Every so often, it’s nice to spend time with a game that just wants you to revel in kinetic energy and pure fun. Developed by WubsGames and currently in Early Access, Rogue Stache fits the bill while encouraging you to push further, death after death, via its equipment and leveling systems. However, a myriad of design flaws quickly devolves this push into a crawl.
Rogue Stache is a MetroidVania-style shooting platformer that stars the rugged survivor of a space ship disaster involving infectious aliens that possess humans by shaving off their mustaches. As you take control of the “last manly man” alive, you’ll be jumping through procedurally-generated levels and violently eliminating anything in your path. Each time you die, you keep all the treasure you’ve scooped up, your facial hair gains experience, and you generally go into your next killing spree better equipped... technically, anyway.
Stache feels great when you first sit down with it. Its controls are precise and zippy, and your character is insanely agile, being capable of wall jumps and double jumps and always having access to a weapon. These aspects lend to some impressive onscreen action as you leap around spraying bullets everywhere. The enemies are pleasant callbacks to series such as Metroid, System Shock, and even Zelda (lots of chickens), references that never feel too on-the-nose. And when they die, it is oh-so-satisfyingly visceral.
Unfortunately, the proverbial cracks in the façade start to appear within 15 minutes. The enemies convey a sense of personality, but they inhabit a world that exhibits none. It’ll take you hours of grinding to reach areas with enough detail to even convey the setting, and even those get tiresome. Also generic is the background music, which is barely serviceable but thankfully never irritating. More annoying are the quips your character makes when he picks up goodies, which sound cherry-picked from a derivative list. These uninspired elements are omnipresent, overshadowing the more creative aspects which come and go.
Long-term play sessions reveal a number of design flaws. There’s a general lack of balance running through the game’s mechanics. When you’ve racked up enough kills, you can activate a state where your weapon shoots rapidly with unlimited ammo and no need to reload. The problem is that some weapons benefit way more than others, with one not changing at all. Areas are procedurally generated, but that isn’t an excuse for a complete lack of any difficulty curve in the architecture. Level 1-1 may be just as convoluted as 3-2, and although you can wall jump repeatedly, the system occasionally whips up a trap that forces you to abandon the level... thus forfeiting your progress.
Speaking of progress, it’s just way too slow here. I found a useful hat and a great beard, but every upgrade tier took over 20 minutes to achieve. This beard I randomly unlocked granted me 50% more health and made me 50% slower. Three hours and six upgrade tiers later? 54% more health and 43% slower. It’s an absolute slog. Back on the subject of balance, I stayed with said beard for so long because, in three hours, literally nothing I unlocked came close to being better. The more I played of Stache, the less I enjoyed it, and coming back to it after a substantial break did little to reinvigorate that initial novelty.
With its fast-paced, superhuman action and buckets of mucky pixel gore, Rogue Stache hits the player with great first impressions. Within an hour, though, its problems become apparent. Poor balancing choices, a crippling deficit of personality, and an agonizingly sluggish progression system combine to pull this game below even mediocrity. In a strange, ironic twist, the very elements meant to keep you engaged are those that will leave you irritated and bored. While forthcoming changes might result in a superior experience, right now it’s best to leave this last manly man to fend for himself.