I have been playing two rogue-like games over the last couple of weeks, one was a colourful and classic take that arguably invented the genre ten years ago. The other is a dark, top-down action game with Tetris elements called Loot River. The latter is inventive and interesting, and despite enjoying some elements of it, the cons outweigh the pros and make it hard to recommend for most gamers.
Loot River has a dark and brooding setting and story. You begin as a nameless fighter in a place called the Sunken Village. In your first few runs, players will encounter some long-lost friends that will head back to your home base and help you along the way, but more on that later.
The game has hints and clues hidden around its procedurally generated stages, leading you down a labyrinth of stories and battles. It’s an interesting enough story but after about a dozen or so runs, a lot of text was repeated and I became far more focused on how to get further into the game rather than why I was doing it in the first place.
No Holding Back
When talking about the gameplay of Loot River I’ll say it plainly; this game is very tough. I consider myself a pretty seasoned gamer, starting my life in gaming from the late NES and early SNES and Genesis days to the present. Sure, I love casual easy-going games like Unpacking, but I also love a challenge. So what’s the issue you might ask? Well, there are a few if I’m being honest.
Before I dive into too many criticisms, this game is not all bad. The combat is tough, but I also found myself getting into a very satisfying groove once I got the hang of it. Parrying or blocking attacks feels great once you get the timing down. Traversing through the flooded world with rafts and platforms bring an added puzzle element and fresh take to the rogue-like genre. But all of that can feel tied down and far less enjoyable because the rewards are too few and far between.
Fighting across dozens of platforms I found myself taking hours and hours just to perfect any kind of meaningful approach. Like many games, you have to learn enemy patterns, but some of them are tough to see and understand with the top-down and muddy pixelated style. Sometimes hitboxes don’t seem consistent, while other times even I was swarmed by the smallest enemies so tightly that I was left fending for myself by button mashing before being killed in a fashion I felt was unfair.
Difficulty in a video game isn’t a bad thing, Loot River is meant to be challenging and that’s ok. My biggest issue is the reward system or lack thereof. There are dozens of pieces of equipment from the friends you rescue along the way. New armour, helmets, axes, swords, and pikes all look and feel different and that’s great. But to get those, it’s all about accumulating Knowledge, Loot River’s currency that only comes from random drops when defeating enemies.
For example, more than a few times I collected about 30 Knowledge, just short of the next weapon unlock. I was killed a few moments later and returned to the home base, but none of my currency came with me. So my 20-plus minute dungeon dive was all for not. This became increasingly frustrating because I constantly felt underpowered just hoping I’d get lucky enough to acquire more Knowledge in order to unlock the next weapon or armour item so my next run could be just a touch more successful. Once I did get it, it didn’t make the impact I thought it would and the cycle continued.
The presentation of Loot River can be hit or miss as well. The minimalistic, pixelated graphics suit the atmosphere and world the game takes place in, but at times it hinders key elements, mainly some of the combat. Enemies have small asterisks above them when they’re about to begin an attack animation, but because the view and the pixel style sometimes make it difficult to properly see the movements.
Music and sound effects are big pluses in Loot River though. They go a long way to creating the moody and dark ambiance of the world. It drew me in more than I expected and it was nice to have a new set of tracks through each level of my dungeon dives.
I want to recommend this game, I really do. It’s not all bad, it just didn’t work for me personally. It’s a shame, because the combat while feeling inconsistent at times, is still engaging, especially with the added puzzle elements. If a top-down Souls-esque experience is something you may be craving, Loot River is a great go-to. But if you’re hoping for a little more reward with your risk, I’d look elsewhere.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]