Rogue Touch

One of the most beloved and influential computer games of all-time needs little introduction; it’s Rogue.  Originally released in 1980 for Unix, it’s the precursor to the entire ‘dungeon crawl’ genre and credited as being the first graphic adventure.  It’s been ported to every computer system in the known universe and is alive and well today in the form of many inspired versions called ‘roguelikes’ as well as its original form.  So let’s see if Rogue Touch from ChronoSoft does all this history and lore any justice on the iPhone platform, especially considering big competition comes courtesy of Rogue from gandreas software (which is free).
The goal of the game (let’s call it RT hereafter) is to descend to (at least) level 26 of the Dungeons of Doom which are filled with treasure, magic, traps and deadly monsters, retrieve the mystical Amulet of Yendor and return to the surface to claim fame and riches.  If you know nothing beyond what I just said about Rogue, there just isn’t enough space here to cover it all so you might want to do your own research (Wikipedia is a good start).  Instead, what I’ll try to do is focus on the good and bad points of RT compared to years of playing the original and it’s immediate descendants.
The good stuff:
This is classic Rogue, no doubt about it so veteran players will feel quite at home with Rogue Touch.  All the potions, staves, wands, rings, scrolls, weapons, cursed items, nasty monsters and randomization are all here and accounted for.  The game uses attractive tile-based graphics that are colorful and detailed (combination of the public domain ’RL Tiles’, work from David Gervais and inhouse art).  The dev went the extra distance and added animation sequences to certain events such as descending stairs, dividing slimes and teleportation.  This is awesome and a welcome addition to the experience.  The UI has been greatly simplified, doing away with myriad keystrokes in favor of a few onscreen buttons and a touch-based inventory and to a large extent I’ve found this to be a bonafide good thing.  There is some intro music (though none once ingame) and an ambient dungeon sound-loop runs as you play which is excellent.  The immersion and addictiveness of the original have been preserved exactly.
The not-so-good stuff:
What the heck is going on with the armor class?  In RT the lower the onscreen AC the better but in the original it’s the opposite.  Also with the original the onscreen AC is not the true AC as classic D&D rules are used so the equivalent is the neg of your onscreen AC + 11.  However, even though RT ingame presents an increasing onscreen AC as bad, it obviously still uses this formula as that is the value next to your armor in inventory.  So if your onscreen AC is 6 your inventory will show 5 and if it’s 5 will show 6.  I really don’t understand why this was changed from the original and it doesn’t make sense anyway as the calculation represented in your inventory is no longer meaningful, even in D&D terms.
The movement interface is just not good.  I have fairly large hands and having to tap as if the entire display is an 8-way D-pad leaves my finger/hand constantly in obstruction of the screen.  The game desperately needs an option to enable an actual D-pad for movement, tucked neatly off to the bottom of the screen somewhere.
The overlay map is a great idea but inexplicably it doesn’t show doors you’ve already identified.  The game does let you zoom out from the main map but even then you can’t scroll the map.  This makes backtracking to explore remaining areas needlessly frustrating.
The stuff I’d like to see (beyond what’s already been mentioned):
  •  A global scoreboard and iTunes music support.  C’mon, this is the iPhone we’re talking about here, hook us up.
  • Landscape mode.  I can’t imagine why this isn’t already in there, desperately needed especially given the mapping limitations already described.
  • Remember the last player name you typed so you don’t have to keep retyping it on every new game.
  • Option to recall everything you’ve discovered/identified up to that point.  This is in the original and its absence is sorely missed here.
  • Ability to switch to classic ASCII graphics.  The purists out there will appreciate it and hey, the gandreas version supports it.
  • Category-based inventory sort.  In other words, keep the scrolls you pickup logically grouped together and same for potions, rings etc. 
  • Fast move option as constant tapping and even holding to run aren’t really sufficient.

One thing worth noting that may not be possible to change is the save game system.  Any rogue player worth his salt was never content with the ‘permadeath’ nature of the game.  Even though technically cheating, save games were always backed up, shuffled around, edited etc but always in the interest of just having fun with the game.  Not sure how this could be worked into RT but wanted to throw it out there just in case it gets any ideas flowing.  Also there’s no wizard mode here and while I don’t really miss it, some might want that confirmed.

In summary, Rogue Touch is excellent, worth the money and the developer is clearly dedicated to future development of the game which has me all kinds of excited.  I only gripe about it above out of respect and desire to see it be the perfect Rogue version for the iPhone.  It might be a good idea to release a lite version to expand the audience as even though Rogue is close to ubiquitous, there’s an ever-expanding generation gap out there and many will need to play it to ‘get it’ (figuratively and fiscally). 

Version reviewed – 1.0
Global scoreboard – no
iTunes music supported – no
Lite version available – no
Update 3/1/2009  - v1.1 is out and addresses lots of the above and more, a must-have upgrade.

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