Monday 6 June 2022

Loot River Review (Steam)


Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe

Loot River is a pixelly, puzzley, roguey thing that, since launch, has swung between my good and bad graces. Many moving parts make this fascinating and bold, and yet concurrently cumbersome, and worse for the multitude of said parts. I believe that the issues highlighted by a lacklustre reception have, however, been acknowledged and are beginning to be responded to. For this reason, I have a pleasant, yet tentative, hope for Loot River.

There was a fair bit of visibility for this small title. I was grabbed by the visuals with a gameplay reveal. These little pixelated characters knocking around some gorgeous environments; pleasant lighting effects; water effects carefully balanced against the pixels; even the very bureaucratic type face used was intriguing. The movement of the little player character reminded me of my childhood nightmare-inducing playing of Ecstatica. Spindly and minimalistic, uncanny and unnerving.

You play a dead warrior in flooded underworld, resurrected by a woman who tasks you with retrieving a mystical gewgaw that will release you and some other trapped spirits. The world is traversed by floating platforms, controlled by the player. You battle monsters and bosses. You character build as you do a “run”, putting points into attributes. You collect buffs, world mutators, and unlock weapons on a weapon tree. You have a hub world that gives you a place to buy items, unlock new areas. So. Many. Moving. Parts. All at once it has an ARPG feel, a roguelite rhythm, an atmospheric experience, a puzzle game. Slipping between these gears is sometimes jarring, sometimes good, but mainly jarring.

For instance, the “puzzle” element of moving platforms around to make your way across the levels is a nice idea, but it amounts to very little. While the platforms are primarily transport, they can be weaponised to provide or withhold access to mobs. A slight ability to mould the environment is something energising, but a lot of the time it is unnecessary as the action element tends to end up on the top of the priority pile.

Using dodges and parries, a couple of varieties of attacks, the player inevitably has to get sufficiently good at making space and taking opportunities to strike. Unfortunately, the balance is not there with most enemies for me, with it being sometimes unexpectedly easy and then bafflingly hard. In general, having said that, the combat is fun enough to keep you going. Restarting runs is not a particularly satisfying thing, as the gameplay is generally clumsy and a tad labourious. There is, however, something compelling in this heap of things you do.

There is a charming misery to this, like Blasphemous, that smooths my opinion. While there isn’t the imaginative viscera, Loot River does provide a little atmospheric tingle. If the developer tightens more of the issues, such as character movement and busted AI, then this would be a solid and unique game. I hope they continue to refine Loot River. It’s like Dark Souls crossed with Cannon Fodder and I really, really like that, but this is just a 3 out of 5. A plucky underdog for those interested in floating platforms, parry timing, and definitely, definitely, definitely using a controller.

Overall 6/10

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