Roguelikes and games that borrow from them, often dubbed roguelites, have become increasingly common over the years, and there are plenty of ace ones on Xbox... and even some in Game Pass! Here are some of the best...Procedural generation, permadeath, exploration, turn-based action, resource management... your average roguelike will feature all of these qualities and more, but we're not here to talk about average ones — we're here to celebrate some of the modern greats! The roguelike genre takes its name from 1980 ASCII dungeon-crawling pioneer Rogue, which spawned all manner of similar titles in the wake of its success. 'True' roguelikes are games that stick closely to that classic format and are, well, like Rogue — Chunsoft's Mystery Dungeon games being among the highest-profile modern examples — with those that borrow just a few elements typically being instead considered roguelites, a much broader subgenre where gameplay and mechanics have a lot more flexibility to evolve beyond the original concept. The latter are, therefore, much more common these days as developers spin out interesting new experiences with a little help from those that came before, and roguelite-style games only seem to grow more common by the year. With that in mind, you might want to know which are most worthy of your time, so here are some of the best examples you can play on Xbox.
The Binding of Isaac: RepentanceFrom its humble beginnings as a Flash project for a game jam, The Binding of Isaac has grown into a near-endlessly replayable dungeon crawler with a frankly dizzying array of upgrades, areas, enemies, bosses, modes, and all the rest. A twin-stick shooter tour of randomly generated classic Zelda catacombs and caverns, Edmund McMillen's decidedly dark take on the roguelite formula was on the front lines as the genre started to hit the big time in modern gaming, and with its emphasis on item synergy, every new version and expansion gave it exponentially more potential for brilliantly busted builds. The deliberately gross aesthetic might put some people off, but beneath all that poop lies one of the deepest, richest, and most persistently rewarding roguelites out there. If you're feeling particularly masochistic, there are two stacks of gruelling The Binding of Isaac achievements up for grabs, one for the original Rebirth release plus its DLC and another for the full 2021 release of Repentance that includes the lot, but bear in mind that such a commitment to dear little Isaac will likely set you back 1,000 hours or more...
The Binding of Isaac: Repentance
The Binding of Isaac: Repentance is the definitive version of Binding of Isaac, featuring all content from Rebirth, Afterbirth, and Afterbirth+, plus tons of all-new features and new gameplay. It's the ultimate edition of the genre-defining roguelike!
Crypt of the NecroDancerA turn-based adventure with a musical twist, since every action you take needs to sync up with the beat or you risk handing your enemies an advantage... or just falling down dead with some of the trickier characters to use. That constant need to keep moving and performing actions gives Crypt of the NecroDancer a sense of pressure and urgency not typically found in turn-based games, so even though it's the closest thing on this list to the genre's four-decade-old progenitor in many ways, it still very much carves out its own niche. Learning enemy patterns is key here — some may only act on every other beat, for example, while others may move in particular set ways that could allow you to slink past or exploit their behaviour if you time your plays properly. While the selection of killer soundtracks (though it's hard to give up the Danny Baranowsky original) and compelling hook and loop make it something any fan of the genre should try, it's perhaps not a game you want to add to your tag if you're a completionist. Not a single player on TA has managed to unlock all of the Crypt of the NecroDancer achievements, thanks in no small part to Coda, the character required for the 'Impossible, Right?' achievement. She can only use a basic dagger, has beat tempo doubled, and dies in one hit if she takes damage, misses a beat, or picks up any gold (which almost every monster drops when defeated) — it's one of the hardest achievements on Xbox, period.
Crypt of the NecroDancer
Crypt of the NecroDancer is an award winning hardcore roguelike rhythm game. Move to the music and deliver beatdowns to the beat! Groove to the epic Danny Baranowsky soundtrack, or choose from five additional remixed soundtracks, including the new remixed chiptune soundtrack by Chipzel!
Dead CellsGiven that the superb Dead Cells dips a toe into so many different genres, it's pretty unsurprising to see a bit of roguelite fun thrown into the mix. It's a super-tight side-scrolling action game where death, as in so many retro classics, will send you hurtling all the way back to the start of the game, which would be pretty rough if not for the game's roguelite elements. Cells dropped by defeated enemies and bosses in each attempt can be used to unlock new gear or improve your chances at higher quality stuff appearing, and that ever-growing arsenal makes for all kinds of different approaches that make use of all three core stats — Brutality, Tactics, and Survival. Enemies and bosses also have a chance to drop blueprints to unlock even more stuff, so you constantly feel like you're making progress. Stages are procedurally generated to a degree but with some fixed elements and rules (not unlike in the similarly excellent Spelunky games, if you're after more roguelite platforming fun) to make speeding through them even easier as your weapons improve and you start to understand the logic behind the world. Make it through to the very end and you're able to reset the cycle at a higher difficulty tier, paving the way for new and improved gear and even greater challenges in the next run, and there are even multiple routes through different areas once you unlock certain abilities to access them so there are always new secrets to uncover. Also, good news: Dead Cells is in Game Pass, and if the challenge proves too much, recently added accessibility options let you tweak various aspects to just where you want them without impacting achievements. Have at it!
Dead Cells puts you in control of a failed alchemic experiment trying to figure out what's happening on a sprawling, ever-changing and seemingly cursed Island. Tough but fair combat, responsive controls, challenging foes, permadeath and of course, the emergency panic roll to get you out of trouble, make for a demanding, visceral and cathartic action game.
Enter the GungeonEven though we're simply going alphabetically, Enter the Gungeon feels like a fitting follow-up to Dead Cells as the two share some key similarities in structure, despite being completely different styles of game. This is a slick twin-stick shooter at its core, but with a high-level goal designed to be progressed and accomplished across multiple runs through its shifting, labyrinthine dungeons full of guns and bullets (hence the name) and hidden routes. Grabbing Hegemony Credits will allow you to add new and (usually) more powerful weapons to the loot pool between runs, or can be used to open up all manner of buffs, extras and even shortcuts that let you skip early floors, and while each themed area in the run is constant, the maps themselves are randomised each time. Even the bosses can change, with each floor having its own small pool of possible guardians to help change things up. The massive arsenal is the real star here though, with some utterly ridiculous weapons and items that can help you blast through the game when you get on a run. If you want something a little simpler mechanically and more arcadey but still challenging, Nuclear Throne is another great pick. But with a host of characters to master as you attempt to tame the Gungeon with each and kill their pasts, Enter the Gungeon is another game that just keeps on opening up the more you play.
Enter The Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon is a gunfight dungeon crawler following a band of misfits seeking to shoot, loot, dodge roll and table-flip their way to personal absolution by reaching the legendary Gungeon’s ultimate treasure: the gun that can kill the past.
HadesThere was no way Supergiant's god-tier Hades was going to sit this one out, and if you're looking for an ever-changing action game where every run is rewarding, there's nothing that tops it. Toying with the genre's permadeath mechanic by having protagonist Zagreus as an immortal to whom death is but a setback is an ingenious twist that lends in-game logic to the skills and upgrades that persist between runs, as well as the blossoming relationships with the underworld's denizens and the Ancient Greek pantheon. Your weapon is locked in from the start of each run, but the various perks, upgrades, and mods you'll find along the way can drastically alter how it functions, as well as augmenting Zag with additional boons and even combo ones when two gods' powers synergise with one another. Combat is fast-paced and meaty, characters and dialogue are uniformly excellent, Darren Korb's soundtrack is sublime, and you never feel like a lost run has been in vain — each takes you a step closer to improving your basic abilities and lets you pursue the various character quest lines one slice at a time, so getting tossed back to the start can feel as much an opportunity as a punishment for failure. Hades has amassed an army of adoring fans, leading Supergiant to start work on its first ever direct sequel with the recently announced Hades 2 — in the meantime, Curse of the Dead Gods and Children of Morta are cracking alternatives that should scratch the same itch.
Defy the god of the dead as you hack and slash out of the Underworld in this rogue-like dungeon crawler from the creators of Bastion.
Risk of Rain 2Both Risk of Rain games could slot in here just fine, but since the original's zoomed-out 2D visuals are a bit of an acquired taste and an enhanced, upscaled remake is in the works, let's go with our first 3D roguelite on the list, Risk of Rain 2. This procedural third-person shooter gets chaotic in no time, and just like The Binding of Isaac, there are a bunch of challenges to complete to add extra playable characters to the roster and loads of new skills and items to the loot pool, so the madness only builds further the more you play. It's visually somewhat basic — building an ever-changing fully 3D world is naturally much more of an undertaking than piecing together the tile set of a 2D one — but the cleanliness and simplicity help make the action more readable, and you'll need that visibility when some of the bigger battles kick off. With no shortage of unlockables and build permutations to keep every run fresh, Risk of Rain 2 is as consistently replayable as anything else on this list, and as one of the less well known titles featured here, it's one you should definitely try if you're a fan of the genre.
Risk of Rain 2
Escape a chaotic alien planet by fighting through hordes of frenzied monsters – with your friends, or on your own. Combine loot in surprising ways and master each character until you become the havoc you feared upon your first crash landing.
Slay the SpireIt's surprising that it's taken us this long to hit our first deck-building roguelite as they're somewhat common and often very good (see also: Monster Train, Roguebook), but Slay the Spire is arguably the poster child for this style of game. Every run, you'll be able to unlock new cards that could show up and be added to your deck in subsequent attempts, layering on complexity and depth to open up more advanced strategies as your game experience increases. The small deck size and easy to understand card text and rules mean you don't need to be a Magic: The Gathering master to get a good set of cards on the go, and before long, you'll likely have a set of favourites to shoot for and upgrade with each of the characters, all of whom play pretty differently. But sometimes, you won't hit what you're looking for and might have to work around some early pick-ups that you wouldn't typically take, and even this can lead to finding powerful new combos that you might never have tried otherwise. Like so many of these featured games, Slay the Spire has a way of just devouring time as you get hit with that classic 'one more run' urge, and this coupled with the fact that it's in Game Pass — and is one of the best games on Game Pass, no less — replete with xCloud support and touch controls for tactile mobile play makes this one especially dangerous if it gets its claws into you. Spoilers: it probably will.
Slay The Spire
We fused card games and roguelikes together to make the best single player deckbuilder we could. Craft a unique deck, encounter bizarre creatures, discover relics of immense power, and Slay the Spire!
Sunless Skies: Sovereign EditionAlphabetical order does us proud once again, segueing into another title that takes heavy inspiration from tabletop gaming, albeit more the role-playing side than board and card games, but there's a little of that here as well. Sunless Skies, just like its also-fantastic forerunner Sunless Sea, takes us to an alternate history steampunk London where cosmic horror vibes permeate this strange world that you explore here by flying train (naturally) as opposed to by ship in the previous game. This is one of the few games on this rundown that fully plays into the classic roguelike pillar of resource management, with survival elements like fuel, food, and crew to consider (and risk) when setting out on each leg of your journey. Where this will take you is entirely up to you, and what you'll find when you get there... well, that's entirely up to the fates. Wonderfully written encounters each feel like they could have fallen out of a role-playing session or top-end board game, with a dark humour helping take the edge off what might otherwise be a pretty bleak world on the brink of despair. And when one wild adventure ends (the game makes no secret of the fact that many of your captains will probably die), a new one begins as you choose who will serve as their successor, with logical perks for each choice such as a navigator holding onto their explored map for the following run. For a similarly tabletop-like experience, also check out the Hand of Fate games — a pair of brilliant evolving card-based dungeon-delving adventures with action combat and a captivating in-game Dungeon Master in the form of The Dealer.
Sunless Skies: Sovereign Edition
THE SKIES ARE YOURS
Captain a spacefaring steam locomotive, as a new Victorian empire takes to the stars! Lead your hapless crew into trouble – and out of their minds. Barter for barrels of time. Smuggle souls. Pause for cricket and a cup of tea.
Vampire Survivors2022's indie sensation and Game Pass favourite Vampire Survivors takes permadeath to its logical conclusion, presenting constant full-screen intense action that lasts until you die and isn't even supposed to be survived for longer than the 30-minute period that consistutes a 'win' here. You can see from the Vampire Survivors achievements just how rewarding any given run can be, though, with each unlocking new characters to take into the chaos and new weapons and equipment to help you hit that half-hour mark when the reaper will arrive to claim you and you can jump straight into a new map with someone else. The roguelite elements here come mainly from the permadeath and progression, as well as the randomised goodies you'll find with which to create a build on the fly and fill the screen with stuff — you're offered a selection on every new find which makes it easier to lean into a particular style, although if your favourites don't show up, you might need to get creative and build into and around something untested or unusual. Maybe it'll work great, maybe you'll bite it early when it doesn't... only one way to find out, right? Simple controls, quick runs (especially once you enable Hurry mode to cut them down to 15 minutes), near-constant unlocks, and a compelling loop all conspire to make this time vampire one of the best indie games in recent memory, not to mention a fine example of roguelike elements fuelling something really quite different.
Vampire Survivors is a time survival game with minimalistic gameplay and roguelite elements.
Ziggurat 2Last up is another first for this list... first-person, actually, with the speedy sorcery of Ziggurat 2 being our chosen representative for FPS-style roguelikes, although there are other notable options — Gunfire Reborn offers cartoony co-op and is in Game Pass, while music lovers would do well to check out BPM: Bullets Per Minute for a dungeon crawler where you must jump, shoot, dash, and dodge with the beat. Ziggurat 2 zips along at a breakneck pace that reminds of the classic Quake-era FPS scene in the best possible way, although the randomised maps and gear certainly make it feel much more modern and nuanced. As is par for the course in many a roguelite, you'll be unlocking new gear and permanent stat boosts with each run, with that ever-satisfying power swell letting you bring the thunder more and more as you continue to play. With a cool arsenal of spells and weapons to unleash on a weird and wonderful array of foes — the high fantasy backdrop really helps Ziggurat stand out from the pack — it's another low-key great of the genre and a fine note on which to end this list of fantastic games.
Ziggurat is back, and now it's even better! Use powerful weapons and spells to break through hordes of enemies and explore labyrinthine dungeons in this hectic roguelite FPS, while you improve your skills and discover new equipment.
Any of these already in your play rotation or looking to make their way in soon? Anything else in the genre that particularly stands out to you and deserves a shoutout? Let us know below!