Why I Love: drinking potions and befriending monkeys in free roguelike Brogue


You hear combat in the distance.

You feel a sense of loss.

You hear something die in combat.

Brogue is a roguelike, like Rogue. There are hundreds of these games now, covering both extremes of accessibility. Brogue sits nicely in the middle. If you've played Dungeons of Dredmor and The Binding of Isaac and Spelunky, and now you want to start swimming to the deeper end of the pool, Brogue is your waterwings.

Complexity: It has the ASCII ungraphics, the thrill of pockets filled by unknown potions and scrolls, the permadeath difficulty. Simplicty: It's fully mouse-controlled, readable at a glance, and has an elegant skill system. It also has monkeys that will steal your shit and break your heart.

You see a kobold.

You see a kobold.

You see a monkey.

Monkeys are enemies in Brogue, just like the kobolds and rats and goblins and spectral blades and every other creature and enemy and object and potion and scroll you encounter in the game's caves. The thrill of roguelikes is that everything is an adversary, and choosing to play is the thing that kills you.

Monkeys are in some ways more dangerous than anything else I've encountered. If you meet a kobold, it'll run at you and you'll fight it till one of you is dead. By comparison, monkeys will run up to you, steal something from your pockets and then flee faster than you can chase. I've starved to death, deep underground, cursing fleet-fingered primates after they've nabbed the last scraps of food from my pockets.

Sometimes though, you find a monkey being held captive by two guarding kobolds. Dispatch with them and you're presented with a quandary: free the monkey, or leave the monkey. I gambled once and set the monkey free, and he became my ally. My own helper monkey. My bro in Brogue. Soon, I discovered another, and we ventured deeper in to the caves as three friends.

You see a toad.

You hit the toad in its sleep.

You hit the toad; the toad slams you; you begin to hallucinate.

When playing a truly great roguelike, the recurring question in your head is: how cruel can the game designer really be? As the player, you're engaged in consecutive games of 'chicken' with them, learning just how cruel one death at a time. What stops these games from being unfair or frustrating is that you knew you were pushing your luck when you agreed to play 'chicken' in the first place.

Hit a toad in Brogue, and it won't just hit you back. It'll also poison you, causing your monkeys to morph. You'll round a corner and they'll disappear from sight, and when you see them next, they're a goblin, no, a kraken, no, a lich, no. You're no longer sure whether it's your friend or your next death. The designer is very cruel.

This is nothing compared to the malicious allure of potions and scrolls. A lot of roguelikes have items with unknown effects. You know they could be good or bad, and you're probably best waiting till you find a Scroll of Identify before you use them.

I can't help myself in Brogue, though. I find a scroll of "nurnidgenidgeherba" and read it immediately.

The scroll emits a piercing shriek that echoes throughout the dungeon!

(It must have been a scroll of aggravate monsters.)

I find bottles of lavender and violet liquids and drink them in an instant.

You no longer fear fire.

(It must have been a potion of fire immunity.)

Newfound strength surges through your body.

(It must have been a potion of strength.)

The results are positive just often enough that it's deliciously tempting to take a punt and have a drink. When I play Brogue, I wish every game had a system like this. A glistening thing under the player's control that could help or hurt, save or kill, but which will always do something hilarious and memorable.

A big red, flashing button labelled "DO NOT TOUCH".

Vapor pours out of the flask and causes the floor to disappear!

(It must have been a potion of descent.)

You plunge downwards into the hole!

You are damaged by the fall.

Your monkey falls from above and crashes to the ground!

A moment passes, I take a step.

Your monkey falls from above and crashes to the ground!

One of my monkeys avoided the disappearing floor, and so he jumped down voluntarily a moment later. He didn't want to be left behind.

In this topsy-turvy world of unknown potions and magical goblins and caustic flesh-eating gases and hallucinatory frogs, you can always count on your monkeys.

A shimmering cloud of rainbow-colored gas billows out of the open flask!

You look very confused!

Your monkey looks very confused!

Your monkey bites you.

Monkey, no! (It must have been a potion of confusion.) None of us can walk straight, floundering around in the gas. We end up stumbling off in opposite directions till the effects wear off.

Your muscles stiffen as a cloud of pink gas bursts from the open flask!

You are paralyzed!

Your monkey is paralyzed!

Sometimes I worry that I'm not the best friend a monkey could have. At least the effects wear off again, but not before we're found by a Pink Jelly.

You defeated the pink jelly; the pink jelly drenches your monkey.

Pink jellies are a pain, because they tend to split in two and multiply at a rate faster than you can kill them. They can be avoided entirely if you run away, but try telling that to a squad of monkeys. My friends are clawing and tweaking, and soon there's six, seven, eight jellies surrounding us.

This fight could go a few different ways, but I know what happens if my monkeys and I get separated. I've heard this message before.

You hear combat in the distance.

You feel a sense of loss.

You hear something die in combat.

I don't want to hear that again. In this topsy-turvy world of multiplying jelly monsters, who can monkeys count on if not their friend, the adventurer?

The pink jelly missed you; the pink jelly missed you.

The pink jelly defeated you.

You die...

Brogue can be downloaded now for nothing more than the price of a broken heart.