Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC
It took a lot of willpower to remove myself from the TV so I could write this review of Loot Rascals. What was I watching or playing, you ask? Well, I was playing Loot Rascals! The game, developed by Hollow Ponds, is mad addictive, and it lends itself to that “one more try” mentality ever so effectively. Built around playing in short bursts, Loot Rascals is a great game if you're looking to kill time, but don't be surprised if it keeps you glued to your TV for long stretches as well.
Adventures in Space
The story of Loot Rascals borrows heavily from the type of absurd animation you'd see on Adult Swim and Nickelodeon. You play as a space explorer whose mission is to find a guy named Big Barry so you can obtain a mysterious substance known as “Liquid Anything.” There's also a character named The Thing Below. Oh, and the dude briefing you on your objective has a head the shape of a magic lamp. It's very nonsensical in a jolly sort of way. The plot itself isn't all that important, though, because the main draw here is the addictive card-based gameplay.
Still, you can't downplay the cartoon-y nature of Loot Rascals. The game just looks like a happy good time thanks in large part to its vibrant, colorful visuals. Due to just how quick the play sessions can be, you'll see a lot of the same types of worlds over and over again. Even then, I never got tired of seeing a new randomly generated cartoon alien planet. The quirky nature of the game's graphics is very pleasing to the eye and never gets old.
A Tricky Gamble
The mechanics of Loot Rascals aren't too difficult to get a grasp of. I got the hang of the game after playing for about 15 minutes, and was able to play quite effectively from that point on. But don't mistake the intuitive nature of Hollow Ponds' fun project for shallow, easy gameplay. The fact of the matter is that, while you may learn how to play Loot Rascals quickly, actually getting to the end requires a bit of strategy on your part.
You guide your space man through maps filled with hexagonal tiles looking for an exit. If you touch an enemy, a turn-based auto-battle begins. Depending on whether it's day or night — the cycle changes every few steps you take — either you or your enemy will attack first. An icon above the alien's head will indicate whether it's ready to attack or not, and this gives you the opportunity to take a few steps back in order for the day/night cycle to change again, allowing you to deliver the first blow instead.
Moving around the map to ensure you get the first strike can be critical to your success. Sometimes, however, you'll find yourself backed into a corner, and you'll have no choice but to fight. There's a limited number of turns before a super-powerful killer villain appears on the screen, though, so if you've been moving around the map for a long while, it's best to just take that first bit of damage from a weaker enemy and try to move on.
Defeated baddies drop cards randomly, and these are tied specifically to your offense and defense. You can carry a total of 10 cards in your deck, which is made up of two five-card rows. If your attack level is high, you'll deal heavy amounts of damage. If your defense level is high, not only will enemy damage dealt to your character be lower, but the chances of completely blocking enemy hits will be higher. There's a push-pull aspect to Loot Rascals that makes you think about whether you want to focus on offense, defense, or a mix of both.
Pick a Card, Any Card — Well, Not Really
Because card drops are randomized, you never know what you're going to get, so building a good deck is almost a game of luck. Sometimes, I'd have a powerful deck that allowed me to drop fools left and right. Other times, I'd be destroyed within minutes of starting a new game. It all depends on what cards you get, what buffs those cards have, and how well you utilize your deck.
The buffs add a nice layer of depth and strategy to Loot Rascals. For example, a card could add one point of damage or defense to the card in the row below it, but it may simultaneously negate any effects of another card to its right. So what do you do? You place the buff card at the very end of the top row so it can't negatively impact any cards. When you start getting more and more cards like this, you're forced to sacrifice certain cards and move a lot of things around to get the best deck possible.
You'll also discover cards that grant you special abilities, such as healing or burning effects. These don't take up a slot in your deck but are instead placed over existing cards. For instance, if you get a burn card, you can place it over any card and you'll be given the ability to deliver a burn attack during battles. You could also use your newfound ability when you're a few tiles away from a bad guy to get a faraway advantage. You can't spam these moves, though — special abilities charge over time with every move you make.
You're going to die a lot in Loot Rascals. On one hand, that's to be expected in this type of game. On the other hand, because this is a roguelike, you may become frustrated when you're close to reaching the end of the final stage only to get completely demolished by a much stronger adversary. When that happens, not only are you sent back to the start, but you lose all of the awesome cards you powered up along the way.
Loot Rascals also adds an interesting asynchronoous multiplayer element to the adventure. When you die, a card is taken from your deck and dropped into another player's game. If that player finds it, he or she can choose to return it to you or keep it. If you return a fallen player's card, a friendly hologram of that person's character will appear to fight alongside you. If you keep another player's card, a powerful, not-so-friendly hologram will pop up and attempt to kill you.
I played Loot Rascals prior to its release, so I didn't come across too many players' cards. I imagine once there are more people playing, the likelihood of discovering dropped cards and player holograms will increase.
My time with Loot Rascals was largely pleasant. Sure, there were some bouts of frustration, but ultimately I just had a really good time playing the game. It's not exactly teeming with modes — there are tutorial, practice, and daily challenge options — but it doesn't need to be. I do kind of wish this game would offer cross-save functionality on the Vita, because it's perfect for short sessions on the go. (Maybe we'll see a Nintendo Switch version?)
Even now, as I finish writing this review, I really just want to return to that colorful world so I can build a deck out of random cards and kill some aliens.