Don't be fooled; beneath the colourful mushroom trip visuals of Loot Rascals lies a streamlined yet strategic roguelike that will both charm and gnaw your face off. It's a game that hides its Rogue credentials behind bizarre monsters, loopy art, and dollops of humour, but the spirit of that seminal title unmistakably lurks: this is a rapid-fire turn-based affair, levels are procedurally generated, and death visits swiftly and often.
Loot Rascals is more accessible than many of its ilk though, thanks to many clever design designs. For starters, you won't be faffing about changing weapons or drinking potions here. Instead, cards are the only type of loot, and the way you arrange them in your inventory grid determines the strength of your biffo, and also how well you can dodge an aggressive swing of a broom.
Cards are usually either attack of defence oriented, and often give bigger bonuses when in a certain row or column, boost or penalise neighbouring cards, or can be flipped from attack to defence, and so on. That makes moving cards around and swapping them in and out of active duty a neat wee puzzle that drastically affects your stats, and is thus a big part of the game to master should you not wish to get beat down by a Humpty Dumpty-looking dude or a literal stack of rats.
Combat is an all-or-nothing affair from which only one human or shrieking witch made of circuit boards will emerge, so it pays to pay attention to the power of your adversaries before taking them on. Again, the system here is simple but elegant. Enemies have a single number ("Power") that represents their attack strength and their health. When divided by your defence, this is the percentage chance that... ugh, nevermind.
It's much simpler in practice than on paper, but the short of it is: if a creature's Power is well above your defence, you're gonna be easy to hit, and you'll be hit hard. However, because your attacks sap Power and like Daredevil you never miss, you can get a swing in first to even the playing field, or perhaps even slay an adversary before they even do so much as point a tentacle in your general direction.
How do you attack first? Make sure it's daytime. And if it's not daytime, it soon will be – it takes a mere five moves for the game to flip between glorious sunshine and the cruel night. And night here is doubly cruel, because many of the game's denizens are a lot stronger in the dark. (Note: these rules are reversed for some creatures that are stronger during the day.)
This makes Loot Rascals sounds like game where you do a lot of dancing around waiting for day to break, and that's sometimes true. However, you have a limited number of turns to exit a level before Space Death himself teleports in for tea and scones and murder, so more often than not you just have to sack up, dive into combat, and let the RNG run its course.
Actually, there are other options too, in the form of ability cards that allow you to cast spells like freeze, lightning, and fire on enemies from afar, but these charge slowly, and so must be saved for the tightest of situations when you're backed into a corner and the moon has only just risen. Failing that, your final saving grace could be ability cards that are fuelled by the destruction of your other cards, creating a curious dynamic where you sacrifice some weaponry or defence for an all-out attack or a panicked teleport to a random tile.
Help can also appear from an unexpected source: other players. Y'see, whenever you are killed in Loot Rascals, your murderer nicks the most powerful card from your inventory and buggers off to take on other players. Should it then be killed by another player, he or she has the opportunity to keep your grunty card, or to send it back to you for you to use in a subsequent run. Send cards back and the holograms of other players will come to your aid every now and then. Keep cards, and they'll join the masses hunting you down.
This system adds another interesting wrinkle to the game, and gives you another wrenching decision to make in a game filled with them. Did I mention that you can mail cards to yourself for future playthroughs, and find a card that switches play from turn-based to real-time?
If it sounds like all I've done in this review is explain mechanics, that's because Loot Rascals is a cleverly-built mechanics-heavy title masquerading as a whacked-out children's cartoon. But it also has a swingin' and strange retro sci-fi aesthetic, which makes total sense when you realise it's made by some of the folks behind Hohokum, Sportfriends, and Adventure Time. It also has a serene yet upbeat and reactive soundtrack courtesy of Grandmaster Gareth (Misty's Big Adventure), alongside terrific sounds effects.
There are downsides. As is the case in all roguelikes, some runs are just destined to gift you great gear, while in others you scrape and graft only be be slain by a Wook on the first level. And sometimes, you get completely blindsided by death despite a fistful of fantastic cards. As such, it can feel like Loot Rascals leans a little too hard on the randomness, making an already tricky game nigh-impossible without a chunk of good fortune.
The lack of any save system whatsoever is also a bit of a bummer, although games are rarely longer than 45 minutes, and are often over in something closer to 15. But nonetheless, I love Loot Rascals. It's a canny take on the roguelike formula that features a ton of interesting systems, as well as enemies with names like the Grabbler and Marha The Sleazy. So hitch up your Space Shorts, grab a Vortex Bin Lid for protection, and trip out in its delightful world. Just remember to return my high-level cards, and watch out for Web Jocks – those guys are real dicks.