Digital Gems is our weekly column where we highlight contemporary and classic downloadable games that we think are worth your attention.
At a glance, the latest game from the developer of Hohokum looks like a cartoon, with its pops of color and its charming aliens that look like they could star in their very own Cartoon Network show. But then it moves with the brush of an analog stick, and you realize it really is a game. But the machinations of it are unexpected—if you ignore the game’s title, Loot Rascals, that is—blending incessant inventory management of loot (in this game: cards) and turn-based strategy across a procedurally generated, hexagonal space. Loot Rascals is cute, sure, but it’s also a lot more beyond its distinctive art.
In Loot Rascals, you control the survivor of a rocket crash, crawling across the hexagon-filled space to collect loot. Loot appears floating above the corpses of the enemies you slowly but surely take down. Entitled “Loot Chips” but existing as cards, you arrange and place the cards in your ten slot deck. The arrangement, though, is integral. Some cards give power to those to the left of them, others are more powerful when they are in a specific slot. Organizing your cards—in addition to powering them up with other supplements, like fire—is key to your survivor’s, well, survival.
Beyond garnering a flurry of cards to add to your arsenal, Loot Rascals is a turn-based strategy (though your movement is freer than something like Fire Emblem). Your turns don’t move at a glacial pace. Instead, they’re ushered along with every step by a day and night cycle (five steps for day, five steps for night). With the time of day, some enemies are easier to get the drop on, while others might be wiser to avoid as they can get the jump on you. As your little loot rascal has a baby-sized health bar—which can be alleviated thanks to cards sometimes—it’s always wise to err on the side of caution, and pick your battles carefully. Because if you don’t, you just might be taken down, and all your hard-earned loot will disappear.
From aliens that look like a monstrous tomato come to life to a Chewbacca stand-in, the foes that are prime for looting vary drastically in a way that at the start, is hard to imagine (in a sea of same-y aliens). When I began, the aliens felt repetitive, but as I ventured forth into new hexagonal lands, just as the color palettes changed like the seasons might, as did its wild inhabitants that wanted nothing more than to loot me blind and send my corpse off into another dimension (er, another person’s game).
Loot Rascals, though accompanied with a story-bound adventure in Standard Mode, is at its best when it’s going full procedurally generated, beyond its mildly charming tale (if only it wasn’t a bit boring and repetitive). The most noteworthy of this is the game’s Daily Challenge mode, where a new map is generated that is the same for everyone across the game. By prevailing over the Daily Challenge successfully repeatedly, you’ll inch towards the top of the game-wide leaderboards. But after one death, your stats might tank, and you’ll find yourself finite for that particular daily challenge.
The Daily Challenge has become an unsung hero in the realm of “roguelikes,” (or as I like to simply refer to them aside from sticking them alongside Rogue: procedurally generated map games). Spelunky no doubt popularized the trend. As Gamasutra wrote in 2013 regarding the game’s implementation of daily challenges, “This seemingly simple addition to the main Spelunky offering appears to be a fun side-order of death and dungeoning—but as it turns out, the Daily Challenge is an all-consuming beast that lives on long after the main action has played its last note.”
We’re in an era where a lot of space-bound romps feel the same, whether they’re the bombastic operas of Mass Effect (which, given, are the only of its kind really), or the eerie abandoned space stations of, well, every other game that takes place in the outer galaxy. Loot Rascals dares to make space colorful, endearing, and a bit weird; as if distant, mysterious planets are imbued with as many hues as a desolate, empty sphere in No Man’s Sky. Only this time, with life, personality, and more loot to boot.
A review code of Loot Rascals was provided by Hollow Ponds.