Loot Rascals is a brand-spanking new arcade isometric card-based roguelike packing a hefty handful of charisma and agonisingly difficult gameplay that will, at times, break your heart; at other times, though, it’ll make you want to hug your mother and cry in relief, ‘Yes I beat it! You can’t beat me Loot Rascals, I’m a big boy!’
The terrifically punishing, charmingly fun debut release from a small London-based team known as Hollow Ponds, Loot Rascals is an adorable little bundle that’s packed to the brim with big surprises. The game throws players straight into its rascal-filled world, immediately introducing them to the nameless hero/heroine and their rather unlikely companion, a Scottish-accented astronaut with a baby’s face, and a head shaped like a teapot.
Established by our teapot-headed friend in the opening cinematic, during which the player rides in a spaceship with their head sticking out (an OH&S issue in and of itself), the mission is simple: to rescue Big Barry, a terraforming robot that was sent into the stars to create a space camp for everyone (we’re talking the kind of camp you’d find in Wet Hot American Summer, not a military camp), from the massive, tentacled, malevolent force that has stolen his head. Not only must the player do that, but they must also then escape from the giant bad guy, keep themselves alive, and help the poor saps who are already at the camp site. It’s really a whole lot to do for someone who has just crash-landed their spaceship.
It’s an odd, outlandish story that’s also hilarious at times, and it’s complemented by the gameplay and character design to create one brilliant and endearingly weird little video game. Replacing practicality with a sense of comedy, the regulatory standards within this eccentric little military are in urgent need of a review; players will find themselves walking into battle wielding nothing more than a yellow jumpsuit and an array of cards, the equivalent of Geralt of Rivia fighting dragons and other mythical beasts with his Gwent cards. The enemies you’ll face along the way don’t spend too much time laughing, though; they’re busy either being destroyed, or figuring out how they’re going to get the hero’s skin out of their teeth once they’re done walloping them all over the map.
Acquired through the noble means of beating the life out of the obscure and always-aggressive monsters you meet on your travels, these attack and defence cards do exactly what you might expect: attack cards affect your attacking power and abilities, while defence cards affect your defensive ability. Each card represents an item, and they’re all as wacky as one might have come to expect. Of course, with limited inventory space comes the need to “decompile” cards that are no longer of any use; these are exchanged for coins, which are obviously far more helpful than cards you’ll never use again. Among other things, these coins enable the player to replenish all of their HP when they return to their base, which seems pretty unbalanced until one acknowledges that the machine doubles in price every time one heals up. Since coins are only acquired by destroying cards, players will quickly learn of the frustration that comes with having one heart remaining and having to decompile a card they were actually using in order to afford to heal up again. Of course, it’s generally better to do that and stay alive; you’ll surely find that card again.
Although the card system can be a little difficult at times, it is far from being the only thing players will have to worry about on their quest to save Big Barry. The game’s movement system is a very interesting thing, with the land divided into thousands of hexagons (much like one would find in a Civilisation title), and moving from one of those hexagons to the next costs one ‘move’. The system admittedly seemed somewhat tedious at first, bit there’s also a strategic element involved as each move is added to two different counters: one for the game’s day-and-night cycle, and one that determines when the next round of enemies will spawn for the player to fight. The day-and-night cycle is especially important to consider, as some monsters will attack you first during the day and allow you to strike first at night time, and vice versa. Obviously, this is sure to make players think twice about when to move into a monster’s hexagon, and which monsters to move in on — it’s obviously best to attack monsters who are “defending”, allowing the player to attack first, but if the day-and-night cycle changes during your move, that monster will change stances and attack you first. It’s a pretty cool way to handle things, but it’s God-damned stressful at times as well.
At the end of the day, though, that’s what Loot Rascals is; an adorable little adventure full of strategy, decision-making, and stress. It’s oh-so frustrating when one makes a mistake, but one can’t help but admire the game and its developer for the ingenuity on show throughout the experience. Imagine a world where the only certainties are a deck of cards, a loosely-fastened space helmet, and the tears drying on your cheeks… That’s the world of Loot Rascals. It’s brutal, it’s difficult, it’s painful at times and it’s unforgiving, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Loot Rascals is an adorable title that looks rather unassuming at first, but it packs a plethora of different challenges for players to tackle in whatever way they choose. It’s far more brutally difficult than its cutesy aesthetic may have you believe, but success — as always — is rewarding, and Loot Rascals rewards success with an enthralling, fun experience.