Loot River is a Tetris-style soulslike roguelike bringing lots of death.
It’s no secret that the roguelike genre among indie developers has saturated the market. It should also come as no surprise considering how financially successful some of them, such as Binding of Isaac, Risk of Rain 2 or Hades, are all testimonials that people are always hungry to get their fix. of roguelike. There’s also a ton of popularity and saturation when it comes to games that present themselves as “soulslike” and offer retro-style pixel graphics.
Loot Riverdeveloper Straka Studio and published by Superhot Gifts, is a game that checks out all of these aspects of gaming. So the question with this game is more than whether it stands tall against the many others in its class or if it is just another a drop in the vast ocean of roguelike and soulslike pixel graphics indie games before it. This is what we will find out in this review.
Publisher: Superhot Presents
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC via Steam (Examined)
Release date: May 3, 2022
When I started my backup of Loot River, my character just stands up and we’re already heading into the gameplay without missing a beat. I like a game that gets me into the action quickly, as the early stages of the tutorial section went quickly without any pause. This is where we learn about the main mechanic on which the game is built. However, to cross the level, it is necessary to manipulate the platform on which the character stands.
It’s simple to play on a gamepad, which I used to play Loot River. All you do is use the right stick to move platforms in the traditional four directions. Straka.Studio developers advertised it as “Souls meet Tetris”. The Tetris part of their gameplay opens up some cool ideas on how to approach situations, as well as creating puzzles to solve for the player to think about in order to progress further.
Apart from the platforming movement, the game plays out as you would expect from a game claiming to be a soul with a top-down perspective. You have a weaker light attack and a slow strong attack. The latter can be invoiced. This leads to moves where you can use platform movement to your advantage to allow yourself a fast and strong hit by moving platforms to attack after charging. Defensively, you have the ability to dodge, which appears to be on a cooldown that you can’t see when the ability “cools off”. There’s also a parry you can do by pressing the button, or get into a defensive stance by holding it instead.
I find the fight quite satisfying. Each weapon is unique and you need to think about what you are armed with when it comes to approaching combat. Some are slow and heavy, requiring some strategy in how you attack enemies. Then there are faster ones that can come in and cut them down to size before they can counterattack. Although I find the latter to be a bit too strong between the two styles.
Unfortunately for a soulslike, I don’t find the fight particularly difficult. Parrying is absurdly easy and forgiving, one can simply spam it while waiting for an enemy to attack to parry and launch a counterattack. Which deals critical damage and grants immunity during animation. It requires no skill, which makes the “stamina” stat, which increases the parry window, almost useless.
Even though the combat is solid, the movement is not. There were several times where my character got stuck where the platforms connected, like there was a wall between them. Now there are broken walls on some platforms that you have to use the dash to get past, but it would happen even if none of that was there. Which, in a game where dodging is just as important as parrying to avoid damage, made some fights frustrating.
Note that this happened to one of the bosses in the game, so I was able to cheese it by splitting it up on a different platform and attacking from a safe distance.
Speaking of bosses, there are 7 of them. There are different gadgets for a couple, but for the most part, many of them are quite similar. You face them directly, attacking, parrying or dodging in order to defeat them. There is a certain utility and requirement in using the game mechanic of mobile platforms during some of these battles. Like the one that keeps moving along a level while you’re chased by a wall of destruction. You must therefore quickly solve platform puzzles to progress and continue the fight. Or another where you move the platform to dodge strong attacks that can quickly drain your health bar if you don’t avoid it.
Unfortunately, these two are the most interesting for using platforming moves during boss fights. Since the others, you either don’t need to use the mechanic, or it’s just there for you to make cheese in battles. So, despite how interesting the platforming movement is, in practice there’s so little that the rest of the game feels like any other descending soul.
Graphically, the game looks nice with its pixel style. Animations are smooth during combat, which is important for something that attempts soulslike gameplay. And the dynamic lighting looks so beautiful as your character walks by and lights up the surroundings. Each stage, as I’ll call them, all has its own different aesthetic that showcases its story well in relation to the lore. Although one of the bosses looked really odd, probably due to its massive size, it looked like something rendered at 3DS Loyalty levels.
Apart from the graphics, I cannot say the other presentation relating to Loot River is all that special. The sound design is solid when it comes to your blade swinging, enemies getting slashed, and waves rippling to contrast with the otherwise quiet surroundings. Unfortunately, the music isn’t exciting. They sound like any other music I’ve heard in a dark fantasy atmosphere.
Speaking on the Loot River’s story, there is a bare plot. This suits me, because I like to get into the action quickly more than the plot. And since this game also boasts of being soulful, the developers opted to add more lore through other avenues such as character dialogue with “shop” owners. With text when loading screens to describe the steps you are about to take. Most things more or less simply explain why you are able to reset upon death and show why things are the way they are in the world(s).
Lastly, I just want to get into a few bugs that I’ve personally encountered in my 7 hours of gaming to “beat” Loot River. I’ve already mentioned getting stuck on the edges of platforms, as a reminder. There were also two bosses in the game where the screen was getting annoyed with that weird flickering blackness.
Once, it covered almost the entire screen, preventing me from seeing anything and being unable to defend myself. The other was a flicker effect that made my head hurt just looking at it. I would hate for someone more susceptible to epilepsy to be affected by it. So I hope the devs find a way to fix this, and I’ve talked about it on the forums before.
Other bugs I’ve used to my advantage are getting too close to enemies so they can’t hit me, as there’s an item in the game that lets you avoid collision with them. I can also use the dash to access platforms if they are stairs to avoid what I assume are puzzle pieces. But maybe that one could be intentional, it just wasn’t how I felt.
In short, I don’t want Loot River brings a lot for roguelike fans. Graphically it’s neat, but nothing special in a wave of pixel-style games. The gameplay is what you would call soulslike, which is either a big selling point or something you want to avoid. It’s not a bad game, but it’s struggling to stand out in a saturated market that’s already packed with big hits like Binding of Isaac, Chance of rain, The Legacy of Thievesand more.
Unless you’re someone who really loves roguelikes as a genre. So that would be something you could spend a weekend on. Otherwise, if you’re just a more casual fan of the playstyle, then look at whichever level is higher.
The Loot River review was conducted on PC using a copy provided by Straka.Studio. YesYou can find additional information on Niche Gamer’s Review/Ethics Policy here. Loot River is now available on PC (via Steam), Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.