Loot River is a Tetris style roguelike soulslike bringing lots of death.
It’s no secret that the roguelike genre among indie developers has saturated the market. Nor should it be a surprise considering how well some of them have done financially, such as the Binding of Isaac, Risk of Rain 2, or Hades are all testaments people are still hungry to get their roguelike fix. There’s also a ton of popularity and saturation when it comes to games that bill themselves as “soulslike” and boast retro style pixel graphics.
Loot River, developer Straka.Studio and published by Superhot Presents, is a game that checks of all of those aspects of gaming. So the question with this game is more so if stands tall compared to the many others in its class or is it simply just another drop in the massive ocean of roguelike, soulslike pixel graphic indie games before it. Which is what we will find out in this review.
Publisher: Superhot Presents
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Steam (Reviewed)
Release Date: May 3, 2022
When I first started up my save of Loot River, my character simply gets up and already we’re heading into the gameplay without a second to waste. I do like a game that gets me into the action quickly as the initial stages of the tutorial section flew by quickly without little pausing. This is where we get introduced to the main mechanic the game builds itself on top of. That being that in order to traverse the level, one must manipulate the platform the character is standing on.
It’s simple to perform on a gamepad, which was what I used to play Loot River. All you do is use the right joystick to move platforms in the four traditional directions. The developers at Straka.Studio have advertised this as “Souls meets Tetris”. The Tetris part of their gameplay does open up interesting ideas in how one may approach situations, as well as create puzzles to solve for the player to think in order to progress further.
Outside of the platform movement, the game plays as you would expect from a game claiming to be a soulslike with a top down perspective. You have a light weaker attack and one slow strong attack. The latter of which can be charged. This leads to movements where you can use the platform movement to your advantage to allow you a quick strong hit by moving the 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 “refreshes”. There’s also a parry you can do by tapping the button, or enter a defensive stance by holding it instead.
I find combat to be pretty satisfying. Each weapon feels unique that you have to think about what you’re armed with when it comes to approaching combat. Some are slow and lumbering, requiring some strategy in how you attack enemies. Then there are quicker ones that can come in and cut them down to size before they can counter attack. Though I do find the latter to be a bit to strong between the two styles.
Unfortunately for a soulslike, I don’t find the combat to be particularly challenging. Parrying is absurdly easy and forgiving, one can simply spam it waiting for an enemy to attack to parry and get in a counter attack. Which does critical damage and gives immunity while in the animation. It doesn’t take any skill at all, which nearly makes the “endurance” stat, which increases the parry window almost pointless.
Even though the combat is solid, the movement is not. There were many times where my character would get stuck on where platforms would connects, as if there was a wall between them. Now there are broken walls on some platforms that you have to use the dash to get through, but this would happen even when none of that was there. Which in a game where dodging is just as important as parrying in order to avoid damage made some engagements frustrating.
Note that this happened to one of the bosses in game. So I was able to cheese it by separating it onto a different platform and attacking from a safe distance.
Speaking of bosses, there are 7 of them. There are some different gimmicks for a couple, but for the most part a lot of them are fairly similar. You face up to them directly, attacking, parrying, or dodging in order to defeat them. There is some use and requirement in using the game’s mechanic of moving platforms during some of these battles. Such as one that keeps moving along a level while you’re being chased b a kill wall. So you have to 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.
Sadly those two are the more interesting in using platform movements during boss battles. Since the others you either don’t have to use the mechanic, or it’s just there to allow you to cheese the battles. So despite how interesting platform movement sounds, in practice there’s so little done with it that the rest of the game feels like any other top down soulslike.
Graphically, the game looks nice for with it’s pixel style. Animations are smooth during combat, which is important for something trying for soulslike gameplay. And the dynamic lighting looks so beautiful when your character walks by and illuminates the surrounding area. Each stage, as I will call them, all have their different aesthetics which presents nicely their history in regards to the lore. Though one of the bosses looked really strange, likely due to it’s massive size, that it appeared like something which had been rendered at 3DS levels of fidelity.
Outside of the graphics, I can’t say the other presentation relating to Loot River is all that special. The sound design is solid when it comes to the swings of your blade, enemies getting slashed, and the waves rippling to contrast the otherwise silent surroundings. Unfortunately the music isn’t anything to write home about. They sound just like any other music I’d heard in a dim, dark, fantasy atmosphere.
Speaking on the Loot River’s story, there’s a bare bones plot. That’s fine with me, since I like to quickly get into the action more than plot. And since this game also touts being a soulslike, the developers have opted to throw in more bits of lore through other avenues such as character dialogue with the “shop” owners. Along with some text during loading screens to describe the stages you’re about to go on. Most things more or less just explain why you’re able to reset upon death and showcase why things are the way they are in the world(s).
Finally I just want to get into some bugs I personally encountered during my 7 hour playthrough to “beat” Loot River. I’ve already stated getting stuck on the edges of platforms, as a reminder. There were also two bosses in the game where the screen would bug out with this odd flickering blackness.
One time it basically covered the entire screen, preventing me from seeing anything and being unable to defend myself. The other was a flickering effect that hurt my head just looking at it. I’d hate for someone more susceptible to epilepsy to be affected by this. So I do hope the developers find a way to fix this, and I’ve already brought it up on the forums.
Other bugs I’ve used to my advantage is getting too close to enemies that they somehow can’t hit me, since there’s an item in game that allows you to avoid collision with them. I can also use the dash to get to platforms if it’s stairs to avoid what I assume to be some puzzle elements. But maybe that one could be intentional, it just didn’t feel that way to me.
All-in-all, I don’t feel like Loot River brings much for fans of roguelikes. Graphically it’s neat, but nothing special in a wave of pixel style games. The gameplay is soulslikes as one might call it, which is either a big selling point or something one wants to avoid. It’s not a bad game, but it’s hard for it to stand out in a saturated market that’s already filled with great hits like Binding of Isaac, Risk of Rain, Rogue Legacy, and so much more.
Unless you’re someone who really enjoys roguelikes as a genre. Then this would be something you could spend a weekend on. Otherwise if you’re only a more casual fan of the style of game, then look at the one that reach a higher standard.
Loot River review was done on the PC using a copy provided by Straka.Studio. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Loot River is now available on PC (via Steam), Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.