Woken from hyper sleep by a teapot-wearing Scotsman, you crash land on a hostile alien planet that has mysteriously appeared orbiting Earth, it’s your job to retrieve the head of Big Barry (a giant rendering machine), fix his antenna and escape the planet. However, if you thought that was weird, when you die you’re sucked through your nostril, into another dimension where a giant oyster manipulates time and starts you on your journey again. With artwork by Swatpaz (Adventure Time, Cartoon Hangover) and a plot that David Lynch would be proud of, you’d be forgiven for expecting some surrealist Cartoon Network shenanigans – and that is exactly what the team at Hollow Pond Games have delivered.
Loot Rascals is a turn based Rogue Zero (formerly known as Rogue-Lite) that takes place across five procedurally-generated worlds, each offering their own challenges and strategic features. Using a day/ night mechanic you make your way across the planet surface looking for a teleporter to the next section. As you traverse the hexagonal landscape, you’ll fight a variety of aliens, monsters and cream-filled biscuits. Though to say ”fight” is an overstatement: you’re more of a casual observer in a primary school maths lesson. Once you have moved onto the same square as a monster, the game compares both of your stats and uses a simple mathematical equation to see if you defeat the beast or not. Though this is a valid way to design a battle system, it’s not the most exciting way to deal with combat in a game, that is essentially, a freaky monster fight fest.
The game does manage to redeem itself a little with the use of a strategic card system that alters the abilities of your character. Having defeated a veritable menagerie of beasts you will gain cards that, once placed in a grid, will increase your attack, defence and grant your character special abilities. The real beauty of the card system is that their placement upon a 2×5 grid changes the effect the card has on your stats. Some cards will give a +2 to your attack rating, while some will increase your defensive score as long as there is no other card of that type in play. There are many different card effects to work with and arranging the perfect hand is a wonderful play with the usual character development systems found in a lot of Rouge-Zeros. Many times during the game you’ll need to alter the arrangement of your hand to increase different attributes or to negate a card’s negative effects. There is a lot of strategic thinking that goes into your characters’ build and how you then use that hand effectively to dominate in combat.
Unfortunately there are a couple of problems with the cards: the drop rates are sporadic at best. On many occasions a level would only drop three new cards, leaving your character incredibly underpowered for the next area and with the only way to gain new cards being to defeat enemies more powerful than yourself, you often end up on suicide runs. The other problem with this system is that the main way to regenerate health is by dismantling cards and turning them into tokens. These tokens can then be used to refill your health back at base, a concept which works wonderfully in a card management game but only if you have the cards in the first place. And as it can cost four dismantled cards to heal, you’ll spend most of the game with next to no health, surrounded by monsters that are at least double your power and with no way of improving your situation. There are many occasions Loot Rascals will give you no other option than to give up and start again.
Though the game is mainly a single-player endeavour, Loot Rascals has introduced a Dark Souls Esq multi-player feature. When you die you will be looted by the beasties that killed you – but instead of holding on to the loot, it will be transported into someone else’s game. When another player defeats a named enemy in their world, your loot will appear there. They will then be given the choice to either keep the stolen card for themselves or send it back. If you decide to hang on to the stolen card, you may find yourself faced with an angry hologram, ready to do unspeakable things to you and steal back the loot, or, if you send it back, perhaps the hologram will return the favour and help you on your journey. It’s a nice feature and as monsters will only steal the best card in your deck, you are faced with a truly tough decision: take what is undoubtedly a better card or send it back and hope the hologram is actually useful.
Loot Rascals is a visual treat with a story that appeals to my love of the surreal and absurd, but it doesn’t quite work. The simplistic battle system and sporadic drop rate negates any of the wonderful strategic elements that are visible. Though an increase in the frequency of card drops would improve a lot of Loot Rascal’s problems, I just can’t get into a fighting system where I feel more like a bystander than a participant.