Coming from LifeSpark Entertainment is a new port of a game that originally released way back in 2015, when it was launched on Steam – Rack N Ruin. Billed as “a fusion of top-down adventure game and classic arcade shooter”, the big question that I hope to answer is whether this may be a fusion too far, and perhaps even whether a game from six years ago really can cut the mustard in this day and age. Care to join me in a world of magic, missiles and demons?
The story of Rack N Ruin is an interesting one, to say the least. We are Rack, a magnificently horned demon of destruction, who seems to just be that little bit too good at his job. You see, when his boss, Ruin, sends Rack to go and conquer any one of a number planets around the cosmos, Rack fails to enslave, or subjugate his target: he tends to just destroy the planet, leaving nothing behind but an asteroid belt, sterile and devoid of life. As Ruin puts it, there is nothing to rule over in an asteroid belt, and so Rack is sent packing with a flea in his ear. He does however eventually get one last chance to go to a world and conquer it, rather than destroy it. Can he do it? This is where we come in.
Spawning into the world, Rack’s powers appear to be somewhat limited. He has access to a fireball attack, but fortunately this is an infinite one, and doesn’t deplete his mana bar. As you go through the game, as you’d expect, you can find other elemental attacks, and even objects to help you take down enemies and bosses, from healing items to turrets that can attack your enemies. These range from a lightning ranged attack to a short-range bladed weapon, and each weapon type seems to be tied to puzzles and switches as you explore. However, planning is key, especially to any fights and particularly the boss encounters: if you spend a few seconds setting up rows of turrets and so on, you can pretty much melt any enemy in no time. Obviously, you need to have the items to be able to use them, and in an interesting touch, if you sell items to a merchant you can then buy them back from that same merchant going forward. This is as long as you have enough souls, of course, which again are collected by defeating enemies and smashing pots and gifts in the landscape.
So, the story is set up – how does the game look? Disarmingly cute, is the short answer. Rack is a demon lord of destruction, but his diminutive stature and cute looks make him seem less threatening. The game is played out from a top-down perspective, like a more zoomed-in Diablo 3, if you will, and the sprites of both Rack and his enemies are the biggest things on the screen. The game looks very nice, with a lush feel to the world, at least until Rack finds a shrine that he can corrupt. Once the world is corrupted, all bets are off, as the terrain changes and new pathways can also open up, allowing you to reach new areas. Sound-wise it’s all super too, with magic swooshes and sword swipes, and while the cutscenes aren’t all voiced, Rack does have a good line in diabolic cackles. In all, the presentation of the game works very well indeed.
In terms of gameplay, we discover that Rack N Ruin is all pretty groovy as well. It is almost like a bullet hell shooter at times, as various enemies appear on screen and shoot projectiles about the place in a pattern. Luckily, Rack also has a shield he can summon at will, encasing him in a very cool-looking bubble, and this can protect him from harm. Assuming you find a particular NPC as you progress through the game, you can actually power up all of Rack’s powers, including his shield, to be able to reflect bullets for instance. His fireball can be upgraded to make the projectile split in two when it hits an enemy, and so on; it’s worth hunting this guy out. And no, I’m not going to tell you where he is, as exploration is the name of the game – that and combat.
The design of the enemies, the bosses and the world is all very decent indeed, and while the old trope of attaching different colours to the same enemy in order to create some variety is all present and correct, on the whole the designs are strong enough to not see them outstay their welcome. The bosses are great as well, whether they be a big dragon or a strange robotic head, and all have attack patterns to learn and exploit like any good shooter.
Are there any issues with Rack N Ruin? Well, there’s only one really, but it is a bit of a biggie – the map screen is absolutely rubbish. It’s almost impossible to figure out not only where you are, but where you are trying to get to, and this isn’t helped by the clues you receive from NPCs which are suitably vague: “Go to the West”. Trying to find the third dungeon in particular is a real pain, as while you clear the second dungeon in the West and are told to head East, actually getting there proves to be a real labour.
In all though, Rack N Ruin on Xbox is fairly enjoyable. The storyline is fun to follow, the combat pretty interesting, and apart from it being far too easy to get lost, the design of the world and enemies is pretty spot on. With a better map Rack N Ruin could well have been a star, but frankly that element in itself is enough to bring it down a notch or two.