Welcome, friends. It’s that island of peace in our chaotic weeks known as the weekend and what better way to ease yourself in than with a good old fashioned Pure PlayStation review? This week it’s the turn of developer Hollow Ponds’ space cartoon roguelike, Loot Rascals. Join our intrepid space adventurer as he recalls his attempts at escaping the Thing Below. We know our reviewer’s a rascal, but was he the looter or the looted?
Underneath the bright and perky Saturday morning cartoon visuals of Loot Rascals lies a merciless and untamed beast, both literally in its plot and figuratively in its design. The game is unforgiving and at times can seem cruel but it’s not the cruelty of a bully, hurting you for pleasure, it’s the cruelty of nature, it’s random and it doesn’t care if you live or die. That could sound like a negative point but for the roguelike adventure that Loot Rascals presents it’s really no less than you should expect. It’s a roguelike in the true sense of the word; there’s no meta-progression, every death means you’re starting a new adventure. The short-form nature of the game and the hidden depth of its systems and randomisation, though, meant that my forays into alien territory were always memorable, if often brief. I had to let the game grow on me a little to really get a sense of what it had to offer but I came away having enjoyed the overall experience. Join me below as I go all zen and discuss why death doesn’t have to be the end.
Loot Rascals does have a story, of sorts, and even a few moments of humor woven in there. It’s certainly a minimalist tale though, you’ll get an introductory scene and ending scenes as well as a couple of other snippets and that’s your lot. Still, it manages to frame the random space-shenanigans effectively and gives you a reason to push forward. The premise is simple, you’ve lost a valuable giant terraforming robot thing called a Big Barry on an uncharted planet and you need to get him back. Unfortunately, the resident Lovecraftian nightmare ‘The Thing Below’ has taken a bit of a shine to the robot making your job slightly more difficult. It does work somewhat to your advantage – the Thing will resurrect you in a new timeline whenever you die, as it wants you to practice some pest control on the planet’s surface while she and Barry get better acquainted.
So that’s the gist; explore the levels, kill the ‘rascals’, and try to find the head of the Big Barry to make your escape or attempt the unthinkable and try to defeat the Thing Below herself (itself?) If you should fail, start again. As I said, it’s more than adequate framing for the gameplay but don’t go expecting any blockbuster emotional scenes. The gameplay is what counts here, after all, and once I got the hang of Loot Rascals unique mechanics I found myself enjoying strategically planning my moves and experimenting with its intricate deck building system. Yes, I said deck building system. As you defeat enemies in the game they have a chance of dropping collectible cards which you can use (at the most basic level) to augment your attack and defense. More on that shortly, but first let me explain how combat works.
The map in loot rascals is divided into hexagonal sections and moving between these sections advances the turn counter by one, which eventually turns night to day and vice-versa, enemies that appear on the map will either be in attack mode (they attack you first if you engage them) or defense mode (you attack first) depending on whether it is day or night. The basic premise is that you want to attack when an enemy is defending but that’s not nearly all. The aforementioned cards govern your attack and defense rating which determines the damage you deal and take and while having a higher attack rating than an enemy’s health ensures a one hit kill, having a high defense only lessens the chance of taking damage. This means getting that first shot can be vital to avoid dwindling your sparse health pool. It’s an unforgiving system but it forced me to think about even something as basic as moving one square forward in a strategic way. Going backward to go forward isn’t a paradox in Loot Rascals, it’s a necessity.
What I’ve described already is just the tip of the iceberg for the card system. As soon as you’re into the swing of things you’ll be getting cards with bonus multipliers that force you to think about positioning them in your equipment slots, special abilities that increase your combat and movement options, passive benefits, and more. Using these nuances effectively is vital to your survival after the first area as the game ramps up in difficulty very quickly. At first, my escapes from the first map and failed journeys into the second seemed like a wild difficulty spike but a bit of patience proved that it merely encourages you to make the most of your time in the first area and collect the cards that will be essential to your progress. My strategy in this and subsequent maps quickly became finding the level’s exit as quickly as possible before exploring the rest of the map with my remaining moves, safe in the knowledge I could make a hasty exit.
I have to add a caveat to the above praise though, that analysis is all based on a run going averagely well. This is a roguelike and enemy spawns, map layouts, and item drops and treasures are all randomised. This does lead to a few situations where you just won’t drop the cards you need to survive which in turn leads to deaths that can feel inevitable. This doesn’t happen too often, in fairness, and you’ll normally be able to receive adequate tools to stand a fighting chance. Don’t interpret that to mean that Loot Rascals is an easy game to finish, your fighting chance can disappear very quickly if you make mistakes and you’ll inevitably have many more failures than successes. Even failure can teach you a little bit more about the enemies, your environment, and your abilities, and it’s in this way that Loot Rascals does convey a sense of progress. While you retain nothing when you die (mostly), I saw a consistent forward progress in my efforts as I became familiar with the game. My character came back with nothing but I came back armed with knowledge.
This does bring me on to one of my major gripes with the game. Loot Rascals is designed to be played through in a single sitting, so there’s no leaving and resuming a game in progress – once you quit a game that’s it. But to actually get through the five areas and escape can easily take 2-3 hours – or more if you’re a thinker. Under normal circumstances, I don’t think I’d generally sit down and spend that big a chunk of time with this kind of game in one go. It reminds me of the days of secretly leaving my Megadrive switched on while out all day in order to complete Sonic 2 and that’s not an experience I care to repeat in the modern era.
There isn’t much else to describe about what you’ll be doing in-game at this point. Loot Rascals is at once a game that is a very short, self-contained experience, and something that could keep you going for hours and hours if you so choose, cycling it’s random maps or chasing leaderboard places. Before I get into my final analysis though, I’m afraid I have to single out the music as the single worst aspect of the game. It’s essentially the same track of elevator muzak style blandness for the entirety of the experience. It’s a shame because in contrast, I thought sound design was handled quite well, the various enemy noises, sound effects, and the audible change from day to night all add to the cartoony vibe. I have to assume the music style was meant to compliment this cartoon tone but for me it misses, wide.
One feature that I really liked was the game’s approach to multiplayer. First, there’s a daily challenge in which all players get the same world to run and compete for the best leaderboard score. Secondly, integrated into the main game is a feature called ‘Holos’ – When you die, the creature that killed you may steal one of your cards before the rest are destroyed. If another player defeats this creature in their world, they get the opportunity to steal the card for themselves or return it to you via the handy mailbox in your base. They might then run into your Holo (an AI controlled representation of you in their world) and whether they were naughty or nice will determine whether the Holo is hostile or friendly. Of course, this works for you as well.
It’s another good risk/reward mechanic and this is what Loot Rascals does well. You’re never 100% sure of the best move due to the game’s random nature and the natural difficulty level of the game creates a palpable sense of tension as you decide exactly how adventurous you’re willing to be and what you’re willing to risk. There’s a huge amount of depth to the game’s deceptively simplistic approach to combat and equipment but it takes some patience to really eke out these details. I have to be honest and admit that on my first few runs I wondered how I was ever going to see enough of this game to give it a fair review. I eventually overcame this roadblock through experimentation but it’s a setup that’s sure to cause the kind of stress that some gamers just don’t want. Bear that in mind if you’re the easily frustrated type. Personally, as someone who generally prefers the more forgiving ‘roguelite’ side of the genre I found myself enjoying the game despite this.
Loot Rascals is available now for PS4 as a digital download from the PlayStation Store.
Loot Rascals PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7.0/10
I would only recommend Loot Rascals to those who know they can handle the frustration that a roguelike such as this can create without ruining their experience but I would recommend it nonetheless. It’s got a cute cartoon vibe that plays a nice juxtaposition to its unforgiving difficulty, humor where it needs it and some meaty systems for strategic thinkers to really sink their… brains… into. I may have gotten that analogy wrong. If you’re after a satisfying roguelike, you could do a lot worse than Loot Rascals.
User Review( votes)
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*Reviewed on a standard PS4
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Dom is a gaming orphan; after his surrogate father SEGA was killed in the console wars, he was adopted by Sony and raised by various PlayStation consoles. He swears he’s not biased in any way though, so that’s good enough for us.