I'm an embarrassment to the family name. Mere moments after entering the dreaded castle, bedecked in my mother's armor and sword and armed with knowledge of powerful magic, I fumbled a simple series of jumps and tumbled into deadly spikes, ending my adventure roughly 45 seconds after it had begun. Fortunately for my ego, Rogue Legacy is a roguelike and death is expected--perhaps not this early, but often. So I'll dust myself off, jump into my progeny's shoes, and avenge my family's name or die trying.
Likely the latter.
Rogue Legacy is a bit of a platformer, a bit of an RPG, and the best kind of frustrating. It's rather generous as far as roguelikes go--developer Cellar Door Games calls it a "rogue-lite"--so death is merely the beginning. As you explore the castle that serves as the first of the game's five zones, you'll find treasure, defeat monsters, and die over and over and over again.
The maps are procedurally generated, a new layout automatically formed every time your progeny steps through the gates. But anything you've earned will be preserved for future generations, so no matter how often you fail you'll generally always make a bit of progress.
Combat is simple: whack enemies with your sword or spend some mana to fire off a spell. Enemies you kill have a chance to drop some gold, a potion to regenerate your mana, or--rarer still--a hunk of meat that'll replenish your precious hit points. But don't bother getting too attached, as you will lose, and lose often.
When you do die you'll be shuffled back to the game's title screen and be able to start all over again as one of your three children, at your family's dilapidated keep. Their class is determined randomly: to start there's your basic Knight, a Mage that will gain a bit of mana every time they kill an enemy, or Barbarians that can take a bit more damage than the rest. They'll also receive a random spell--from throwing daggers to the ability to stop time.
There's also a chance they'll be saddled with a number of traits. These can be useful: hypergonadism allows you to knock enemies back whenever you hit them, while a character with O.C.D. will gain a bit of mana every time they destroy decorative objects scattered around levels. Some traits are detrimental: nearsightedness, for example, blurs much of the onscreen action. And some are... odd--dyslexia transposes letters when you're looking at menus or reading text, and nostalgia makes the entire world sepia-toned.
Any gold you collected during your adventures can be spent on upgrades for your keep, which will improve your family's abilities and unlock new potential classes for your future offspring. That knight can become a Paladin who can block attacks with a shield, while the mage becomes an archmage, gaining access to a second spell.
As you start fleshing out your keep, you'll also gain access to two artisans--a blacksmith and an enchantress--and an architect. The blacksmith will build you new equipment if you find blueprints whilst traipsing about the castle, and the enchantress will unlock new abilities when you find runes. Powerups and gear will all carry over down your family line--that doesn't make much sense, but it's hardly the first lapse in logic I'd call out here.
Once inside the castle you're left to your own devices: a map in the starting room gives you a general idea of which direction to head to reach the tower, forest, and dungeon that surround the castle proper, but you're given no clue as to how large these zones are. Here's where the architect comes in: he simply locks the otherwise-randomized castle into place, maintaining whatever layout you last encountered. You won't be able to retrieve any loot you've already collected and the architect pockets 70% of any gold you've earned as a fee, but it's a good way to explore the grounds and practice against the blisteringly cruel bosses you'll encounter intermittently.
There's an ending, though I certainly won't ever reach it. My runs average about 10 minutes long: a couple of epic jaunts all the way to high-level zones I've no business being in, interspersed with dying within 45 seconds of entering the castle, as I seem incapable of mastering simple jumping puzzles. But my, is it fun. All this can be yours for a mere $15 bucks on most digital distribution stores (I bought it on Steam) or directly from Cellar Door Games' site. You'll also find a demo there, if you're itching to try it out.