"Roguelike elements" is to the current zeitgeist of game design that "RPG elements" were to the early 2000s. Lately they're pretty unavoidable in some form or another, so much so that the word has basically become meaningless. And you can have all the other silly words like 'roguelite' 'roguelikelike' 'diablo-like' and so on and so forth, all thoroughly impenetrable. Maybe in five more years we'll be able to just say "the maps are randomly generated" but right now, there's just no hope.
Part of this glut means that, like with RPGs in the early 2000s, full-on roguelikes (or new ones, anyway) are a bit scarce. This is a bit unfair of me-- the 7-Day Roguelike competition is alive and well, just off the top of my head-- but if you search for roguelikes on Steam, say, you'll hit an FPS variant, Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy, and Don't Starve before you hit a proper procedural death maze.
So it's quite forgivable if you look at Sproggiwood, and its downright adorable graphics, its tablet-friendly interface, and fifteen-dollar price point and assume it's some lightweight variant.
It's really not. From the makers of Caves of Qud, Sproggiwood certainly takes efforts to simplify the genre-- you'll find no hunger clock or item identification here, and the dungeons are bite-sized affairs-- but the cuts are done with a deft hand and the result is a streamlined game that is a superb introduction to the genre.
On normal difficulty, it's challenging enough to satisfy me, an old hand at the genre, albeit a very sloppy player. It's not hard but it's balanced well enough that you do need to mind what you're doing. Not just enemies (who hit hard), but the ubiquitous slimes leave slippery trails behind that usually damage you. One particular slime-- the darkest blue ones-- will leave behind patches that will breed fresh new slimes, and it's dreadfully easy to let things get out of hand. This is an especial concern for ranged classes; one can stop the breeding by running over the patch, but this mandates putting yourself into harm's way.
Every class has a pretty interesting skillset, making for a number of different playstyles, and there's a potion to shuffle your skills, too, so things are pretty much always interesting that way. The game is structured such that you have a number of short dungeons unlocked in succession-- you can go through one pretty quickly, and I've found the game great fun in short, bite-sized pops.
The dungeon format allows for a bit of story to take place between dungeons, and the veneer of cuteness is much like the rest of the game-- underneath, there's quite a bit more to it. Really, it's a very sad story of clashing civilizations and misunderstandings; the art style does a lot of the heavy lifting to keep it from being downright depressing.
Dungeon generation is perfectly pleasant-- floors are never so big as to wear out their welcome (as in Dungeons of Dredmor) but give you enough space to maneuver and explore.
Out-of-dungeon progress is managed via a shop. Everything you find in a dungeon can be unlocked permanently with a one-time purchase, and you can then take purchased items back with you into subsequent dungeons. It's a bit reminiscent of Desktop Dungeons, not least because it's accompanied by a little townbuilding interface.
The townbuilding is delightful and fully-featured-- you have a pretty robust interface to place all sorts of buildings and tiles around your little village. As you go through dungeons the adorable monsters you defeat will come to live in your town. Still, it feels a little vestigal. All buildings can be placed right from the start of the game, even ones that are supposedly unlocked through game progress. And how you build your village has no real effect on anything else in the game-- no benefits or penalties either way. I don't know that I mind-- it's really the epitome of 'we don't have to do this, but why not?' features. It's a nice touch is what it is, and it fits well with the theme of the game.
Sproggiwood has longevity concerns from me, but I'm not entirely certain those concerns are fair. One is used to expecting a roguelike will last you for years. Sproggiwood has a pretty clear point where you've just got everything done. I don't think that's a bad thing, honestly. Just... well, it's short when it feels like it should go on forever.
Still, the rapidfire play is good fun, and would be great on portable devices. I believe a mobile port is coming, though where I really would like to play it is on my Vita. The bright designs and fairy tale tragedy of the story would make it a great choice for older children. A great introduction to the genre no matter what, though. Would buy plushies based on this game.