Despite the obvious gaming pun, and the ironic logo to go with it, Streets of Rogue is not a sideways-scrolling beat-’em up. Not even close.
Perhaps that’s the point. It’s an early signal that the game has its own perverse logic. The game’s title is already a bad joke, and then it gleefully doubles, trebles and quadruples down on the crime once I start playing. Nothing makes sense, because this is a game that’s not concerned with standard sensibilities.
Chicken nuggets are involved in a major plotline. Banana skins are useful weapons. The McGuffin Muffin is a desirable prize. Playable characters range from Gorilla to Investment Banker.
As the name sort of suggests, Streets of Rogue is a roguelike instadeath game. Set in top-down view, I’m a pixelated character who navigates a world full of rooms and corridors. Each level has a different theme, although the pixel art visuals don’t offer much in the way of variety.
Some rooms contain potentially useful items. Refrigerators usually yield foodstuffs, which boost health. Vending machines selling upgrades and items are dotted here and there.
Each level contains two of three rooms with clearly marked missions. These are usually a matter of stealing an item, or “neutralizing” a specific enemy. Guards are often present, and I can choose to elude them through stealth — which is almost always the best strategy — or I can fight them using melee weapons, guns, or other special items. There are also tricks specific to certain playable classes that I can use to survive. I hack computers, steal keys, disable doors and break security cameras.
Once I clear a level, I can either make for the exit, or try to gain an award by figuring out a special “big” mission, which is generally unmarked. These require that I seek out specific situations, such as prisoners who look like they might like to be freed. Exploration and experimentation are key, although there are also plenty of NPCs to ask for help. I can pay gangsters to protect me from harm, for example.
The game’s daft comedic onslaught lures me into a forgiving mood early in the game. A tutorial quest-giver is so impressed by my ability to complete simple tasks that his head literally explodes. This gore-splattered scene is moronic, and it makes me laugh.
Streets of Rogue is a game that’s so unrelenting with idiotic gags that the meta-joke of knowing stupidity helps everything else hang together. I don’t mind being trapped in a kaleidoscope of bad puns and groan-worthy geek allusions. Comedy in game design is difficult. It’s something of an achievement that developer Matt Dabrowski pulls it off by piling cheap gags so high, so often.
Special items come rapidly, through many different means. I am gifted a boombox early in the game that I can turn on to force my enemies to groove to the tunes. Each item offers genuine strategic options while maintaining the general sense of goofiness and surprise.
I die often, which is often the case with roguelikes, but each life lets me learn more about the world’s quirks and secrets. I can also unlock a broad range of playable classes that begins with the standard options of thief, soldier, or hacker before I later get access to a clown who can disarm enemies with jokes or a zombie that is powerful in early levels but becomes less effective as the game continues. Decomposition works against me, I guess.
I find myself accruing more money and more items as the game progresses, until I’m torn between doing the safe thing that will help me progress, or trying out some wacky new toy to see what happens.
The result is a world of chaotic fun which is happy to send me right back to the beginning for the least transgression. I’m happy to play again, to try new tricks and laugh at old gags.
Streets of Rogue is now available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game was reviewed using a Windows PC download code provided by Tiny Build Games. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.