Rogue Islands is dubbed a first-person shooter rogue like game sporting procedurally generated worlds full of magic, monsters, and fantasy based settings. It is developed by Big Fat Alien, published by Keystone Games and is currently still in early access on steam with promises from the developers to balance and add more content over time. They are currently slated to be in early access for the next 3 months, but as you know in the gaming community, this can stretch into the foreseeable future.
The game is currently being led by industry veteran Jane Whittaker. You might know him from previously worked on classics such as GoldenEye 64 and Alien vs Predator. He has also led projects for Atari and Electronic Arts.
You are Motwort the gnome. With your ship, The Tawny Mote, you set out to find the source of The Dark Void and, if possible, release its horrible grip on the roots of Vitalor.
Upon loading into the first level in Rogue Islands I was assaulted with multiple windows of on screen text tutorial which described a very sizable chunk of the games mechanics. This is one of my personal pet peeves as a gamer. It is pretty difficult to understand what any of it means if you don’t have any contextual experience with any of the games mechanics. I prefer the more nuanced version of teaching players your game’s mechanics in small chunks through intuitive level design.
After grinding through the text and trying to remember as much as I could, I loaded my game, jumped off my ship, and hopped onto the island. I was immediately assaulted buy 4 skeleton enemies and many others that kept spawning as I dispensed of them. I was quickly rendered dead and wasn’t feeling to great about what just happened. Since Rogue Islands is procedurally generated I gave the game the benefit of the doubt and loaded again. I was blessed with a tamer starting point on the next run and was able to really get some exploration done.
As I progressed and started to learn what was required of me I did find the game to be quite enjoyable. The feedback loop of killing enemies, finding upgrades and ingredients, and discovering random treasures was nice. Your goal is to find a specific item on the island, craft fuel for your ship, then progress to the next island. Rinse and Repeat. You gather various foods to keep your hunger meter up and to replenish health. Certain plants cure status ailments which tend to affect your character a little too often. You hunt emeralds, diamonds, rubies, and spirit gems dropped from slain enemies then use these to unlock and level up spells.
The jump mechanic of the game is what I would describe as a mixed bag. Jumping uses the same resource that it takes to fire your starting weapon. By holding down the jump button you can jump higher which consumes all your mana which you then have to wait to recharge. You can also do a hovering jump by tapping the jump button then hitting the jump button again while holding it which slowly drains your mana. Executing these different maneuvers seemed to be fickle based on the narrow window of button push timing. Jumping around the island feels fine, but once you require any kind of accuracy or finesse, everything goes out the window. Not to mention that each island ends with the tedious task of climbing a very tall tree most of the time to get the item to leave the island. These platforming challenges seem like filler and require more dexterity that the current jump mechanic allows. I found myself frustrated most of the time with these sections and not gleaning any fun from it. They also need to find a more intuitive way to eat food and replenish your health and hunger bar, perhaps a simple hotkey?
One thing that I think hurts the game is its need to associate itself with Minecraft. The game is going to instantly be compared to Minecraft already due to the usage of blocks in world construction. Other than that, nothing about this game is related to Minecraft, but for some reason they couldn’t help themselves by creating certain links to the Minecraft world. Maybe they hoped that these little nods would be familiar to certain players, or perhaps they are fans themselves and are just an homage, but for me it was just distracting. I want to experience your game for what it is and not be reminded of another game that is completely different in every way (LEGO creative builder vs FPS rogue-like adventure). Ghosts in the game are called Ghasts, destroying blocks make almost the same small popping sound as picking blocks up in Minecraft, moody piano music, there are diamonds and emeralds, and a similar day and night cycle which can be skipped by sleeping. On their official website, they reference mining blocks, yet all you can do is shoot blocks which dislodges them from their current position. Perhaps most people won’t notice these details, but I think they dilute and distract from what they are trying to achieve.
I must say that the first thing I noticed upon booting the first level of Rogue Islands was the great aesthetic and colorful palette of the game. Most people are going to instantly reference Minecraft due to the voxel graphics and everything being made from blocks, but I was more compelled to relate the graphics to 3D Dot Game Heroes. Perhaps this is due to the fact that everything is constructed out of smaller blocks and less drab textures than the Minecraft blocks, which in turn leads to a more detailed world and shapes. I specifically noticed this detail in the tree foliage which I think looks better than Minecraft could ever achieve. Long story short, smaller blocks equal more details. All in all I think the game looks fantastic.
The music in the game is fitting and takes more of a back seat to the action at hand. The sound effects fit nicely in as well, I just wish the main attack hand a little bit more punch and didn’t sound so wimpy. There is a nice little ramping chime that grows with each successful hit of an enemy that is pleasing. I have no complaints about the audio but there also wasn’t anything the caught my attention.
As it stands now, Rogue Islands is a fun little experience that might entertain you for a few hours. The game in its current early access state doesn’t contain enough material for me to want to sink tons of time into it. I am big into FPS games and currently this game is lacking in the diversity department. Enemy patterns and dodging their attacks isn’t all that exciting and the AI of the spider boss was very simplistic. All I can say is that perhaps this might change a lot in the future.
It seems that most of the game currently revolves around a cycle of arrive at island, find objective, do platform challenge, craft fuel, go back to boat. This might work for a little bit but to do it over and over doesn’t quite grab my attention. The graphics are beautiful if you are into the voxel aesthetic but the game needs to try and get away from its pseudo relation to Minecraft in other areas. Rogue Islands isn’t being touted as a final game, so with that in mind I like where the developers are currently going with their ideas. If they can expand the content, create side activities, and diversify the game more than it might be something in the future I would consider delving deeper into.
I rate Rogue Islands a 6.5 out of 10 and give out the Thumb Culture Silver Award.
Disclaimer: We received a game code to carry out this review