The roguelike is one of my favourite gaming genres, and I take great pleasure in stacking cool toys on top of one another until some nasty old monster comes and knocks my tower down and I have to begin again. There’s something addictive about them, and I like to try out as many as I can. I was excited to learn then, that the second Super Rare Original, Lone Ruin, was going to be a neon-infused roguelike affair – with some twin-stick shooter thrown in, no less! Stoked to give it a try, I fired up my Nintendo Switch and plugged that fluorescent pixel art straight into my veins!
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Pick up and play arcade style|
+ Great synthwave soundtrack
+ Good variety of weapons and upgrades
|Negatives||– Lack of lore/story dampens engagement|
– No long term progression
– Very short
|Price (When Reviewed)||£12.99|
|Our Playtime||2 hours 30 mins|
|Available On||Nintendo Switch, PC|
Lone Ruin begins with a very short (and rather vague) storyboard intro, showing a neon-haired character in mystic garb heading into a ruined castle, seemingly determined to conquer whatever lies inside. As you start the game proper, you’re given a dodge spell and then asked to select a single attacking spell from a choice of styles. And that’s that – all the introduction you’re going to get! – it’s immediately onto tackling hordes of demons inhabiting the collapsed castle, in what turns out to be some rather frenetic gameplay.
The enemies come at you in waves, and trust me, it happens quickly. A new wave begins once you defeat all of the enemies in the current one or after a set period of time, so you’re encouraged to kill everything in sight as fast as you can, lest you become overrun. While there isn’t a huge roster of different enemies, there’s definitely enough to make your runs tricky to manage, with each having a distinct attack pattern and style. The enemies are well designed and are each instantly recognisable, which helps when the spells start flying, as you’ll always know what attack to expect from which monster.
Once you’ve cleared all of the enemies in a room, you’ll be granted a reward – that’s either treasure, another spell to utilise on your descent through the ruin, or a Blessing, which bolsters your overall abilities by giving you a stat boost or other such buff. You’ll then have the choice of routes to take, with each one displaying the reward on offer if you clear your choice of room, offering you the chance to actively customise your build. With eight starting spells to choose from and a whole host of others discoverable as you play, along with a stack of Blessings, Lone Ruin certainly offers a tonne of variety to your experience, even if there’s a random element attached.
In my multiple playthroughs, I found that certain spells were objectively more effective than others, and it seemed that my most successful runs were always tied to area-of-effect type magic. Long lasting splash spells help you quickly cut off certain angles of attack and allow you to focus only on the enemies rushing from a specific direction, which quite literally cuts the difficulty in half. They’re also somewhat overpowered against the game’s relatively slow moving bosses, and you can cause massive damage to them as they lumber through your magic’s effects.
As well as a decent amount of variety, Lone Ruin also boasts a very cool look. By neatly merging colourful pixel art models and gloomy low-poly environments with great flashes of neon, Cuddle Monster Games have created a unique style that really pops. But while I like the look, nothing much changes in the level designs as you progress, and I actually feel that the colour palette (while awesome) might be a little too tightly focused. I sometimes struggled to register oncoming attacks because they were made from the same 6-8 colours as everything else, which is a pain when the gameplay is pretty punishing. Perhaps adding some individual colours for enemy attacks might help distinguish things at speed, though I admit it could hinder the overall presentation.
Also excellent is the soundtrack, which begins with haunting synthwave before building into something more akin to hectic techno as the enemies swarm around you. The music has just the right amount of repetition to lock you in on the action without becoming annoying, and the synth sounds mesh with the neon visuals wonderfully. There aren’t really a lot of tracks in the game, but the ones you’ll hear are impressive and certainly bring a lot to the overall experience.
I was sad that there was no story save the blurb on the eShop, with no background info shared about your character, the castle, the monsters or even the rather cool bosses appearing actually in the game. It’s a real shame that there’s no lore to underpin your journey into the ruins and add some much needed depth to the experience.
The major downside to Lone Ruin though is its run time, where a single run can take you less than 30 minutes, start to finish. Success and failure seems to rest on something of a knife edge and I found myself either falling to the first boss or getting a streak of good luck with my spells and going on to finish the run victorious. Completing a run displays a scoreboard that ranks your playthrough and offers the chance to post to an online leaderboard, but strangely for a roguelike, has no long term impact on the future experience, and there’s no ‘New Game+’ of any kind.
Sadly, I feel like this lack of steady progression and storyline really hinders the long term appeal of Lone Ruin, and after beating it just a couple of times, I didn’t especially feel the need to keep going. Sure, I could have tried to complete it on a higher difficulty setting or aimed for a higher score, but after finishing a few runs and finding no change to the overall gameplay, for me it felt like the end was, well, the end.
The flipside to the short runtime and a narrow focus on individual runs is, of course, that Lone Ruin has a great pick-up-and-play style. If you’re growing tired of an epic-sized adventure game you’re in the middle of, or need to cool off after a few poor rounds on your favourite battle royale, you could definitely do worse than firing up Lone Ruin for a run or five to cool off. There’s a Survival Mode available too, which I think is equally, or perhaps even more fun, than the standard mode. Instead of battling through waves of enemies on the way to the deepest dungeon, the Survival Mode simply asks that you stay alive for 10 minutes against scores of escalating enemies. Filling up your treasure gauge allows you to purchase either a buff or to heal yourself, and it’s a constant balancing act of risk versus reward that poses a legitimate challenge.
While I like the low poly X pixel graphics style and think that the pulsing (albeit limited) soundtrack is great, I didn’t fall in love with Lone Ruin. Despite marketing itself on replayability, the main problem is that it didn’t do enough to make me want to keep coming back for more. The rapid-fire spell slinging is pretty good fun and there’s plenty of variety, but the short run length and lack of plotline or overarching upgrade systems makes Lone Ruin feel more like an arcade game than a roguelike. I’ve no doubt that the pick-up-and-play style will appeal to coin-op fans who like short-burn, intensive action, but I think traditional roguelike fans might lose engagement after just a couple of runs with the lack of a long game on offer.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.