out the sadomasochistic mechanics of earlier roguelikes as bullshit and striving to create a game that is challenging and devilish, but accessible to anyone. Consequently, Stone Soup has almost single-handedly brought us into an era of fairer, 21st century roguelikes.

Lastly, I would be amiss not to mention Stone Soup’s incredible interface. Although many of its tricks have since been borrowed by other roguelikes, there still isn’t a roguelike out there that does such an admirable job of taming the necessary convolutedness of a roguelike’s massive scope with a powerful interface aimed at meeting the needs of beginners and experts alike. In Stone Soup, you can search for any object you’ve seen in the game just by hitting Control-F, then travel right to it just by tapping a key. You can auto-explore the dungeon until you meet a monster or find an interesting item, just by tapping the ‘o’ key. You can quickly travel to previous levels or bookmarked treasure troves. You can choose to manually juggle your skills, or let the game figure it out for you. And much, much more.

I’ll just say it: Stone Soup is my favorite game, ever.

I’ll just say it: Stone Soup is my favorite game, ever. While having no narrative to speak of, it is an infinitely deep masterpiece of pure gameplay, and to my mind, the ultimate fulfillment of the roguelike genre’s promise. This is a game you could play for the rest of your life and never see everything.

If you want to give Stone Soup a try, you can download the latest version for Mac here. But one of the great things about Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup is you can also play it in any browser on the web, no download required.

Roguelikes on iOS

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  1. Sword of Fargoal
  2. Cardinal Quest
  3. 100 Rogues
  4. Brogue
  5. POWDER

Sword of Fargoal

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After essentially going mad during the 1990s, modern roguelikes are more streamlined than they have ever been since the 80s.

What Sets It Apart:

  • One of the oldest roguelikes, updated for iOS.
  • Very simple roguelike mechanics.
  • Excellent contextual action system.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that one of the best roguelikes on iOS is a remake of a game that originally debuted on the C64, way back in 1982, Sword of Fargoal.

As a roguelike, Sword of Fargoal is pretty simple. You are a brave warrior — no classes here! — exploring the Fargoal dungeon for a sword, which is located twenty levels down. Like all roguelikes, levels are randomly generated; through your adventures, you’ll find various magical items and spells that will help your survive the later dungeon levels; die, and unless you’re playing on the wussiest setting, you’ll have to start all over again.

Sword of Fargoal does feature a couple of mechanics that are pretty unique. Items like shields that you are carrying degrade over time, and need to be replaced, but sacrificing gold you find at a temple will replenish them for you. Also, the deeper you delve in the dungeon, the faster the monsters move, meaning that they won’t just hit you harder the closer you get to the Sword: they’ll hit you more often as well.

What makes Sword of Fargoal such a great game on the iPhone and iPad, though, is that because its heritage extends far back into the earliest days of personal computing and the simpler days of roguelikes, the game’s mechanics translate well to a touchscreen. You swipe to move around. You swipe to initiate combat, and bump into them until either they die, or you do. Interacting with objects, digging in the ground, or casting a spell is all handled with contextual menus.

And it looks great. Sword of Fargoal uses stylized 16-bit sprites in beautifully illuminatedd mock-3D dungeons. It’s a lovingly wrought port of a classic game, made by Sword of Fargoal’s original creator, Jeff McCord.

Sword of Fargoal costs 2.99 on the iTunes Store, and plays well on both the iPhone and iPad. And if you get into it? The sequel is right around the corner.

Cardinal Quest

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Some purists might say Cardinal Quest is too simple a game to be a true roguelike, but that’s really its strength: this cheery little charmer is the kind of game that eases you into loving roguelikes even before you know what a roguelike is.

What Sets It Apart:

  • A fun, arcade-like roguelike.
  • Charming 8-bit graphics.
  • Interesting cool-down spell system.

Featuring stylized retro 8-bit graphics, Cardinal Quest feels almost like a turn-based version of a game like Gauntlet. Like all roguelikes, your goal is to explore a randomly generated dungeon in search of the evil Minotaur, whom you must slay. Die, and you start all over again.

There are three classes in Cardinal Quest, all of which are pretty much self-evident in abilities: there’s a Fighter (melee), Thief (stealth) and Wizard (spellcasting). As you explore the dungeon and fight monsters, you find various potions, which give you boosts to your health, speed and other stats.

One of the aspects of Cardinal Quest that makes it so charming is there is very little inventory management. While you can find new items or armor in the dungeon, walking over them is enough to equip them. If that item is better than what you’re using, you’ll automatically start using it and sell your old item; if it’s worse, your champion will chipperly scoff at its inferior nature, then discard it.

Instead of managing items in Cardinal Quest, you manage spells and abilities. These aren’t actually tied to your class. Instead, you find them littered around the dungeon. There’s no mana in the game, so each of these spells has a cooldown, meaning you have to choose the right moment to use your spelsl: should you try to wait a few turns to cast a Fireball, or can you get away with using your Fear spell now?

Cardinal Quest is one of my go-to roguelikes on iOS. The gameplay is more arcadey than most roguelikes, but that just makes it a perfect game to wile away some time on the go. What it lacks in deeper gameplay mechanics, it regains in its endearing casualness: while games like Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup and POWDER say “Oh shit!”, Cardinal Quest says, “Hey, no sweat, don’t worry about it.”

Cardinal Quest is available on the App Store for $2.99.

100 Rogues

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One of the biggest strengths and, ironically, biggest weaknesses of roguelikes is that they tend to have very remedial graphics. That makes them easier to realize, because every time a developer programs a new spell or a new weapon, he doesn’t have to pay an artist to animate it, but it also means that roguelikes — with very few exceptions — tend to use static, sprite-based graphics (or just ASCII!) for all the art, leading to people who don’t know how awesome roguelikes can be to look over your shoulder and sneer, “Why are you playing that ugly ancient game?”

In other words, roguelikes often sacrifice eye-candy in favor of deep, variegated gameplay… and that makes it hard for them to impress new players. Which is why 100 Rogues was such a revelation when it was released for the iPhone and iPod touch a few years ago: not only was it one of the first wholly original roguelikes for the iOS platform, but it had 16-bit, fully animated graphics that made it look like an awesome old SNES game. It actually looked awesome!

What Sets It Apart:

  • Built from the ground-up for the iPhone.
  • Totally unique classes.
  • Beautiful SNES-era graphics and sound.

That fact in and of itself would tend to make 100 Roguelikes more accessible than other roguelikes, but there are other ways in which the game coaches new players into the genre. For example, 100 Rogues features a Diablo or World of Warcraft like leveling system, in which you get to pick your powers and abilities as you level from various skill trees. That doesn’t sound like much, but like ToME, that familiar mechanic can go a long way in introducing a game to new players.

In 100 Rogues, the object of the game is to pick a class and explore 12 dungeon levels spread across 3 worlds: The Bandit Hole, The Dungeon, and Hell. The final level on each world is a pre-scripted boss fight, but otherwise, the levels themselves are randomized, and feature the usual array of insidious enemies, weapons, magic armor, shops and loot.

100 Rogues features four classes, two of which are unlockable by in-app purchase. As far as roguelikes are concerned, they are pretty unique: the Dinoman Bruiser, for example, is a hard-hitting dinosaur; the Fairy Wizard is an elfen fairy who attacks with wands; the Human Crusader is your standard-ish paladin knight, who can call upon the might of God himself (in actually, a big virtual finger) to crush enemies in his path; and the Skellyman Scoundrel, an undead thief. For an extra challenge, you can also play the game as a number of classes plucked  100 Rogues’ monster gallery; and while these classes can’t equip items, they can use all of the monsters’ innate skills.

A lot of love went into the development of 100 Rogues, and every drop of it shows. You can buy it on iTunes for $2.99.

Brogue

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Some of the iOS roguelikes on this list, like Cardinal Quest and POWDER, also work on the Mac. Likewise, there are ways to play Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup on iOS. But when coming up with this primer to roguelikes playable on Apple’s devices, we wanted to make sure that we not only recommended roguelikes on the platform they were best on, but that we were able to talk about as many different roguelikes as possible.

What Sets It Apart:

  • Beautifully stylized ASCII graphics.
  • Surprisingly deep environmental effects.
  • Just as good on the iPad as it is on the Mac.

But Brogue is the exception. Brogue is the only roguelike here that is worth listing on two platforms. So we’re just going to repeat ourselves from a page ago.

“The first thing you need to know about Brogue is that it’s the game that will convince you that ASCII can be beautiful. Although everything in Brogue is represented with alphanumeric characters, the quality of implementation is stunning; during a game, you will explore the depths of shadowy subterranean lakes, come upon fruit-filled dales glittering with sunshine, dangle above vast gorges upon rickety rope bridges, and see entire rooms evaporate into flame.

But Brogue is also notable in that it takes everything complicated about the mechanisms of roguelikes and strips it away, leaving only the gameplay. In Brogue, you don’t have to worry about classes, or learning spells, or training skills skills, or keeping your piety level up, or what the command is to tell your minions to attack, Your character just explores the dungeon. You “level up” by finding potions that increase your strength. Your strength determines what weapons and armor you can use. You don’t even earn XP for killing monsters: it’s possible, but not likely, to beat the game by taking a stealth approach.

Brogue is a beautiful game, the purity of the original Rogue as scried through the filter of the 21st century.”

Well said! And on the iPad, Brogue is an even more incredible feat than it is on the Mac: there aren’t a lot of roguelikes that can jump from a keyboard to a touch-based interface without coming off worse for wear. It’s every bit as good on the iPad as it is on the Mac.

Best of all? Brogue for the iPad is completely free.

POWDER

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What Sets It Apart:

  • The complexity of a desktop roguelike in a portable package.
  • Game philosophy: get in there and kill.
  • Interesting religion and leveling systems

Before everyone had iPhones in their pockets, portable gaming was done on portable game consoles, like the GameBoy Advance.

Unfortunately, though, portable consoles weren’t a very good platform for the roguelikes that were most popular at the time, which tended, as a rule, to require a physical keyboard to come to terms with their absolutely insane ASCII interfaces.

So way back in 2003, developer Jeff Lait set out to make a roguelike that anyone could play on a portable console with only a D-pad and just an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ button. The result was POWDER, a roguelike that looks primitive at first, but has shockingly deep gameplay the further into the game you delve. The goal is to get to the 25th level of the dungeon, retrieve the Heart of Baezl’bub, and then return to the surface world.

Why Powder makes this list is because it has been ported to iOS. The port is primitive, featuring a virtual D-pad and virtual buttons, over which a rudimentary touch interface has been overlaid. But it’s still probably the deepest roguelike on iOS that remains playable.

The design goals of POWDER are to make a roguelike that encourages quick, fast play over the sort of ponderous, nail-biting turn-by-turn gameplay of some PC roguelikes. A winning game takes only 3 hours, which is just a drop in the bucket of what playing a winning game in Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup will cost you, time-wise.

Everything about POWDER is designed with this “let’s get killing” philosophy in mind. But that’s not to say it isn’t deep. For example, POWDER is one of the few roguelikes on iOS that has a class and religion system… but it’s not immediately presented to the player at the start. Instead, you just start your game and start killing, then pick your “class” by picking a god to worship on level up. Each of these gods gives you different powers… and can choose to wreak vengaence upon you if you choose to worship another deity over them.

POWDER was under active development for 8 years, and if you can look past the remedial graphics, the iOS port maintains the GBA’s addictive, fast-paced gameplay. There are prettier roguelikes on the iPhone, and ones with better controls, but not any deeper while remaining playable. Even better, up until level 15, the game is completely free, and the last ten levels are unlocked for a $10 in-app purchase. That might seem like a lot of money, but if you get past level 16 in POWDER, chances are you’ve already been playing it for dozens upon dozens of hours, making that $10 to get the second half of the game a steal.

POWDER can be downloaded for free here.

Final Words

By no means should you assume that these are the only roguelikes on the Mac or iOS. Nor should you assume that any roguelikes not on this list are unworthy of your time. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are so many more.

But this article is primarily an attempt at proslytization. I love roguelikes, I want other people to love them too, and everyone has to start somewhere: it’s subjective, but I think this is where to start.

I didn’t write this article because it makes a lick of business sense. In this article, I’ve written over 4,000 words about roguelikes, and there’s probably only a few hundred people who will read them. That doesn’t make  published on a site that garners tens of thousands of pageviews simply by publishing the latest wisp of rumor  about the next hot Apple product. And we do that dozens of times per day. As deputy editor of this site, there are far smarter ways for me to use my time.

But people who play roguelikes are no stranger to futility. They learn to love it. How else can you pour hundreds of hours into a type of game, as I have, that you have never once won?

So I sincerely hope that the few hundred people out there who read these words will be kindred spirits, and that they will discover the love for roguelikes that gripped me when I was just a four-year-old, sitting in front of my mother’s ancient AT&T Unix terminal as I typed “rogue” into a command prompt for the first time. Because while even my gaming friends  have never seemed to understand my passion for them, I have always wanted other people to feel that sense of exploration and possibility that gripped me the first time, way back when, that I sat down in front of a green flickering cathode ray tube and weaved an at-symbol through a field of punctuation and letters, aching to know what long-buried evil I would find at the bottom of that fathomlessly deep, alphanumeric dungeon.

If none of the roguelikes in this article appeal to you, there’s a bunch more to try. If you need a suggestion on where to start, try the roguelike subreddit: those guys are really helpful, and true believers. But keep trying. Once you find the roguelike that’s right for you, it’ll be a game you play for the rest of your life.

Related
  • chthonian

    So I sincerely hope that the few hundred people out there who read these words will be kindred spirits, and that they will discover the love for roguelikes that gripped me when I was just a four-year-old, sitting in front of my mother’s ancient AT&T Unix terminal as I typed “rogue” into a command prompt for the first time.

    Yes, yes, this, all this. Oh man. As one of those few hundred people, thank you SO much for writing this article. In this modern age of gaming, I always thought I hated dungeon crawling (e.g. wandering through side dungeons in Oblivion/Skyrim; I still don’t like it) and hated fiendish difficulties… but trying out Don’t Starve recently made it all come rushing back. My hindbrain knew of the existence of roguelikes as a sub-genre, but until this week, I didn’t know that that’s what they were called. And researching them this week helped me re(!)-discover that they were actually a significant part of my childhood, like Castle of the Winds on Windows or Scarab of Ra on Mac (it was through trying to find the name of this game that Google led me, oddly enough, to this article).

    Which then led to “Hey, I used to love these, so where have they gone over the past fifteen years?” — and this list helped show me that the subgenre is still going strong; the world of roguelikes is so much larger and complex than my brief forays into it as a child; and I’m looking forward to trying it out properly. There’s just something about the tension of wandering and survival and perma-death; it’s a unique kind of minimalist anxiety different from, say, survival horror. I remember wandering monochromatic screens in terror, with my child’s imagination turning pixelated tiles into enormous, legitimately frightening monsters — in a way that other RPGs simply don’t, because even the best-designed monsters of Final Fantasy don’t have that sense of real danger in permadeath. I’ll definitely be trying out a few of the ones you’ve recommended! Thanks again.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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