Games borrowing systems from other games is par for the course nowadays. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a game compared to Dark Souls or, before that, Gears of War, I’d be a wealthy man, or I’d at least have a lot of dimes. Loot Rascals takes bits and pieces from other games but utilizes them in a way that is wholly unique and charming. This isn’t too surprising when you learn that the developers of the game are people that worked on Hohokum, a game that threw away what was normal and tried to build something different. While Loot Rascals is certainly something unique, it has familiar trappings that gamers will be familiar with, for better or worse.
Loot Rascals gets right to the point, a big piece of equipment you need is in danger and you need to save it. After your tea kettle-head genie gives you all of this information you’re plopped into a dangerous world, given a brief tutorial, and set about your merry way. From the very start you will notice two things about Loot Rascals, first, the game has a beautiful, yet disturbing, art style and second, it’s dialogue is fairly humorous. The AI genie man that tells you what to do and how to do it delivers his lines with fantastic dry, British humor and absolutely nails the comedy the writers were clearly going for. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of that in Loot Rascals. Instead, there is a whole lot of boar game-esque combat and exploration.
Loot Rascals is played like the most vicious board game you’ve ever taken part in. The world consists of hexagon plots of land and your character traversers them. Each time you move to a new space you take up one counter of the game’s day-night cycle. Monsters in the world also move and they move with you, turn by turn. When you start a new game, your character has a fairly weak arsenal of cards that determine your attack and defense numbers. Monsters also have attack and defense and these are dictated by the day-night cycle. Some monsters attack in the day and others at night, that means it’s better to attack them when they’re not attacking. Combat is initiated when you and a monster share the same space. If you attack them when they’re in defense mode, you’ll get the first hit. Your hit will subtract your attack number from their shared attack, defense, and health number. Then the monster attacks with that amount and it is divided by your defense to determine if they damage and you and how much damage they do, if any. While this may sound calculated it’s all done in a way that makes Loot Rascals feel quick and simple once you get the hang of the system.
That being said, there aren’t many explanations or tutorials to help you get the hang of anything in the game. Aside from a brief guide to get you started, it’s pretty much a game about striking out on your own and figuring out how best to go about the levels. As you kill monsters you gain cards that increase your attack and defense or add special powerups or abilities. Building the best possible deck for any given situation is important and its more about knowing which stats are important, rather than just trying to raise your attack to high levels. This kind of randomness is something that hurts Loot Rascals greatly.
Cards are paramount to success in Loot Rascals. You gather cards, defeat enemies, and have the goal of finding a transporter to take you to the next level. You essentially do this until the final stage. However, getting to that teleporter can be tricky when your cards and the teleporter’s location are completely random each time you start the game. I had runs where the teleporter was relatively close to the starting zones and other runs where I explored the entire map only to see that it was in the one nook I didn’t check. This wouldn’t be an issue except there is a turn counter in the game and after a set number of turns harder enemies show up to mess up your day.
Cards being dealt out randomly is also an issue as you never really feel like you have control over a run. Enemies get harder with each level and upon death you don’t keep any stats or cards. Starting from scratch each time you die can become incredibly tedious, especially when you begin getting the hang of the game and reaching the second level with ease. Part of me wishes there was some sort of checkpoint system or way to pay with in-game tokens to get a zap to the second level right from the start instead of starting from square, or hexagon, one each time I died.
A neat online feature in Loot Rascals also takes place upon death. As the game’s name suggests, enemies loot you when you die and steal a card or two depending on their level. These enemies then show up in online games for other players as difficult, named enemies. If you come across these enemies and defeat them you have the choice of keeping the card or sending it back to the player. If you send it back the player gets the card in their mailbox at the start of the game. While this is a cool feature that sounds like a nice way to give players a boost at the start, I never received an item in my mailbox and died plenty of times. That means that either the monsters are too hard to beat or that players just don’t send items back. I know I often didn’t send items back because I needed them for my run but I did send a few back and got nothing in return.
Loot Rascals does a lot of things differently, but not necessarily better. It looks great and has a fun premise to it, molding together board games, card collecting, and dungeon crawling but the randomness of runs sucks some of the fun out of the game. Loot Rascals is easy to pick up and play and much like Nuclear Throne or Enter the Gungeon, it’s a great game for a quick run or two before bed. However, there is a real lack of progression throughout the game, making you feel like even if you spend hours with it you accomplish very little if you don’t beat the game. Sure, you might get to a new level, but once you die your progress is basically wiped out completely. Loot Rascals tries a lot of new things in its design and some of those things come across really well, but the lack of progression and roll-the-dice mentality make it somewhat frustrating to spend time in this otherwise pleasant and cheery world.