Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Indie Impressions - Loot Rascals

Loot Rascals

Now Available on Steam (Also on PlayStation 4)

Developed by Hollow Ponds


When I'm looking to play a new game or engaging in almost any form of electronic entertainment, I'm looking to momentarily escape reality to explore new worlds. A lot of the time I'm trying to tap into the same strange and indescribable creative energy held as a child. Naturally, the colorful Saturday morning cartoon look and presentation of Loot Rascals drew my eyes in a way most games of today don't really. Not anymore, anyway.

And wouldn't you know it, my fascination with Loot Rascals' roots in childhood and animation proved appropriate upon discovering that the game enlists the skills of animators and artists who had worked with everything from the dreamlike Hohokum to the adventurous fantasy Road Not Taken, and even for channels including Cartoon Network and BBC Scotland. A humorous intergalactic story of survival and a daring rescue of the coveted 'Big Barry' from the clutches of a cosmic entity is brought to life by the talented hands of this impressive collaboration of artists, and I couldn't have been more intrigued by the prospect.

The random layouts of colorful alien worlds, the sci-fi setting and marooned spaceship survival plot, the colorful sense of humor and the psychedelic extraterrestrial residents of this dangerous planet brought me back to times of creative and imaginative animations and obscure videogames I grew up with. While all incredibly original in its designs I couldn't help but see the zany top-down style and think of the out-of-this-world hip-hop space adventures of Toe-Jam and Earl, and though some of the talent behind Loot Rascals did animation work for Cartoon Network and even Adventure Time the almost grotesque nature of some of the anomalies encountered made it feel more like Ren and Stimpy's chaotic Space Madness episodes, which of course is a very good thing.

Loot Rascals' action takes place on a hex-based grid map, but it isn't slow and plodding like you'd expect a turn-based combat system to be. In fact it's actually quite fast paced as you dash around bumping into various enemies to get into brawls for their important equipment cards. Touching the same space as one of the many strange lifeforms of the planet will initiate an auto-battle, but the gimmick here is the day and night system which changes every few moves and alters their aggressive state. Aggressive enemies attack first, defensive enemies are attacked first and the determining factor of damage done is overall attack value against defense value, so planning and organizing your Loot Cards right is the difference between life and death.

How could I forget those cards. Perhaps the more addictive, ingenious gameplay mechanic of Loot Rascals and what sets it apart from the droves of similarly composed roguelikes. Doing away with a typical dungeon-crawling equipment slots is a 2 by 5 grid of slots for 'Loot Cards' foraged from the corpses of alien foes. These cards add a base value to either your attack or defense but also come with unique bonuses that pertain to specific set-ups and locations on the card grid, rewarding strategic and thoughtful placements.

More importantly than attempting to explain these mechanics with needlessly complicated sentences, I'd like to stress that the gameplay in Loot Rascals is accessible and easy to jump into for even the most casual of roguelike and roguelite players. Despite its rich and original strategic card elements it is most certainly a game the player will feel their way through, as opposed to needing to painstakingly learn.  Its mechanics become simple and clear through the sheer enjoyment of exploration and just a bit of trial-and-error, and the ultimate reward of discovery is always more than worth it.

Playing new roguelikes I generally stop and move on to the next whenever I get stuck or hit a roadblock, which is pretty dang often. With so many in the genre and so many that mostly feel the same, it's easy to get bored and want to see the next offering. This was not at all the case with Loot Rascals, its otherworldly designs had me hooked and the detailed Saturday morning cartoon style cutscenes between levels had me pressing to see more of the world and story. Everything is so humorously and wonderfully animated, the pacing of the game is perfectly fast and fluid, and the music is like some cosmic clash of Jean-Jacques Perrey retro electronics and Super Bomberman 5 Pop-y cartoon synth complete with spooky sci-fi Moog and Theremin.

After 6 solid hours of playtime I've still only just barely made it to the entrance of the the third floor. I keep piling more hours onto the game, however, and every run is still so radically different and wild that I never feel disappointed or like I'm restarting to make up for anything like in other roguelikes. I'm simply playing because it's fun, because it inspires my creativity and makes me feel good and that's a rare feeling with these games in recent years.

Loot Rascals is an incredible joy to play not because it's fun and the systems within are addictive, but because it's just so lighthearted and feel-good. It manages that perfect balance of weird and cute that could make even the most die-hard Nintendo fans blush while telling a story that is so awesomely surreal, so hilariously over-the-top in ways the most old school cartoon and sci-fi comic geek could appreciate.

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