Developer: Hollow Ponds
Publisher: Hollow Ponds
Platform: PS4[Reviewed], PC
Release Date: March 7th 2017
Loot Rascals is a rogue-like developed and published by Hollow Ponds for PS4 and PC. With the rogue-like genre forever expanding ever since the likes of The Binding of Isaac and FTL won over the hearts of many gamers more than a few years ago, it takes a lot to really stand out amongst the crowd. Loot Rascals aim’s to bring humor and charm to the forefront of your typically short-lived adventures within the genre, whilst also throwing the odd neat gameplay hook to keep you invested. For the most part, It truly delivers.
After a short tutorial, you are able to start your first run and are introduced to the story setup. Though there isn’t much of a story, I would like to mention the clever and hilarious way it is conveyed to you at the start. For me to tell you the details of this story setup would actually spoil you of the comedic writing. So, I will just say that you play as an astronaut that has crash landed on an alien moon with monsters in every direction and you’re looking for an escape.
Straight away you will notice the game has this brilliantly kooky artistic direction, and this wackiness is present across the whole game within the writing, monsters, characters and gameplay items. Hollow Ponds really had a tone in mind and went all out with it, meaning there are never moments that break from the overall feel and I applaud them for doing so. It is so unique that it may become troublesome to describe but the best I can say is, it’s The Mighty Boosh meets Toejam and Earl and it is delightful. Though I must say, I do think it might be an acquired taste.
The gameplay also shares some deeper resemblance to Toejam and Earl as well. Both games are rogue-likes where you explore a land from a top-down perspective, dealing with wacky enemies with different behaviors. All whilst trying to find a teleporter that will drop you to the next level. The similarities end there, unlike Toejam, in Loot Rascals the map is of a Hex-grid nature and everytime you move a space, time does also, represented by a day/night cycle tracker on the HUD. This is crucially important to keep track of throughout the game as some enemies gain a buff when engaged at night and some in the day. Also when, say, there is a large group of enemies that are buffed at night bar one you might want to time it so that you take them all on exactly when you hit daytime and take out the last one just in time for the night. This adds a great deal of depth of strategy to the game that will later have you jumping and re-organizing yourself from tile to tile much like in Crypt of the Necrodancer, just without the acid house background music. Also it is worth noting, the levels are randomly generated, so it doesn’t get stale too quickly.
Combat itself isn’t exactly complex, though, but that is fine because the complexity doesn’t come from stringing combos, swinging swords or selecting to cast ‘firaga’ on lonely beast with no friends no337. It comes from the careful balancing act you play out with all of the outside mechanics, that you then take into battle. Fighting is as simple as sharing the same tile space as a monster and the rest actually takes care of itself. This does seem like the game is on auto in the first level, but that is only because you haven’t unlocked the necessary abilities and cards to really build interesting character stats. That bring’s me to the games hook, the cards or as Hollow Ponds would refer to it, loot. Yes, the loot in this game is in the form of cards, that are much like a Magic the Gathering, Yugioh or Hearthstone kind of collectible. This is the loot that enemies will drop when the game is kind enough, and a lot of your time will be spend managing and maintaining you outfitted collection. You can collect and hold a certain amount of cards, an amount which can be expanded by visiting the required vendor at the games hub section, but it is equipping them which turns them into active effects. Your equipped cards section consists of two rows of five, with each column numbered 1 – 5 respectively. Where this gets interesting, is when, for example, you loot a card that gives you 3 defense but -2 to the card below if it is in an odd numbered column. Though many cards in the game are simple damage or defense buffs, many are like what I mentioned and this makes specializing or balancing your character a fun puzzle that carries on for the entire game. Picking up just one useful card that you really need might mean rearranging your entire inventory of cards if you want to play optimally. It’s rewarding to outfit your character with a deadly combination of cards and feel like you slightly broke the game and it is satisfying to shuffle the cards around in a more immediate sense, because clicking or pressing around the screen is visually and sonically pleasing to the soul as well as showing high levels of polish across all 5 large levels.
Speaking of polish, the whole game oozes the stuff. Whereas even indie games like FTL can sometimes feel a little rough around the edges amazing still. Loot Rascals feels so professional in its presentation. Animations are fluid and almost like they hired the team behind Adventure Time. The Art style abuses the use of color to the point I had several acid flashbacks. The soundtrack, which I regretfully have failed to mention until now, is a wonderfully laid back array of dub-reggae fused with synths, like as if Bob Marley never sadly passed away but was instead abducted and chose to spread his music to the outer reaches of the final frontier by playing a concert from the deck of the enterprise. Overall, I had a blast with Loot Rascals, and though I worry about its lasting appeal and replayability, a can’t deny the impression it left me with. It’s definitely a required taste, and if any of that sounded remotely up your street, then I wouldn’t hesitate with this one. It’s an ultimately strange vision that Hollow Ponds had with this one, but they went all the way with it, and Loot Rascals is a great game because of it.