When it comes to modern video games, there are few more polarising terms than 'roguelike'. That divisive descriptor draws some players like moths to a flame, while others run a mile at the mere whisper of it.
These days, it often feels like 'roguelike'--which refers to dungeon crawler Rogue from 1980--is attached to every other indie game released. The label has become so pervasive that it now stands alongside 'Metroidvania' as an increasingly vague (though very handy) shorthand for games with specific mechanics; in this case, games with randomised elements that are approached in one 'run'. You steadily acquire gear and abilities on the way until you either beat the game (yay!) or die before being sent back to the beginning, stripped of your booty, to try again.
Even if the word turns you off, the range of genres offering roguelike or lighter 'roguelite' mechanics has become so broad that it's unlikely that you'll hate every single one. Many games use a basic run-based structure but let you unlock certain equipment or abilities that persist in subsequent runs, resulting in a less brutal experience if you don't have the time (or inclination) to simply git good.
So, below you'll find our picks — in no particular order — of the best run-based games on Switch; roguelikes, roguelites, roguelike-likes and all variations thereof. This sizeable list is subject to change and evolution in the future, so let us know your thoughts and suggestions in the usual place and we'll continue to hone and tone it over time.
Dead Cells is a masterclass in excellent roguelike design, mixing together nonstop intense action sequences, gorgeous vistas, and an addictive loop of unlocks and rewards into a beautiful experience that no Switch owner will want to go without. There’s dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of content available here, and though some sense of repetition can creep in every now and then, it’s remarkable how fresh Dead Cells can stay through all those hours. This game is a blast to play, full of visual splendor, and packed with things to do; don’t miss out on this one, it’s a must-buy.
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A match-three puzzler that manages to juggle a lot of different genres elements, Ironcast is an in-depth and engaging game; uniquely innovative and frustratingly addictive. The various mechanics being fused here make for a game that is endlessly replayable, but not at the cost of becoming repetitive or boring. If you’re looking for a game that can be a good time sink, but can also be comfortably played in short bursts, do yourself a favour and try this one out.
Enter The Gungeon is a brilliantly tactile, endlessly replayable twin-stick roguelike that sits right up there with the very best indie games on Nintendo Switch. With satisfying combat, random levels, and an endless supply of inventive weapons, items and secrets, it's always a total joy to play. Yet another modern indie classic has found a natural home on Nintendo's console.
Brace Yourself Games has crafted a unique roguelite Zelda game which somehow fits in perfectly with the rest of the family. A transfusion from Crypt of the NecroDancer gives the old top-down template a fresh spin but it still manages to feel like Zelda. Nintendo has gained a fantastic entry in the franchise that feels like a celebration. Cadence of Hyrule is not just a brilliant game, it's a brilliant Zelda game - one that you won't want to miss.
Bite-sized but very tough to chew, Yōdanji is a devilishly tricky roguelike with a fun theme, addictive, goal-based gameplay and massive replay value. Its 21 unlockable characters are the key to the latter, with each yōkai essentially acting as its own unique class, and discovering and trying to master the mechanics of each monster is pure old-school joy. Its anachronistic presentation won’t be for everyone, and clunky controls make for a sometimes confusing crawl, but anyone looking for a tough-as-nails good time with plenty of personality will get more than their money’s worth here.
Darkest Dungeon has always been an RPG that finds ways to make life uncomfortable for the player, and this Switch version manages to add a couple of usability issues to that list. However, this remains a dauntingly deep, thoroughly absorbing dungeon crawler that will swallow you up for hours at a time.
While its overly simplistic art style isn’t going to linger long in the memory, Unexplored's unusual approach to balancing combat and map generation certainly will. There’s very little story here to be had, but like any great dungeon crawler, the real adventure is the one you write yourself. With plenty of scope for weaponsmithing and all plenty of permanent perks to unlock to help negate the sting of its permadeath, Unexplored: Unlocked Edition offers danger and delight in equal measure.
Slay the Spire is an endlessly addictive roguelike card-battler that’s a perfect fit for the Switch; a beautifully balanced game that arrived on Nintendo's system with all the benefits of an extended period of Early Access on PC. Its combination of ferocious battles, entertaining chance encounters and selection of three impressively different player characters make every run to the top a nerve-wracking and totally absorbing affair. Massively inventive sets of cards combine majestically into hugely destructive combos and attack and defence options fuse perfectly together, enabling players to use the information provided by the brilliantly transparent Intent system to strategise endlessly against the hordes of foul monstrosities that stand between themselves and victory.
Sure, you’ll eventually see every enemy and chance encounter and yes, there are a few framerate niggles here and there, but overall this is one dungeon crawler that will live long in our system memories.
While reminding us just how much we’d love to see FTL on Switch, Everspace manages to carve out an impressive identity for itself as you warp between sectors steadily increasing your arsenal and skill level. With gratifying space combat, an addictive roguelite core loop and even some light, entertaining writing along the way, it performs admirably – if not flawlessly – on Nintendo’s console. We had a hell of a time with it and this port does a cracking job of preserving the full experience on a handheld.
Moon Hunters is a wonderful roguelike RPG that is quite unlike anything else available on the Switch, offering a bite-sized, engaging adventure that is extremely replayable and can be enjoyed both alone and with friends. Though there are some issues with the easy difficulty and the occasionally heinous load times, we still give this one a strong recommendation. Moon Hunters offers a lot with a relatively small amount of content, and you’ll likely find yourself revisiting this one for quite some time.
NeuroVoider's presentation is a futuristic pixel art masterpiece, while the synth techno soundtrack is varied, tense, moody and constantly thrilling. Failing never becomes dull and whether or not roguelikes, -lites or procedurally generated games float your proverbial boat, NeuroVoider's addictive, explosive gameplay and vibrant cyborg chic aesthetic will likely win you over. Despite ticking a lot of popular genre boxes, frantic action, satisfyingly tight controls and a wide range of customisation through parts and weapons make it hard to put down.
While the idea of a roguelike RPG shooter might sound like a bit of a mish mash, NeuroVoider is an immensely enjoyable experience if you want to invest time in the customisation or just go in arcade style, all plasma cannons and laser beams blazing.
After appearing on a whole bunch of other platforms, The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ feels like a perfect fit for Switch. It's a game you can pick up and play for 15-to-20 minutes at a time, jot down or screenshot your favourite seeds, or dip into daily challenges. The Switch's control configurations and simple couch co-op only sweeten the deal. This game feels like a blend of old-school mechanics and new-age thinking; it's an homage to the challenge and style of old titles, while simultaneously presenting itself stylistically as something more contemporary. If you're looking for a game that will be different each time you play it, look no further.
Black Future '88 is an intriguing, challenging but also supremely fun and rewarding game. It may be an audio-visual feast, but the tight gameplay, high degree of replayability and the sterling effort that has gone into overcoming many of the criticisms levelled at the genre mean it’s not just a pretty face. If you’re looking for a dose of intense cyberpunk action on your Switch, you can’t go wrong with this one.