The roguelike genre of video games is named for the 1980 game that introduced procedural level generation and permadeath to the RPG formula. Most roguelikes, including modern incarnations like Rogue Legacy and Spelunky, also belong to the dungeon crawler sub-genre, owing to the original’s Dungeons and Dragons roots.
So what does this have to do with new mobile game Shattered Planet? Well, other than being set in space, Shattered Planet is an A-1 classic roguelike based on exploration. And getting your ass handed to you. Repeatedly.
Set in a distant future where Earth is but a collection of crumbling floating islands, you are tasked with exploring as many of them as you can for a cure to The Blight, an all-consuming darkness that has enveloped the galaxy. These fractured and random landscapes hold all sorts of astounding discoveries, both helpful and harmful.
Lucky for you, you’re just a clone, tasked with getting as far as you can and completing as many Datalog entries as you can before your inevitable destruction. Which means that you regenerate on your ship every time you die. You can also change up your appearance (including sex and species) whenever you like, although the cooler options like Robot and Alien require paying actual money. Which makes sense, given that the game is free-to-play. And since you actually lose all of the items you were carrying when you die, your money seems much better spent on a cool avatar, than on in-game currency that at best will buy randomly generated items that might help you get one distance further.
Which I guess brings me to my biggest point about Shattered Planet. It is hard. Even by roguelike standards, this mother is TOUGH. Now, given their legendary difficulty, I am, rather predictably, not the biggest roguelike fan. But, despite the fact that getting your ass handed to you every five minutes does a number on one’s self-esteem, I found myself going back to the game again and again, desperate to get just a little bit further.
That said, I only ever got past Distance 3 once, and even then I didn’t make it past the first few squares of Distance 4. Other levels and difficulty settings are still hopelessly out of my reach. And while discovering new items and filling the Datalog does bestow a certain feeling of accomplishment, generating new powerful items seems like a waste, knowing that you’ll be lucky if you hang on to them longer than three minutes. I found I could survive at least that long without any equipment at all, as long as I boosted my health and my strength enough. Which makes the game very grindy, but only moderately satisfying.
However, it feels wrong to criticize a game as well constructed as Shattered Planet for being too difficult for someone admittedly not a fan of the roguelike genre. Newbie Montreal studio Kitfox deserves major props for creating a very different type of mobile gaming experience. And for those of you who prefer gaming on your PC or Mac, you’ll be pleased to know that Shattered Planet was recently Greenlit and will be on Steam sometime later this summer.