Title: Lone Ruin
Developer: Cuddle Monster Games
Release Date: January 12, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Super Rare Originals
Roguelikes are debatably one of the most prolific indie game genres, with many newcomers looking to be the next big thing. There’s an addictive quality to seeing how much further you can get with each fresh run, either by changing your loadout or pushing yourself to focus and get into sync with the game. But it takes a strong marriage between weapons, upgrades, level layouts, enemy patterns, and player control to generate that staying power. If just one thing falls out of balance, it can make the experience slightly lopsided.
Lone Ruin from Cuddle Monster Games is a twin-stick shooter roguelike that tries its best to replicate that sort of addictive, cyclical gameplay. Playing as an unnamed, explorative mage, you enter a ruined magical city in search of the power nestled within its crumbling walls. As you dive deeper and deeper, you sling your arsenal of spells at the fiends and monsters that seek to halt your progress.
It’s a simple, minimalist set-up with little in-game lore or even cutscenes. A lot is left up to interpretation, but the lack of story trappings means it’s all the easier to jump into each run unhindered. And that’s part of the fun of these games, after all, the ability to dive straight back into another run-through after biting the dust. This is part of the roguelike formula that Lone Ruin understands and that short gap between demise and renewal makes it harder to resist the urge for another go.
Unfortunately, one thing I feel is lacking is variety. Certainly, repetition is part of the roguelike experience, but there also needs to be something to keep the experience fresh at all times. Otherwise, the experience stagnates, and the player will start to lose interest.
There’s a decent selection of spells at your disposal from the start, but beyond those, there are only a few left to discover. And I found that many of the spells weren’t super useful either; perhaps this comes down to my tastes, but most felt pretty limited in their utility. Their drawbacks usually superseded any potential benefits, and that’s before you get into any of the upgrades.
Upgrades seem very standard, and while the improvements they offer are certainly noticeable, there isn’t anything that remarkable or empowering about them. For example, while I think personal taste will largely determine whether you enjoy certain spells, I found little need to experiment once I found the one weapon that seemed far more helpful in dispatching both standard enemies and the bosses.
The in-game items and blessings broadly fall into the same boat. Unfortunately, only a few are helpful, and the number is so thin that it doesn’t take long to see all the items offered.
Another feature that lacks variety is the actual ruins themselves. Although the graphical style is quite striking, with dark shadows illuminated by crisp cyans, neon magentas, and glowing greens, each level of the ruins doesn’t change that much, and there’s little variety in each randomly selected room. If each level were to have its own gimmick or special traps, then that might make the experience of exploring more enjoyable.
Instead, runs just sort of blend together, and they begin to feel very homogenous. Despite some color changes and the enemy types, there’s little to distinguish where you are. The music is also lacking in diversity; the synthy, moody beats are pleasant to listen to and enhance the gloomy vibe of the ruins, but after several runs, it starts to wear a bit thin and adds to that feeling of homogeneity.
And while there is an excellent selection of well-designed and challenging enemy encounters, the bosses themselves are a bit of a letdown. Aside from the final boss, none pose much of a threat. Instead, you’re more likely to die in one of the more challenging rooms will occasionally throw at you with the promise of more loot. To briefly touch on those rooms in particular, they might offer a bit of risk-reward, but to me, it never felt worthwhile to take the bait. I could quite comfortably ignore them and move forward with what I had built up by that point.
I do think Lone Ruin offers a decent challenge. The later floors throw a lot at you, and it can push you to stay focused. Even easy mode can have you sweating if you’re careless. If it weren’t for this challenge, this would would also be a very, very short game.
Again, the longevity comes from that gameplay loop that makes roguelikes addictive. But once you’ve slain the final boss, I don’t think there’s much worth in a return visit to the ruins unless you’re into chasing high scores. While many other roguelikes will keep you dungeon crawling for hundreds of hours, this one struggles to reach a tenth of that.
And when it comes to the question of price, it becomes even more difficult to recommend. For how short and lacking in innovation or variety it is, it’s a bit shocking that it’s priced about the same as some of the best roguelikes and dungeon crawlers from the past two years.
There’s some fun to be found within its short runtime, but the disparity between that length and its price means it’d probably only be worth it if it’s discounted. There is extra fun to be had in survival mode, which pits you against wave upon wave of foes. But even this mode feels a bit bare-bones for the asking price and offers up the same gameplay in an endless, wave-based format.
If you’re new to roguelikes, Lone Ruin’s brevity and simplicity might make it worth a look; if the price is right for you, that is. Unfortunately, its issues with variety and a lackluster arsenal of spells, items, and upgrades hamper the experience. Nevertheless, it tried its best to strike that balance of elements, and I think it’s a commendable effort from a small dev team. To me, though, this doesn’t excel or evolve the roguelike formula in any unique or engaging way and, overall, comes across as a bit hollow and unremarkable.
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