Image via Epyx, Inc

Roguelike vs. Roguelite: Differences explained

Make sure you get your popcorn for this deep-dive.

Do you identify as—what the cool kids like to call—a ‘hardcore gamer?’ 

Recommended Videos

If you’d like to think you are one, then you probably have indulged in the masochistic joys of playing roguelike games. Well, you probably enjoy games that fall under the umbrella of various similar genres, actually; not only roguelikes but roguelites and even roguelike-likes.

Or, if you’ve not played and neither have you heard of any of these genres, you’re probably wondering what the heck we’re going on about. It’s simple, really.

The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, Hades, Don’t Starve, Cult of the Lamb, Rogue Legacy, and Darkest Dungeon are all games that fall under at least one of the three different ‘rogue’ genres. And while this may be nice and organized, you can also see why this mumbo-jumbo mix-up of similar genres has created quite some controversies over the years.

Related: When does Hades 2 release?

Even though this has been puzzling and frustrating for players and developers alike over the years, it doesn’t have to be for you. We’re clearing out the confusion that has spanned decades in the gaming industry about roguelikes, roguelites, and the in-betweens.

What is a roguelike game? The history of roguelikes

Download Angband RPG, open source - Free Games Utopia
Image via Angband Development Team

The term ‘roguelike’ only came about due to the ASCII dungeon crawler named Rogue which was released all the way back in 1980. ‘Roguelike’ has since then been used to describe games that share many characteristics with the legendary classic.

Rogue was a game strongly inspired by text-based games that were popping off during the 1970s. Rogue was characteristically known for its procedural generation, unapologetic use of permadeath, and implementation of ASCII characters that represented individuals within the game, all of which made sure that players experienced a wholly different experience with each attempt of clearing the game.

Every game that emulated the Rogue formula since then was termed a roguelike, where you basically just had one life to live through. You start with one character and make them stronger as you progress through the game. When that character dies in battle, however, you can’t get your progress back and they are gone for good. If you want to continue, it would need to be on a new character.

To date, though, there are various interpretations as to which games get to hold the roguelike title, and enthusiasts still get into heated debates as to which characteristics are essentials for games to possess for them to be categorized into the genre of roguelike.

In 2008, during the International Roguelike Development Conference, developers and players in attendance devised the ‘Berlin Interpretation’ of a roguelike, which outlined high-value and low-value factors which would rate how roguelike a game really is.

The eight high-value factors were:

  • Random generation
  • Permadeath
  • Turn-based
  • Non-modal
  • Emergent gameplay
  • Resource management
  • Hack-and-slash gameplay
  • Map exploration

While the lower-value factors include:

  • Controlling a single character
  • Monster behavior similar to player
  • Tactical challenge
  • ASCII characters and a tile map
  • Exploring dungeons made of interconnecting rooms and corridors
  • Status presented through numbers

As you would infer, the high-value factors are pretty ‘make or break’ when it comes to a game being termed as a roguelike based on whether or not they have the specific factors listed.

The low-value factors, on the other hand, are just bonus points that are not really necessary for games to possess to be deemed as roguelikes, even though they are still beneficial in terms of getting the highest score possible for the roguelike-ness of a particular game.

Nethack, Crawl, Caves of Qud, and Angband are a few games that are classified as roguelikes, in the truest sense of the term.

What is a roguelite game? The history of roguelites

Indie World Reveals Hades is coming to Nintendo Switch - oprainfall
Image via Supergiant Games

Specifically due to the strict rules laid down by the International Roguelike Development Conference via the Berlin Interpretation, most games that were once loosely referred to as roguelikes were now being termed as roguelites: games that use some, but not all of the game design elements present in Rogue as the basis for the gameplay.

That being said, the term roguelite did not magically pop up into existence from out of nowhere. 

Back in 2013, Cellar Door Games released Rogue Legacy and purposely refrained from calling it a roguelike, and instead termed it as a roguelite, a novel term that the community quickly picked up on.

Rogue Legacy took a lot of roguelike gameplay characteristics and applied them to its sidescrolling platformer game. One of the defining factors that had the developers not market it as a roguelike was the fact that the game implemented carry-over progression, which meant that there was no permadeath feature that roguelikes are unanimously known for.

Your character in Rogue Legacy does technically perish when they die, but the player still continues their run by taking on the role of the dead character’s descendant who retains the same stats, equipment, and upgrades unlocked by their ancestors i.e. all of the player’s previous runs, albeit with different abilities and characteristics.

One of the main selling points for roguelikes is the fact that death is permanent, and you lose everything you earned so far after your character perishes. Of course, a lot of players that would want to enjoy quality games that happen to fall under the category of strict roguelikes don’t really like the idea of permadeath, which is exactly why roguelites have seen a surge in popularity.

While the looming terror of death is still present with roguelites, it is much more forgiving when compared to roguelikes as each death still keeps you going with most of your progress intact, keeping players on their toes but not filled with crippling anxiety each time they take another step within the game.

Other than Rogue Legacy, a few popular roguelite titles are Streets of Rogue, Undermine, Steamworld Dig, Returnal, and Hades.

Related: When does Returnal come out on PC?

What is a roguelike-like game? The history of roguelike-likes

Spelunky 1.4 update drops in a new HUD, save backup, more
Image via Derek Yu

Back in 2008, independent developer Derek Yu launched the 2D sidescrolling platformer Spelunky, and the community was flabbergasted.

Spelunky possessed a lot of necessary roguelike elements: randomly generated levels, deep exploration, hack ‘n’ slash gameplay, and starting over after death. But in the end, Spelunky was a sidescrolling platformer, which did not include turn-based and grid-based gameplay.

So yes, while Spelunky did show off a majority of the elements required to make a classic roguelike, it did not possess the heart and soul of the genre. It basically took a bunch of roguelike elements and applied them to a different genre, and any time a game did such a thing, they were termed as roguelike-likes.

With the release of The Binding of Isaac in 2011, the lines that make a game roguelike or roguelike-like turned even more blurry as the game felt as roguelike as a game could be, fulfilling even more of the Berlin Interpretation’s criteria than what Spelunky achieved to do. 

That being said, The Binding of Isaac ultimately rejected the title of roguelike by the roguelike game community as a whole. This was simply because of similar reasons to Spelunky.

The Binding of Isaac was in fact a twin-stick shooter game, and even though it had procedurally generated levels, a top-down view, a tile-based environment, deep exploration, tons of hack ‘n’ slash gameplay, permadeath, and even more, the heart and soul of the game just did not fit the roguelike criteria—one of the most important ones, admittedly.

There have been a lot of roguelike-likes that have made it big since then such as Enter the Gungeon, Darkest Dungeon, and Nuclear Throne.

Roguelikes, roguelites, roguelike-likes—should you even care?

Ever since the ancient classic Rogue became a phenomenon within the gaming community, developers have borrowed from the formula either heavily or lightly to churn out incredible recipes of their own that turned out to be smash hits akin to the 1980s unrelenting text-based adventure.

The problem and controversies arise when game developers purposely use the term ‘roguelike’ to label their games only because the genre is trendy and will give their games a boost in terms of success in high sales volume. No roguelike enthusiast wants to see a new ‘roguelike’ game release only to realize that the game doesn’t play like a roguelike at all after having bought the game.

This is why the distinction between the genres matters. Sure, after a while the lines do tend to get blurred a bit. Distinguishing which game is a roguelike and not a roguelite, while also keeping in mind the characteristics of roguelike-likes on the off chance that the title you’re trying to categorize might actually be a roguelike-like can get pretty exhausting.

This is why—on the contrary—unless you are a hardcore enthusiast of the roguelike genre and all the offshoots of the genre that have come after it, there’s no real reason to worry about the distinctions that come with the genres. 

As long as you enjoy the game you are playing, the tiny differences like the presence or lack of procedural generation, RPG-style exploration, permadeath, and so forth, don’t really matter all that much anymore.

So don’t let your friends judge you for playing that roguelite title instead of getting on their roguelike supremacy bandwagon. You’re as valid of a gamer as anyone else.

Dot Esports is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article Square Enix is finally teasing the Dragon Quest game everyone has been waiting for
Dragon Quest 3 overworld, showing a few characters.
Read Article Brawlhalla Redeem codes (May 2024)
Read Article All NBA 2K Mobile codes (May 2024): Get Energy Recharges, Wheel Spins, Free Player Cards, and more
Related Content
Read Article Square Enix is finally teasing the Dragon Quest game everyone has been waiting for
Dragon Quest 3 overworld, showing a few characters.
Read Article Brawlhalla Redeem codes (May 2024)
Read Article All NBA 2K Mobile codes (May 2024): Get Energy Recharges, Wheel Spins, Free Player Cards, and more
Yash Nair
Yash is a freelance writer based in the tropical state of Goa, India. With a focus on competitive Pokémon, he also writes general guides on your favorite video games. Yash has written for sites like Dot Esports and TouchTapPlay, and has a distinct love for indie video game titles.