Looking at my various software libraries it’s come to my attention that, based on the metric of how many of the things I’ve got, I love roguelikes/roguelites. It’s all I seem to bloody play these days. Well in between games as a service games with battle passes. Because apparently I hate myself.
I’ve been trying to pin down what it is about them that draws me to them. By their very nature they run contrary to what I like in gaming. I have to have a goal. I’m very A to B in a straight line, no nonsense thanks. Much to the chagrin of my other half. She’s a wanderer. She’ll quite happily traipse about in a game for hours searching nooks and crannies for hidden things, loot, enemies, easter eggs, whatever. Like when we used to play World of Warcraft together, she’d be running off going “Ooh! Ore! Oooh what’s this cave?! Ooooh rare mob!” and I’m trying to get to the place where the mobs spawn screaming “WE NEED TO KILL HARPIES, WOMAN! GOD DAMN IT!”. It made our co-op shenanigans something of a strained experience at times.
Roguelikes have no real goal except “Get loot, get to the end, repeat”. It’s not open-world free form kind of aimlessness, but there’s nothing except ‘defeat the game, start again’. I also own 18,399 of them. Dicey Dungeons, Curse of the Dead Gods, Enter The Gungeon, Dungeon of the Endless, Hades, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Necronator, The Binding of Isaac and Darkwood are just a few. And I own a number of those multiple times over different formats because I am THAT dickhead.
So when yet another one popped up in the ‘Available Code’ channel on the MHG Discord I passed over it for a while, because the last thing I needed was yet another bloody roguelike.
And yet here we are.
Rhythm Fighter is almost distressingly cookie cutter in it’s formula; you choose a character and you’re thrown into a randomly generated ‘dungeon’ filled with traps, enemies and bosses. Then you punch everything in the face, pillage the chests at the end of the encounter and equip better weapons and gear to boost health, attack, special power, add elemental effects, and so on. So far, so standard.
The one thing that makes Rhythm Fighter stand out a bit is (as you’ve probably divined from it’s title) is that it’s a rhythm action roguelike. However, Crypt of the Necrodancer nicked that gimmick early so it’s not even that unique of an idea. And when I first started playing it I was seriously unimpressed. It looked nice and the character design was chunky and it’s got a really bright aesthetic that’s entirely my jam but I struggled to get the rhythm part of it down. The music of each area has a general theme (like the vaguely Egyptian theme level has a middle-eastern selection of dancey-beated music) and it switches them from room to room, but sometimes the sound effects conspire to make finding the beat a little difficult.
Still, there’s a tonne of visual cues to help you get the beat down, although some may say it’s a little too busy on screen. Also it took quite a bit of effort to find the right delay compensation to hit the Perfect beats consistently. Perfects are key to defeating the tougher enemies (after equipping decent weapons and gear obvs) and even then sometimes it feels a little off because of the aforementioned cacophony over the top of the music. Note to self: check SFX volume.
So far, so meh, right? Why bother if you have one of the other umpty bumpty roguelikes out there? Weeeeelllll….
For everything about Rhythm Fighter that is by rote the saving grace is that it does all of that stuff really, really well. Despite my reservations about the vaguely wooly nature of the gameplay it’s very compulsive and satisfying. There’s enough nuance between the enemy types and tactics required to defeat them to keep things fresh for a good old while, and while one of the bosses can absolutely do one because it flattens me EVERY SINGLE TIME I can feel myself getting to the point where I’ve got it’s number and it WILL fall soon.
What helps is that the rhythm combat is more forgiving than Crypt of the Necrodancer. In Necrodancer you have to keep moving and hitting enemies to keep your combo up. In Rhythm Fighter you just need to make your hits connect with the enemies without leaving too much of a gap. They reset every room anyway, so you can dodge and move around the enemies as much as you need, so long as you punch them in the chuff without missing. Also not every hit has to be Perfect, but it certainly helps that there is a separate combo for the Perfects that keeps your damage up. It actually took a while to get out of the mindset that you need to move to every single beat, but when I did expunge that it all clicked together nicely.
It also has the obligatory unlocks and permanent upgrades which some roguelikes don’t have. I always found it a bit weird that some games lack impetus as there’s no tangible reward for doing a run. Sometimes it does feel like an “I participated!” medal but, as I mentioned, I like having something to work towards. The in-game currency is used to upgrade your characters, buy permanent talents from the skill tree and also buy one-run-use weapons, cards or abilities to help you from the beginning of your current go.
All of these things are unlocked as you play by the in game achievement system which is a novel way of gating content, so it feels like you’re making progress even if you, well, don’t really. Add to that the obligatory ‘Daily Challenge’ mode which gives you a preset character and conditions to make the game more difficult and a practice mode to help you get a particularly irksome enemy type down (I’m coming for you, Catgoyle Chonki) it all adds up to something that while components are very much typical of the genre, the whole is an excellent example of it.