If you are a regular reader of my game reviews, then you’ll know that I have a bit of a soft spot for the Rogue-like/lite subgenre. I don’t care what kind of game it is, platformer, RPG, shooter. I have played pretty much every kind of game that has been mixed with the Rogue-like/lite subgenre, to the point where I think I’ve played any and all possible combinations. And then developer Straka.Studio and publisher Superhot Presents went and did something I have not experienced with this concept, they made Loot River.
Explore procedurally generated labyrinths in a dungeon crawling action roguelike that combines tense, real-time combat with spatial block-shifting – slide blocks of ancient ruins, fight bestial abominations, loot, explore, level-up, strategize, cast powerful spells, die and wake up anew.
So, what is Loot River exactly? Well, it’s a dungeon crawler-Rogue-lite with a rather interesting gameplay mechanic. You have all the usual elements that you’d expect with a game like this. Levelling up, new weapons and items to unlock, lots of enemies and boss fights. Periodically generated levels, permanent upgrades, lots of dying and restarting to progress. And yes, it has a retro-pixel art styled aesthetic. On the surface, this is a very typical and usual Rogue-lite title. But then it throws in something that I’ve never seen in a game that uses the whole Rogue-lite mechanic before.
See, Loot River adds a sliding puzzle-Tetris element. You control your character with the left stick, you have the standard attack and strong attacks. Magic and even the very much needed dodge/roll and a parry too. But when you move the right stick, you can shift the tile that you are currently standing on. Each of the dungeons that you find yourself in has been flooded, leaving your progress forward rather tricky to navigate. So you’ll need to shift the tiles around to create the path to the end of each area. The tiles all have different shapes too, so getting around can prove to be quite tricky if you are faced with a rather narrow route. You’ll find yourself sliding around from tile to tile, moving between the various platforms and having to shift things around to make your way through each dungeon.
This adds a nice little puzzle element to the game that keeps your brain ticking over in among all of the violence. It’s not just about moving the tiles around to get to the end of the levels though. As you can see by watching the trailer up there ^^^, the sliding around on the platforms can be used in a variety of ways. If you are facing too many enemies and don’t think you can handle them, you can trap them with some clever tile moving. You can use them to do a quick ‘jab and move’ tactic too. You’ll also find tiles with special attributes like fire traps so you can burn enemies… and you, if you are not careful. Later levels have tiles of varying heights and you may need to find some stairs to slide into place so you can reach them. Boss fights will require some deft movement of not just your character but also the tiles you are on to defeat them. The whole shifting of the platforms adds a really interesting gameplay layer to a genre of game that really needed a bit of a spring cleaning.
Outside of the tile shifting, Loot River is a game that will certainly be familiar to you if you have ever played a dungeon crawler-Rogue-lite before. There is a massive selection of weapons on offer. Of course, you’ll need to unlock them first. Same with the numerous skills you can equip, various magic attacks and more. Each run will be randomly generated to keep you on your toes and when you die and restart, you will lose anything you had. There are permanent upgrades and weapons to unlock that you can purchase from the in-game shop, called the Sanctuary, that you’ll visit between finishing each level. You’ll also cross paths with characters that you can save and they will turn up at the Sanctuary to offer you help as you steadily make progress.
Loot River also offers up a really interesting ‘gamble’ when it comes to healing potions. You’ll start off with a number of potions on each run. However, if you are confident that you won’t use any or use very few, you can ‘invest’ them with one of the game’s characters in the Sanctuary. Then, when/if you return after a run, they will have doubled your healing potion count. So you invest 2 potions and you’ll get 4 back… if you can survive and make it back to the Sanctuary to collect, that is. This really adds an interesting layer of strategy because, take it from me, you’ll need as many healing potions as you can find later in the game. But you have to have confidence in yourself to get through the earlier levels using as few as you can so you can invest them to gain what you really will need.
Loot River will set you back around £20 and is only (currently) available on Steam and Xbox. This is a bit of a shame as I think this is a perfect game for the Nintendo Switch. For me, that £20 price tag is a decent price for a game like this as it will give you hours and hours of gameplay. The great news is that Loot River is on Game Pass on both PC and Xbox day one (which is right now as I publish this), so you can try it out for ‘free’ if you are a subscriber. Still, I would definitely recommend this one if you are a fan of the genre anyway and don’t have Game Pass. I do love a good Rogue-lite game and this title adds some really great and new ideas to keep the sub-genre fresh and exciting.