Another triumph for the 'one great idea' model of gaming that's been so resurgent lately, Rogue Legacy dispenses with visual fanciness or taking itself at all seriously in favour of adding new purpose to the age-old platforming formula.
What Rogue Legacy does is merrily collide 16 bit-esque platforming with roguelikes, that infamously hardcore strain of roleplaying games which hang around the concept of perma-death - when your character bites the dust, that's it. Any progress made is lost, and in this case the castle you're trying to battle and leap your way through generates a brand new layout, with a different set of monsters, traps and treasures. In Rogue Legacy, you move on to an heir when your character dies, with their own random set of attributes.
They might have a cool axe-throwing spell, or they might be a barbarian or a shinobi - but they might also only see in monochrome, or suffer dwarfism, or see the world upside down, or be unable to remember where anything is on the map.
The use of random handicaps can be infuriating, but it goes a long way towards stopping what's an otherwise pretty simple game from getting stale. It's a different experience, rife with different pratfalls, every time.
While death is essentially inevitable, what your cursed family tree will slowly achieve as they perish in their droves is to spend any cash they accrue on upgrades which affect the entire line. Improved strength and hitpoints, new character classes, magic armour, the usual RPG stuff but characteristically distilled to cheerful basics.
Every upgrade is meaningful, and everything has a signficant effect on how long your next character might stay alive for. Staying alive for longer means leaving more cash as an inheritance for your next of kin; more cash means more chance of staying alive. It's a wonderful vicious circle, and the fury of dying before you've bagged enough cash from stabbing monsters and smashing furniture to afford something new is a powerful one.
As for the platforming itself, it's pretty straightforward stuff but the combination of inevitable death and randomly-generated levels means Rogue Legacy can dispense with fairness entirely. The result is rooms which present absurd, unpredictable challenges - for instance, a tower of barrels stretching up to a chest several stories up, but even one errant sword-swipe will destroy too many of these wooden steps to possibly reach your prize.
Making this harder is, for instance, a swarm of flying, fireball-lobbing horrors. Beating a room like this becomes a prize in itself, and takes some of the sting out of a death elsewhere. Other times, you might have a straight, loot-packed run of easy rooms, only to run headlong into a massive boss or an area covered in wall-to-wall spikes. Like Spelunky, perhaps its closest cousin, the constant change, the gamble that next time things will be easier, will drive you on even in the face of repeated defeat.
The humour sells it throughout too, brief but witty dialogue making it quite clear that your family of adventurers are doomed incompetents, saddled with any number of congenital disorders. If they make it out of the castle and into other areas, such as the forest or dungeon, it'll be a miracle. That's why it feels so good when, with a string of fatalities behind you, you finally achieve something like glory.