I’m down to my last life. I bring up my deck of cards and rearrange them, swapping cards around, hoping it will give me the edge that I need to defeat the drooling beast that approaches. The warp portal is in sight and if I’m careful, I can maneuver around the creature. At that moment the hologram of a player I chose to help earlier appears and gives me the edge I need to make it to the portal, one step closer to rescuing Big Barry.
If all of this sounds like nonsense I can assure you it is, in the best possible way. Loot Rascals wears its goofy charm well and truly on its sleeve, and the wacky humour and surreal art style are its greatest assets.
Developed by UK based studio Hollowponds, Loot Rascals is a rogue-like which features art from Swatpaz of Adventure Time fame. From the outset, the game oozes charm and originality. In the brief opening cinematic, the world is introduced and the main mission outlined, all with a touch of dry British charm. Your goal is to track down Big Barry, a container filled with liquid anything.
The game plays out over a grid made up of hexagonal segments. The player can move around the grid freely and explore each level. Each world is filled with baddies determined to stop you reaching the exit portal. Combat is initiated by sharing a hexagonal segment with one of these beautifully animated creatures. One of the ways the game keeps the player moving is by the use of a day-night cycle. Every 5 turns, day turns to night. Certain enemies will only attack in the day and defend at night, and vice-versa. This creates a strategic element to the way you move around the world. Each section is like a chessboard, requiring the player to think several steps ahead to ensure the best outcome.
Upon defeating one of the game’s many monsters, there is a chance to receive a loot card. This is where the real game begins as managing your deck is the only way to make your character stronger. Cards contain a variety of buffs which all interact with each other depending on the position of the card. The loot system also goes the other way in that if you are killed by an enemy, they will loot one of your cards. This leads to the most interesting aspect of Loot Rascals. There is a multiplayer system of sorts in that the cards looted from you show up in other players’ games. When these enemies are defeated you are given a choice to return the card to the player, meaning they will show up to assist you, or keep the card for yourself. Doing the latter causes the other player to show up in your game, hell bent on destroying you.
The loot system in the game is its main draw, as it’s both simple to grasp but deep enough to stay fresh after each death. And die you will, a lot. Despite its friendly aesthetic, Loot Rascals is a difficult game to master. The game features permadeath, so once you die, that’s it, you are transported back to the start with all of your cards gone and nothing to show for all your hard work. This is my major gripe with the game. I usually have no problem with the way rogue-likes handle death as long as there is a sense of progression each time. The problem is, in Loot Rascals, nothing carries over when you die. There’s nothing to make you feel like you’re really getting anywhere and due to the procedurally generated nature of the game, some playthroughs are intrinsically harder than others.
Loot Rascals is a surprisingly deep game and as a result is a little confusing at the start. There is a brief tutorial section before you are thrown into the game. There is little explanation in these opening minutes which means that some players may feel overwhelmed by all of the game’s systems. Despite this, Loot Rascals’ core gameplay is quick and relatively simple enough that it only takes a few deaths before everything starts to click into place.
It may be fair to assume that because of its grid-based gameplay, Loot Rascals could be a plodding affair. This couldn’t be further from the truth as slick animations and speedy battles give the game a real sense of movement. The ability to walk freely around the grid where some games may have restricted the player to single movements is a nice touch which keeps the game moving.
The lack of progression is a problem, sure. But the world of Loot Rascals is so wonderfully animated and designed that just getting another chance to experience it is worth the next playthrough. There is a diverse roster of enemies, with monsters containing different quirks and stats. There is a journal to fill up with monsters you encounter and mini-bosses to conquer in the later stages.
Loot Rascals successfully blends rogue-like and card based elements wonderfully. The art direction and trippy characters which make up its world are some of the best I’ve ever seen. But a lack of a progression system and any meaningful reason to keep playing do hinder its stellar grid based gameplay. If rogue-likes are your thing, or if the art style appeals to you, the game is definitely worth your time, as for all its shortcomings, Loot Rascals is a master class in turn-based combat and a world well worth visiting.
[This review is based on a retail copy of the game, provided by the publisher]
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