Best roguelike games: a beginner’s guide to the die-a-lot genre
The best roguelike games offer an experience which you can rarely find in other genres. While this experience may be infuriating, thanks to the awfully addictive feature of perma death, it’s a brilliant way to keep you invested.
Roguelike games have recently shifted from the indie sphere into the mainstream. There have always been fantastic roguelikes on offer, like The Binding of Isaac and Crawl. However, nowadays, fans have been treated to some big-budget and very good-looking roguelikes, which are excellent to play. Many of these games will still make an appearance on our best indie games list, meaning that their creativity is unrivalled.
So this is our guide to some of the best roguelike games around. A genre full of dying a lot, making mistakes, and scraping through by the skin of your teeth.
Best roguelike games
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Why we love it
The Binding of Isaac is the perfect game to play if you have time to kill and want to torture yourself a bit. In all honesty this game is timeless and is always a safe bet if you want to explore a biblical basement full of monsters.
No best roguelike games list would be complete without The Binding of Isaac; it’s a quintessential roguelike game. You play as Isaac – initially at least – a poor boy whose mother has been told by God to strike him down. He goes into hiding and winds up in a dungeon-like basement filled with atrocities that seem intent on killing him. If you guide Isaac down deep enough, you actually go through your mother’s womb and even fight Satan. You read that right.
The joy of this roguelike comes from the runs where you become all-powerful. You can become a flying laser-firing cyclops, have an army of babies that attack enemies for you, or even spit teeth at enemies to take them out. This roguelike gets more brutal the better you do, with bosses and new areas becoming more difficult the longer you live.
As things progress, you’ll unlock more powerful playable characters, less powerful ones, and even biblical babies. Eventually, you unlock The Lost, a ghost baby that can only take one hit. Yes, just one hit, and it is game over – to put this in perspective, the latter bosses are all bullet hell fights. You might be wondering why you would do this to yourself; the only way to complete the game is to complete it with every character.
Despite the controller-breaking difficulty, The Binding of Isaac is one of the most rewarding roguelikes out there. After all is said and done, you know you deserve it if you manage to make it to the end. The Binding of Isaac will crush you, and you will love it.
Why we love it
Dead Cells is one of the most beautiful and stylish roguelikes around. Getting to experience this stunning world while fighting your way out of a diseased island makes all the pain worthwhile.
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Android
Dead Cells is a side-on action-platformer game where you get new abilities and unlock new areas as a result of progressing: aka a Metroidvania. You also go back to the beginning when you die, which makes it a roguelike. It’s one of the most successful titles on our best roguelike games list, roaring past 10 million sales.
The two terms are naturally at odds with each other, due to the former requiring permanent progression and the latter denying it. Nevertheless, Dead Cells balances both perfectly, like balancing a bottle of nitroglycerin on the end of a sword.
The combat in this game is balletic. You flow around levels constantly attacking and double-jumping like a pointy spinning-top (or a Beyblade, for you geeks). You can clamber up walls, grow vines, set traps, and set everything on fire. You upgrade your character over the course of each run and then have it taken away from you when you die, or when you succeed. In the unlikely event that you make it past the final boss, the game restarts.
This time though, you have a boss cell activated that changes the enemies in each level, removes some healing opportunities, and generally turns things up a notch. You can do this several times. The final difficulty gives you three healing chances to last an entire run. Apparently, this is still achievable…
Why we love it
If you’re looking for a more chaotic version of Overcooked then look no further. While you may not think that’s possible, Plate Up, takes the restaurant setting that is full of excitement and then takes everything away if you don’t wash the dishes.
Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One
PlateUp! is delightfully chaotic, no matter if you’re playing by yourself or with friends. This restaurant simulator lets you build and manage your restaurant while also cooking food and waiting on customers.
Each restaurant is procedurally generated, so every playthrough will stand out in how you choose to customize your kitchen. But be warned, this is a roguelite, so as soon as your kitchen gets closed down, you’ll have to wave goodbye to all your progress.
If you love the chaos of working with friends and don’t mind the slight frustrations that come with it, then this’ll be one of the best roguelike games for you.
Why we love it
Crawl is a classic roguelike that performs all the basics really well. But it’s selling point is how you can enjoy it with friends. If you’re looking for something new to play on game night then be sure to check this one out.
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
Crawl is a Lovecraftian local multiplayer dungeon crawler that sees you descend into a pixel art dungeon – hopefully not into madness.
There’s a good chance you’ll die in Crawl; that’s the point. The feature that makes this four-player game stand out from the other titles on our best roguelike games list is that only one player can win. Thanks to this small detail, you’ll spend most of your time as vengeful ghosts trying to kill the only living player and take their place. Queue the literal backstabbing and murder.
Deceased players live on as vengeful spirits who can possess traps and furniture, and summon monsters in particular areas that can be used to attack the living. These monsters gain levels and evolve depending on how strong the adventurer is. The stronger the living becomes, the stronger the dead are. It keeps things in balance. The aim is to be the living adventurer first to slay a boss. Then you get to start it all over again.
The more you play the game, the more content you unlock. You gain access to new and old gods to worship, new items, and deadlier traps. The frantic rush to be the spirit to deal the killing blow to the adventurer is lovely and repeated throughout each game. Why not share the joy of dying a lot with your closest friends?
Why we love it
This fantastic deckbuilding roguelike takes the cake thanks to its deeply well thought out mechanics that mean no one play through is alike and you can really show off your skills.
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android
Despite only releasing in January 2019, Slay the Spire has cemented its place in the roguelike genre. On paper, it’s a deck-building, card-battling, turn-based dungeon crawler, but you have to assume it was created by feeding two genres into a randomizer and just going with the results (in the best possible way).
Your role is to make it to the top of the titular spire. To do this, you journey through different levels, battling various monsters along the way. As you progress, you get new cards to add to your deck and maybe even some fancy equipment. It seems simple, right?
Slay the Spire excels in the subtle decisions you have to make. Adding a new card to your deck should be a good thing. The trouble is, doing so lowers the chances of drawing something else. Whenever a new card is offered, you have to figure out if it is worth taking. Failure means starting again, of course, but you’ll know more about deck composition and strategy this time. It really is unique amongst our best roguelike list.
Why we love it
If you’re a fan of Greek mythology and roguelikes then Hades is a great shout. You not only get to enjoy the incredible roguelike features, but you also get an incredible art style with a thrilling story.
Available on: PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
Hades is a shoe-in for our best roguelike games. It ripped through the internet when it was released in 2020 for a very good reason.
It’s a one-of-a-kind roguelike, with fast-paced action and an incredible story that’s based on the Greek mythological underworld. Hades is certainly a Herculean feat with an awe-inspiring art style and mechanics that are friendly for first-time roguelike enthusiasts.
If you’ve loved exploring the underworld so far, then we’ve got some good news for you. During The Game Awards 2022, Hades 2 was announced, so get ready for even more mystery and melodrama.
Why we love it
Wildfrost is full of loveable characters and fantastical settings that grip you throughout your expedition. Big Berry isn’t a character you’ll soon forget.
Available on: PC and Nintendo Switch
Wildfrost is one of the more cute and quirky titles on our best roguelike games list. With a loveable cast of characters and a brilliant art style. Similar to Slay the Spire, this card-based game deploys a strategy to make players think three steps ahead. It’s successfully bringing back the classic roguelike struggles.
In classic roguelike style, the trick to this game is its replayability. You won’t be able to complete this title on the first run, and each time your return to base camp, you’ll be given a brand-new protagonist with differing abilities and power-ups. So even though each run will be slightly different, you’ll quickly learn what works best and which adorable bad guy you need to look out for.
Why we love it
Cult of the Lamb‘s art style and story are incredible. Both of these features combine wonderfully to create a unique and engaging universe with some beloved characters.
Cult of the Lamb is one of the more charming additions to this best roguelike games list. This cute title combines classic roguelike traits such as dungeon crawling with detailed town management sections.
After being sacrificed by four prophets, you’re resurrected and set on a mission to build a loyal community of woodland followers who will help you spread your word and become the one true cult.
You can collect resources to build new structures, perform dark rituals to appease the gods and crucially recite sermons to reinforce the faith of your growing flock.
Best roguelike games: FAQs
What’s the most popular roguelike?
Everyone will have their own preference for roguelikes, whether that be dungeon crawlers, card builders, or metroidvanias. However, according to Steam Charts, the most-played roguelike game is The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.
What’s the difference between a roguelike and a roguelite
Roguelites aren’t just a misspelling of their more popular sibling roguelikes; they do actually differ. Roguelites tend to lack the permadeath feature present in roguelikes, making them easier to master.
How we made our best roguelike games list
Beating any one of these titles on our best roguelike games list is no small feat. Luckily, many of us at TechRadar Gaming have experience with many titles and various genres, making it easy to collate a list that’ll appeal to a wider audience.
I spent my early days testing my metal in roguelikes. Titles like The Binding of Isaac and Spelunky followed me throughout my formative years, and gave me an unrivalled appreciation of the save button. Even after all these years I’ll always make time for an upcoming roguelike.
What roguelike games I’m playing right now
For some twisted reason, I’ve recently decided to jump back into the permadeath mines and play the 3D platformer roguelike Only Up! While this may not have the classic attributes of other roguelikes, this parkour game has reminded me why restarting an entire game from scratch isn’t for the faint of heart; it made me cry.
The third-person adventure title Only Up! is surprisingly heartfelt as it follows a young boy trying to make his way in the world. You can explore a vast world of secrets and mysteries as long as you’re skilled enough. Unfortunately, the game is still slightly clunky, with a few glitches sending you plummeting back to earth. This being said, if you’re looking to get rid of a monitor and want a reason to destroy it before it’s gone, give Only Up! a go.
It’s not easy to get through the best roguelike games. After constantly dying and restarting levels you may need some new kit if you’ve broken a controller or two in a fit of rage. If that’s the case, don’t worry; check out our Prime Day gaming deals and Prime Day Xbox controller deals if you need extra hardware.