The best roguelike games will test your metal, push you to the brink, and leave you wanting more. While some may be harder than others there’s something in this list, so check out which one suits you best.
While most of these best roguelike games will share spots on lists like our best indie games, the genre in itself has produced so many unique titles it’s hard not to marvel at it. Roguelikes have even gone beyond their own genre and have changed the way games handle perma-death. While at times the best roguelike games do border on slightly masochistic they will always reward you for your hard work in a way that no other genre does.
So this is our little 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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The Binding of Isaac is 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 monstrosities 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 in order to take them out. This roguelike gets harder 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, well the only way to truly 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, if you manage to make it to the end you know you deserve it. The Binding of Isaac will crush you, and you will love it.
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 incredibly successful for a roguelike and an indie game, 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…
Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android
Into the Breach is so intensely compelling and enjoyable that you often won’t even realize you’ve failed before you’ve started your next run. The turn-based strategy title shows you every move your enemy is going to make and asks you to react perfectly in order to protect the timeline from alien interference.
In order to succeed you need to look past your immediate options, if you can’t think at least three turns ahead then you are doomed to failure. Failure means permadeath, in this case that means teleporting to another timeline and abandoning all but one of your mech pilots – essentially making you start from scratch.
The brilliance of Into the Breach lies in the fact that you are always responsible for your failure and you’re forced to live with it – there are no redos. In other games, it is easy to blame an unfair AI or attack. However, in Into the Breach, you can see what is going to happen, so there’s only one person to blame if everything hits the fan.
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
Crawl is a Lovecraftian local multiplayer dungeon crawler which sees you descend into a pixel art dungeon – but hopefully not into madness.
There’s a good chance you’ll die in Crawl, that’s kind of the point. In this four-player roguelike there’s only space for one of you to get to the end and win the game. 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 special 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 to first 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 frenetic rush to be the spirit to deal the killing blow to the adventurer is wonderful, and one that is repeated throughout each game. Why not share the joy of dying a lot with your closest friends?
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. Seems simple, right?
Slay the Spire excels is 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 this time you’ll know more about deck composition and strategy. It really is unique amongst roguelikes.
Available on: PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
Hades ripped through the internet when it was released in 2020, and for a very good reason.
It’s a one of a kind roguelike, with fast-paced action and an incredible story that’s based off of 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 through the underworld so far then have we got some good news for you. During The Game Awards 2022 Hades 2 was announced so get ready for even more mystery and melodrama.
Available on: PC and Nintendo Switch
Wildfrost is a cute and quirky roguelike with a loveable cast of characters and a brilliant art style. Similar to Slay the Spire, this card-based game deploys 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.