Thanks to Super Rare Originals for the review code
Title: Lone Ruin
Release Date: 01/12/2023
In this roguelike twin-stick action game… There is no notable plot! At least, none apparent in the game itself. You enter a ruin and take out enemies and bosses while trying to get deeper and deeper, and that’s about it.
Straight from the onset, Lone Ruin looks stunning, thanks to outstanding environments and shading that compliment the pixel sprites in a way better left shown than explained.
Something about this presentation just feels right, not clashing against the sprites and having the right amount of detail to fit the gloomy environments, and all the icons and UI elements for your weapons and items look pretty neat as well, just overall being a pleasant looking game.
The music on the other hand, is pretty average and feels more like dubstep-ish background noise. It exists, and it compliments dueling hordes of enemies well, but nothing I heard in the game really stuck out in a way that made me remember it later or anything.
The main goal of Lone Ruin is to venture into the titular ruin and use twin-stick controls to battle your way through hordes of enemies. You start off with a basic weapon that can be gradually upgraded over the course of the adventure, and have a dash technique to avoid enemy fire. As you progress through the rooms, you’ll have the option of choosing between upgrades and items along the way, as well as using coins picked up from defeated foes to buy health refills or more upgrades at the occasional shop. Each room consists of waves of enemies, and you attack them by using both sticks to aim and move, with one trigger being used for attacks and the other being used for your dash.
Movement wise, this all feels pretty decent, and I adjusted to being able to dodge enemies and counter them with ease. Now and then, I’d get a subweapon like an ice wall or black hole to use, along with being given the choice of an upgrade, which usually led to me sticking with buffing the weapon I started with over picking the other augments available. Defeating lots of enemies and picking up their coins was immensely satisfying at first, and eventually I managed to reach the first boss and completely wreck it with my thunderbolt, all on the hard difficulty. Of course, I made some foolish mistakes, and met an end on the second set of stages, so I went back to try again, and this is where the game fell off for me.
You see, while most roguelikes try to use some sense of progression, whether it’s only through retaining money, some items, or even a catalog/bestiary of what you accomplished on prior runs, Lone Ruin doesn’t do any of that: it’s a score-focused game, which should be right up my alley, but this also means outside of choosing a different weapon and upgrades during a run, there’s really no urge to have that “one more try” moment in the game, especially when you realize these weapons are all over the place! Some weapons felt slow and hardly impactful, lacking any sort of meaningful “oomph”, while the boomerang ended up being a delight at first, completely shredding through enemies like tissue paper, until the boss came along and slowly took damage for it, leading to the fight being long, drawn out, and spongey to the point I died of sheer boredom, and for an arcade style/roguelike game, that is a bad sign. Thankfully you can get upgrades for your weapons during a run, but even these help so little for some weapons, while greatly beefing up others.
Turns out, said boss was stupidly weak to the boomerang in a prior patch, and it just got nerfed, but in the process of said nerf, it turned the fight with that weapon into a drawn out borefest, rather than a balance that made the player test their skills at dodging. Likewise, my thunderbolt which I enjoyed using, was just speedy enough on enemies to not be a drag, and utterly decimated that boss upon picking up a reduced cooldown upgrade, leading to that being my preferred weapon, but in general I just felt the weapons had no consistency: some would make one part of the game spongy and the other a breeze, while most just lacked a punch.
Other thing I noticed during my playthroughs during the pre-launch and post launch states, was just how some stuff changed on a whim. There used to be an easy mode, but now it’s gone, and the easy mode wasn’t even that great to begin with, to be frank, and seems to have been renamed to Normal mode with some tweaking done. Hell, even the hard mode feels like more of a health limit than dealing with different, smarter enemy placements or patterns, and that especially applies to the Survival mode, meant to pit you against waves and waves of enemies until you clear them all out for points, with no stage progression to worry about.
Sadly, while this was my preferred mode of the main two, Survival felt equally as sluggish and unengaging, with enemies feeling like boring fodder at first, even on the hard difficulty, before things finally started to pick up, but even then, the loadout you use is what ultimately determines your engagement factor here, and you don’t get much options here in Survival. That and the gameplay still lacked any sort of oomph, punch, or addictive hook, even in what should be a slam dunk score attack mode. Ultimately, I just found myself losing interest in the game very quickly, and for a roguelike to not even nail a gameplay loop all that well, that becomes troubling.
Lone Ruin has some stuff going for it: The controls are fun enough to play with, and the game looks gorgeous, but the experience made me pretty unengaged, especially with inconsistencies in balance abound. It feels like it wants to be more of a score chaser, but doesn’t offer too much to incentivize being one. Some weapons are absolutely outstandingly fun to use, while others feel very situational, spongy, or just completely useless, and the whole gameplay loop is a bore. Even the Survival mode, which should have at least been the addicting hook of this game for quick sessions and to keep besting your score, didn’t do much besides feel too boring on normal mode and too slow to get interesting on hard, and after a total hour of playing around in Lone Ruin, I couldn’t find anything that gave me that hook these roguelike titles desperately need.
Ultimately, Lone Ruin just feels unbalanced, and not in the “oh the game is stupidly hard or easy” way, but rather that stuff is just all over the place and doesn’t have a consistency to it that hooks deep into you; the fact that the boomerang used to be a completely broken weapon on bosses and enemies, yet got nerfed to barely do anything to bosses while still being stupidly powerful on enemies shows to me that the game feels like it’s still throwing darts at the wall to see what sticks, and while it’s an absolute stunner of a game presentation wise, looks aren’t everything, and I really do hope they eventually nail that sweet arcade-style gameplay loop the devs clearly wanted to pull off, perhaps by making it a bit speedier and faster paced to get a better rhythm in. Sadly, it just didn’t quite nail it here, and that hook never showed up for me.
I give Lone Ruin a 5 out of 10.