If you've ever wondered what The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past would be like if you added a bunch of modern roguelite elements, randomly generated its dungeons and threw local and online four player co-op into the mix, well, wonder no longer, as Heliocentric Studios' Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos is pretty much exactly that. Here is a delightful top-down dungeon-crawler that makes no secret of its biggest influences, taking the wonderfully addictive gameplay loops and instantly recognisable graphical stylings of Nintendo's 1991 classic, adding a bunch of its own tweaks and tricks and delivering a proper indie treat in the process.
The land of Tasos, so the story goes, was once ravaged by a hundred year war against evil titans which was brought to an end when its goddesses sacrificed their powers in order to lock these enormous enemies away in four great big dungeons. As time has passed the magic seals holding the titans in their lairs have begun to come undone and so the weakened goddesses have returned, making a desperate plea for warriors to step forth, delve into the depths of Tasos’ underworld, and defeat its festering evil once and for all.
The comparisons to A Link to the Past are easy to make from the get-go here as your little adventurer begins their journey tucked up in bed in their tiny wooden home before quickly being ushered – sword and shield in hand – towards the game's first labyrinthian dungeon and a face-off with its enormous crab-like titan boss. Zelda fans who love nothing more than to chuck porcelain pots and shrubbery around as they rudely trash NPC homes and gardens for treasure and health items will be in their element here, and the controls will be instantly familiar to anyone who's ever zapped a (hopefully River) Zora, throttled a Tektite or battered a Buzz Blob.
The overworld of Tasos is also hugely reminiscent of old-school Hyrule and it's equally well-designed to boot, with progress towards each of its four main dungeon challenges cleverly gated off behind broken bridges, wooden blockades and great big ruddy boulders that will require your ever-expanding arsenal of weapons and gadgets to bypass. Indeed, one of Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos' main strengths is Heliocentric Studios' decision to have you spend so much of your time exploring this game's delightful swamps, forests, villages, cemeteries and so on rather than simply flinging you endlessly into its underground challenges, as so many other roguelites tend to do. You get to take a breather here, change up the pace a bit and just wander around, talk to village folk or maybe even just grab a seat and have sit down for a while. There are lots of quirky little side quests to complete in the downtime between dungeons too; you might help a ghost rescue his family from a mausoleum, for example, search for a villager's shipwrecked husband or rescue a bunch of Croakers from captivity in exchange for the ability to ride around in their mouths in order to navigate the world's deadly mud lakes.
There's an expandable central hub area, Intori Village, that you'll gradually build up from a couple of wooden shacks into a thriving little town complete with a blacksmith, various shops, labs and even a farm where you can plant and grow your very own food. In order to create all of these outlets you'll need to gather coins and gems from the game's deadly dungeons, loot that you'll keep upon death, and return to the town's resident builder, Griff, who'll happily whip you up whatever building you can afford in a frenzied blur of smoke and hammer bangs. All of these stores then feed directly into your abilities, allowing you to purchase and upgrade bows, bomb bags, health potions, boomerangs, magic wands, grappling hooks and every other gadget and tool you'll need to survive and successfully navigate the entirety of Tasos. There's a ton of bits and pieces to get to grips with here and every single one of them has its very own upgrade tree to spend your gems unlocking and powering up. Indeed, if we did have one slight niggle with the game, it's that its plethora of skill trees can be a little confusing with perhaps a few too many places to pump your precious gems.
You've got a selection of warrior classes to unlock with magic threads you'll find littered around the world too, a fun little addition to proceedings even if the various types don't particularly differ all that greatly in actual practice. We spent most of our time playing solo as a ranger, a class that gives you slightly more power in your bow shots and a dash ability to dodge in and around enemies with, but you can also choose from a knight who can soak up more damage and has a slam attack, a mage who can blink through objects, a witch, thief, pirate and even a reaper, none of whom play so differently that party composition in co-op ever becomes a factor. Combat and special ability usage are also both tied to upgradeable stamina gauges which gives enemy encounters a nice little rhythm of attacking and then stepping back to take a breather.
And what of the titans themselves and the labyrinthian dungeons that house them? Well, they're a delight! Each of the four main dungeon areas here have their very own bespoke set of clever little puzzle room templates which are thrown at you in randomly generated order, preventing things from growing stale over the course of the many, many attempts it will likely take you to reach the boss that lurks behind their final locked titan door. These rooms are uniformly well designed, full of opportunities to put your various tools and tricks to good use as you work out how to press forward and almost always striking a nice balance between being tricky enough to keep you engaged whilst not so difficult that you'll end up tossing your controller aside in frustration. There's a wonderful selection of enemies to get to grips with in these subterranean areas too with shielded skeletons, mud monsters, electric jellyfish, great big horrible teethy worm lads and absolutely tons more that can all, very cleverly, be added to your ever-expanding bestiary by finishing them off during a fight with a bonk from your book of beasts.
There's lots of nice little quality of life touches here too with portals dotted around the world map in order for you to instantly transport yourself back to whatever area you're working on should you come a cropper, and access to a dungeon's multiple levels can be unlocked permanently with coins as you clear them so you don't have to restart from scratch every time a cheeky snake takes you by surprise.
If we did have a few issues with Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos, besides the over-abundance of skill trees previously mentioned, it's that the main character lacks the winning personality of a preset hero such as good old Link. Indeed, the story here is the weakest part of proceedings overall and although we understand why the main protagonist isn't more complex, this game is designed to be played through with various classes and up to three other players after all, it would have been nice to have a little more in the way of a personality and narrative to carry things along. It's a small issue given everything that the game gets right, of course, and we guess perhaps it's a sacrifice well worth making for the fun of co-op. We didn't get a chance to test out the online aspect of things for this review, as the servers aren't up and running just yet, but local co-op is a blast here; easy to jump in and out of and with plenty of challenge for a group of players to dig into.
In terms of performance, this is a cracking-looking adventure with a gloriously colourful overworld and lots of atmospheric little dungeons and caves that are every bit as delightful to explore as those found in its most obvious inspirations. In both docked and handheld modes everything runs smoothly, we didn't encounter any bugs or glitches whatsoever during our playthrough, and the whole thing just suits portable play right down to the ground; digging in here and there to make a few dungeon runs, collect some gems and level up your gear, strength and stamina in order to inch ever closer to a titan next time around.
Honestly, there's such an overabundance of roguelites and roguelikes around these days that it genuinely is quite difficult to get particularly excited about the prospect of diving headlong into yet another, but Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos pulls all of the expected elements of this genre together with such style and polish here that we found ourselves absolutely addicted to its dungeon-crawling delights regardless. If you're in the mood for some old-school Hyrule adventuring with a bunch of thoroughly modern roguelite mechanics slapped on top, this one's for you.
Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos is a delightful Zelda-inspired roguelite that's chock full of secrets, surprises, and some top-notch dungeon crawling action. There's an excellent central hub area to evolve and expand here, lots of fun little side quests to indulge in and a well-designed overworld that takes full advantage of your hero's ever-growing armoury of weapons, skills and gadgets. There are perhaps a few too many skill trees and upgrade mechanics for our liking and the story is entirely forgettable, but overall this one comes highly recommended for co-op and solo adventurers alike.