Rogue Touch is an iPhone remake of Rogue, a computer game from 1980 that was drawn entirely with ASCII characters and is generally acknowledged as the first “dungeon-crawler.” Rogue’s inspired countless imitators, all the way down to modern-day descendants like Diablo, and it still enjoys a large cult following from way back when. Rogue Touch offers up an uncompromising return to the original formula; yes, it may be archaic, but it’s also a lot of fun.
The setting is a vast, randomly-generated dungeon. Each of the 26 levels is seeded with monsters to slay, treasure to find, and equipment to use, as well as a staircase down to the next floor. Somewhere on the 26th level lies the fabled Amulet of Yendor; this artifact is the object of your quest and your ticket out of the depths of the dungeon. Until you find it, you’re stuck hustling from one fight to the next, keeping one step ahead of the evil creatures trying to kill you and searching for food to keep yourself from starving.
The game plays just like the archetypal dungeon-crawler it is–after all, many of the genre’s conventions were invented right here. A map along the bottom of the screen tracks where you’ve been on each level, while also also displaying any major features (treasure, baddies, staircases, door) with dots. Any item you pick up goes into your inventory, where you can equip, use, throw, or drop it, as the case may be. You’ll encounter many different kinds of potions, scrolls, weapons and armor throughout the game, and they’re all a mystery; the only way to figure out what they do is to use them or cast an Identify spell, which is also on an unidentified scroll at first! These collectibles have a huge variety of effects, both good and bad. For instance, your hits might begin to confuse enemies for a short while after you drink that potion… or you might just fall asleep. That studded leather armor you found could be enchanted, giving you an armor bonus, or it might be cursed, lowering your resistance and sticking to you like glue. Much of the game’s fun comes from compiling a list of which colored potion does what.
Rogue Touch’s combat is fairly easy to get a handle on. If you’re wielding a melee weapon, you simply walk into an enemy to strike it. The outcome is based on dice rolls, and depends on the relevant AD&D statistics like armor class, hit bonuses and strength. Other than the fact that movement is turn-based (enemies won’t move until you do), there’s not much room or need for tactics–either you’re strong enough to plow through whatever’s in front of you, or you’re not, and you die. Ranged weapons like bows and magic staves can be helpful for weakening or slaying baddies from a distance, but most of your business gets done up close and personal.
Some of Rogue Touch’s legacy gameplay really shows its age. For one thing, when we say the game’s randomly generated, we mean it. It doesn’t seem to re-balance item placement based on your character’s circumstances at all. For instance, you may not be able to enough food to keep yourself alive… or you might just as easily find way too much food, when what you actually need is a Remove Curse spell. We once walked around with half of our strength gone for an entire game after having been repeatedly poisoned by rattlesnakes, never finding a cure.
Also, it’s very easy to die in the beginning of the game, when your character sucks. You start over from square one every time you do, and that’s no fun. On the other hand, once you make it to the Rogue experience level (generally about seven or eight floors down), you’ll start regenerating a point of health every time you move–many times the normal rate. While this doesn’t make you invincible, it does dramatically reduce the game’s difficulty.
Rogue Touch’s presentation has a certain retro charm–and it’s certainly better than the original ASCII–but it’s also rather drab. There’s not much in the way of animation or detail, and the endless gray of the dungeon is boring to look at after a while. The soundtrack is a short loop of subterranean drips, creaks and scuttles that set the mood, but there’s no other effects or music, except on the title screen. iPod playback was added in an update, though, so you can queue up your own tunes while playing.
All in all, we found that the fun aspects of Rogue Touch, like the simple joys of item collection and exploration, manage to balance out the game’s idiosyncrasies. The developers have done a great job listening to their players, and they have addressed many of our original complaints with frequent updates. It’s definitely worth the $2.99 for RPG fans.