Loot Rascals is a game from London developers Hollow Ponds that pits you on a space exploration adventure to recover the head of Big Barry, a transportation robot filled with Liquid Anything. At the start of the game, you crash land on an alien moon and have to battle through endless numbers of wacky rascals to survive. To do so, the game takes the approach of a hybrid of roguelikes and deck-based card games to make one of the most addicting games of the year so far.
It’s clear that the core focus of Loot Rascals is the loot itself. As you battle baddies, they’ll occasionally drop cards that you can use to build your deck. Your deck is comprised of 10 slots, with the cards being largely attack and defense (with the occasional rare health boost or elemental power). Cards often have modifiers that will affect the cards around them too, such as adding 1 to the power of the cards to the left and right, or canceling out the power of the card in the slot below. There is a hint of Munchkin to the game, but in a goofy neon universe that never ends.
The battles themselves are quick and fluid. You walk onto a map space where a foe is, and the game does some quick math to determine the battle outcome. Ideally you’ll have enough attack points to fell the rascal in one hit or enough defense points to block whatever they’re dishing out. This is because your character only has 5 HP, a very scarce resource in this game. The map itself is made up of randomly generated hexagons and progresses on a day/night cycle every 5 turns, which determines whether you or the rascal will attack first, often being the deciding factor in whether you will take damage or not. You will often make extra moves around spaces before approaching a rascal to ensure you have the first move or die very quickly.
All of this sounds very numbers driven and drab, but in practice it’s nearly flawless. Battles are quick, and picking up a stronger card after a battle is immensely rewarding. Settling in with the mechanics for Loot Rascals quickly becomes second nature as you plan out moves, working the system so you attack first or swap in extra cards to let you take down a particularly strong foe in one hit.
Loot Rascals is a game about management. You manage your cards. You manage your moves. You manage your health and the tokens you need to regenerate your health. There’s never a moment where you’re not planning, but much to its credit, Loot Rascals never feels like you’re thinking hard. Rather, it’s fun and encouraging, giving you just enough power before quickly stripping it away in one of the many many deaths you will suffer.
And you will die. You will die all of the deaths because Loot Rascals is brutally hard. Monsters’ levels ramp up with each subsequent world, and one misstep can quickly shatter your confidence and flow, leading to harsh failure. To the game’s credit, dying never feels like it is out of your control, so each death is more like a learning experience, and as soon as the Thing Below quickly reassembles your body you’re free to try again. There’s also permadeath, which wipes out all of the cards you earned, so you have to start over as vanilla astro guy each time. The game does give you the option to send one card back to your next play through via a card rocket near each area’s exit portal, but deciding whether to boost your next play through or to stay as strong as possible is always a tricky decision.
Luckily, Loot Rascals is so charming that the permadeath is much less of a frustration than it is in most roguelikes. The world is bright and colorful, and there’s always a collection of new, laughably weird monsters to battle. Many of the cards you pick up are humorous too like a salt sock that prevents you from slipping on ice or an inflatable pool toy for a weapon. The game is like a cartoon version of Red Dwarf by way of Adult Swim.
Loot Rascals is also short and moves quickly (if you can manage to survive). Levels can be speedily run through, and battles take maybe a second at most. You’ll of course want to explore and battle every monster to get stronger cards, but even at it’s longest you’ll never spend more than 10 minutes on a given map. This greatly strengthens Loot Rascals‘ replayability and the ‘just one more time’ quality that makes it so very addicting. It’s a shame actually that the game is not on handhelds as its the best Vita game that’s not actually on the Vita. Having Loot Rascals in a pick-up-and-play handheld format would be a dream and I wish Hollow Ponds had considered (though very unlikely a reality because Vita is an abandoned and neglected maiden in need of never-to-come rescue).
It’s impressive to consider that in an already jam packed 2017 with many other big name titles out, I’ve found myself constantly going back to Loot Rascals to see if I can make it to the next level or not. There’s something about its simplicity and charm that makes it addicting on the scale of a game like Resogun. It also does a fine job of straddling the line between approachable and frustratingly difficult that other roguelike games like Nuclear Throne and Binding of Isaac often cross. That’s not to say that if you don’t like roguelikes, you’ll love this, but rather it might serve as a nice entry into the genre and keep you from smashing all of your controllers into tiny pieces.
There aren’t really many critiques for Loot Rascals outside of things that are inherent to its nature. Permadeath can be maddening and make the game less fun, and procedurally generated levels have a tendency to cheapen any narrative or large sense of progression in a game If you don’t want to die a lot or want a game with an in-depth story and a strong cast of characters, don’t play this game. If you want a challenging and always changing goofy space adventure that hits points anywhere between Enter The Gungeon and Dark Souls, then this is the game for you.