Loot Rascals is a rock-hard, roguelike card game crossover, wrapped up in adorable Adventure Time style visuals.
In roguelikes you die, rather a lot. This is possibly more central to the genre than the procedurally generated levels that are created each time you start a new game. Despite death being a core component of the genre, that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to accept; sometimes the procedural nature can result in what can feel like cheap deaths. In Loot Rascals death doesn’t feel cheap – in fact, it can feel quite expensive – yet that doesn’t stop you from wanting to give it another go.
Loot Rascals might share the procedurally generated levels and permadeath tropes of roguelikes, but it brings in other gameplay mechanics that, when combined, feel like something unique. The objective of Loot Rascals in each level is to find the exit teleporter, except you have no initial idea as to where the exit is, and standing in your way are a variety of peculiar looking aliens determined to kill you. So far, not very exciting.
However, you traverse the level via a hexagonal map, with each tile representing a turn, after which the enemies all move a tile. Adding to this mechanic is a day and night system, with each lasting five turns. This is important as different enemies are either weaker or stronger dependent on the time of day. This creates a tactical approach, deciding where to go to avoid enemies and attack others. Get it right and you use your full attack power. Get it wrong and you’d better have good defence stats.
Talking of stats, Loot Rascals takes a surprisingly intuitive approach to determining your attack and defence stats. Both are determined by cards that you collect from defeated enemies and can then be placed into your HUD. Each card either contributes to your attack or defence stat (some are reversible and can swap between types) and many can provide bonuses based on placement in the HUD and on other types of card held. This provides an engaging take on inventory management and allows you to tailor your ‘loadout’.
The hexagonal board and the inclusion of cards give the game a board-game feel, which also seems kind of apt given the nature of the game, as the cards – particularly the special cards – are acquired at random like they would from a shuffled deck of cards. Cards are crucial to your progression through the game, as they are largely responsible for how you can safely venture out from the starting dome.
When you die, and you will die, all your cards are looted from your body and you start afresh in a new level at the very beginning. Although one your cards, seemingly your “best” card will subsequently appear in another player’s game, which they will come across like any other card after defeating an enemy. They will then get the choice of either returning the card back to your game and potentially receiving a hologram version of your character to help them, or keeping the card for themselves and risking the chance of repercussions from your ghost hologram.
If they do choose the former, the card will arrive back at your starting dome, making new attempts a little bit easier. This comprises most of the online functionality, along with the almost unavoidable leadership tables, but it does help the game feel like there is more out there and that you are not alone in this journey.
The dome represents a space of safety and can be teleported back to when far enough away from an enemy. It is here that health can be restored at the cost of tokens, which are obtained via converting unwanted cards. However, it costs a lot of turns to travel to and from the dome, meaning this should only be an act of desperation, as after a certain amount of turns a new type of enemy litters the level making the game much more difficult. The next turn threshold sees an overly strong enemy appear near you, and is almost guaranteed to kill you in one hit. Loot Rascals might be about exploration, but you’re not here to enjoy the scenery.
That doesn’t you can’t or shouldn’t enjoy the scenery, though, because Loot Rascals is a joy to look at. Some, including the game’s creators, Hollow Ponds, have compared the animation style to that of The Jetsons. This is an apt comparison, but it also shares a lot with Adventure Time, which is not surprising given that one of the animators has previously worked on the show.
Both comparisons though fail to define what makes Loot Rascals truly stand out, to do so you need to look back to the previous work of Hollow Ponds lead designer, Ricky Haggett, on WarioWare-esque Frobisher Says and the laid-back musical exploration of Hohokum. Both games have an overall charm that emits humour from all sorts of places.
Loot Rascals may be short on story and narrative, but the few characters that are present have more charm than many fully fleshed out ones from other games. Plus, not many games can say they have a Glaswegian sounding AI hologram assistant. Then there’s something about the bouncy-castle looking robot head of ‘Big Barry’ that can’t help but force a smile.
Following Frobisher Says and Hohokum with a comparatively ‘conventional’ game does at first seem like an odd move for Haggett et al, given how accessible the previous two games were; especially for those who might not be familiar with video game tropes. Loot Rascals, like other roguelikes, is a challenging game.
As has been said multiple times, you will die, a lot, and progression to further levels is difficult. The game punishes reckless approaches, and you’ll soon start realising that it was a mistake to attack a group of enemies or a particularly strong lone enemy. Next time you’ll be more careful, but as the levels are procedurally generated you can only take forward a strategic overview approach.