Loot River is a roguelike game that combines dark fantasy storytelling with Tetris, of all things. Honestly that is not a combination I thought I’d ever see in a game, but I was nevertheless excited to try it out.
You begin the game exploring a dark, subterranean area filled with various monstrosities. Throughout Loot River you fight your way through them as you move platforms shaped like Tetris blocks, navigating various puzzles and environmental obstacles as you do. It’s certainly a unique spin, but how well does it pay off?
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. For starters, the name “Loot River” seems like a bit of a misnomer. There is very little variation in what loot can actually be found in the first runs of the game, which is due to the unlock system and the roguelike elements. Roguelike games are defined typically by their difficulty and permadeath features.
Loot River checks off both of those boxes; where it muddies the waters is how it straddles the line between roguelike and roguelite. Both genres are easily confused for obvious reasons. Roguelike games involve starting over from nothing after each run, a prime example would be Darkest Dungeon, a game where nothing carries over from run to run. Roguelites on the other hand have a form of progression from run to run. Hades, Rogue Legacy 2, and Dead Cells are all games that fit into that category.
Loot River falls into a weird middle ground. There is a leveling system that resets each run. As you defeat enemies, you can experience and can level up different stats to improve your health, damage, and so on. These levels are lost on death. That’s a point in the roguelike category.
However, it is possible to unlock weapons by collecting “knowledge” from enemies and then trading them in the hub area that you revisit between sections in the run. That’s a point for the roguelite category.
The weird part is that this knowledge is also lost upon death, which means weapons need to be unlocked during the run. Even weirder is that weapons only become available as drops once unlocked, so for the first few runs, the only weapons you’ll find are the ones you start the game with. Unless you manage to trade for them in non-permanent ways. The only drops that are worth anything are the rings that enemies drop that provide special abilities or stat boosts.
These rings offer upgrades that do change the gameplay somewhat, but not a considerable amount. The different weapons eventually lead to some variation in playstyle, but unlocking them is much more difficult than it feels it should be. I understand the joy of a difficult game, but the lack of any overall progression makes things feel tedious.
If things weren’t blocked off, then it wouldn’t be as frustrating. But the fact that a thirty minute run might only result in a weapon or two being unlocked, and you only start off with two weapons available, isn’t fun. Getting excited at the prospect of getting a new weapon to use, only to discover it’s the same spear that you’ve already found two other times is just disappointing.
I wasn’t crazy about the difficulty scaling either. Making it to the last area, finding the final boss, and taking him on while at full health only to get insta-killed after thirty minutes of dungeon crawling feels a bit like a cheap shot. I’m not sure if I did something wrong or if that was just a weird one off, but half hour is quite a bit of time to invest in a trial and error run.
This might get chalked up to the “souls-like” or “dark souls-esqu” feel of Loot River, but beyond the tone of the game, I wouldn’t qualify it as a souls-like. For me, souls-like means recovering something after death to recover progress. There is no mechanic like that in Loot River and calling a game souls-like just to describe its difficulty is lazy journalism.
Granted, Loot River is a difficult game and the visuals follow a dark theme. The visual design is eye-catching and the concept is, again, unique.
Up until now I’ve been focusing on the systems that build up the game, but not the exact mechanics. For combat, it’s a deliberate and slower combat that makes attacks feel meaningful. There isn’t any input queuing – which is another difference compared to Dark Souls – but I don’t think this is a detriment to the game.
And then the one aspect that I do not care for is the dodge mechanic. It’s a roll… Or teleport?
Well there is a rolling animation that plays, but you actually just teleport a set distance from where you dodge from. This feels a bit awkward and it might just be the disconnect from the animation and what actually happens. The teleport lets you move through enemies and walls, which can be nice, but it’s also possible to teleport off a platform at the same time you move; this can result in you getting stuck and needing to restart the game.
Boss fights also feel off. The hit boxes and movement of the AI aren’t very refined and attacks that should hit them, as well as attacks that should hit you, often miss. This happens with some of the regular enemies too. It’s nothing game breaking but it needs refinement if it’s going to be good.
Which is really what I’d say about Loot River as a whole. While playing, it feels like Loot River has difficulty in committing to the type of game it wants to be. For a roguelike, the runs feel too short, with too much blocked off. For a roguelite, the run-to-run progression is too lacking to be engaging. It’s a shame because I went into the game with high hopes and the foundation for an amazing game is there, it just hasn’t quite been polished properly.
Loot River is available to download from the Xbox Store
- Unique dungeon traversal system
- Engaging visuals
- Awkward mechanics
- Inconsistent hitboxes
- Lack of meaningful progression
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - straka.studio
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 3 May 2022
- Launch price from - £19.99