When games feel punishing, there’s almost always a reason behind it. The archetypal example would be Dark Souls. Yeah, you’ll struggle against certain enemies, but you’ll learn, improve, upgrade, then go back and slaughter whatever obstacle was stopping you from progressing. Many other games have used this core idea to make experiences that reward perseverance and experimentation. I thought that’s what I was getting with Loot River, but unfortunately it never feels like you’re rewarded – not completely.
Loot River takes place in a dark fantasy setting where you’re drawn into a perpetual cycle of life and death, where people gradually go mad and lose everything that made them human. It’s a familiar tale that never really gives you any exposition. Like FromSoft titles, much of the story is found in notes scattered across the world and the occasional characters you might meet. Its pixel art style is lovely, and the procedurally generated level design offers plenty of different places to explore.
Loot River: Rolling down the…stream
What is really smart about Loot River is how they’ve used moving platforms for players to traverse across the world. By shifting the ground beneath you, a wealth of opportunities to avoid danger, progress through tight spots, or get to some treasure present themselves regularly. You can also use this to your advantage in a fight. Get close to an enemy, attack them, then move away. Sometimes, there’re monsters that can freeze platforms and the only way to get them going again is to kill them.
There’re tons of different creatures in the creepy world of Loot River. Each one has a specific attack pattern, with some preferring to attack from close range with their claws, swords, or warhammers, or from a distance with a range of spells and bombs. Ungodly abominations, deformed bats and spiders, and other critters will plague you as you travel through Loot River, and if you’re not prepared, death will surely find you. The parrying system works really well, though. Depending on certain gear as well, you can be rewarded for it which, believe me, helps a lot.
Take a deep breath
Loot River is ridiculously difficult. While there’re plenty of new weapons and spells to find, and fancy new gear that adds particular buffs, it’s all lost when you die. I never found my previous stuff because the levels changed due to the procedural nature. Having that carrot on a stick in the Souls games made new runs worth playing, however, not having it in Loot River added to the frustration. Some of your unlocks are randomly given back to you for a new run, but there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. You also lose money to spend at various merchants, and Knowledge, which is used to buy new weapons and spells. Nothing is ever fully explained either, making you feel even more alone than you would playing similar types of games.
Starting a new run and persevering became such a laborious affair. I became jaded, and fed up whenever I got deep into it and subsequently died. If you do stick with Loot River, there’re certain artefacts that make the runs easier, and some of the better items can be blended with unique gear to make you feel almost unstoppable at times. The main problem with that is, it’s all random. You might go through an entire area and only pick up a small amount of knowledge. Other times, you might gain loads, but it becomes a chore holding onto hope that more often than not is blind.
Loot River: This charming man
Charms can be found through killing enemies and opening chests, which give you buffs that do help a lot. One might take off a bit of damage with every swing of your weapon, but it could also fully refill your health. Others might add one or two to the main stats of the player, such as strength, dexterity, and intelligence. There is a lot to like about Loot River, but I never got that feeling of reward. There’s even an Easy Mode which helps with some of the combat elements, but as for the randomness of drops, well, that was a constant throughout.
Loot River offers a challenge for the most sadistic of players. While the combat elements are enjoyable and the moving platforms give it a new spin that really works, I felt cheated with the lack of progress I always felt I wasn’t making. It takes a long time before you start to feel the difference. Sometimes you might get lucky and find a badass sword that levels enemies in a couple of swings or a powerful charm that gives you an edge, however, you might get the opposite and die before you feel like you’ve even ventured out of the Sanctuary. I might be doing it an injustice because I lack patience in my old age, but games are for everyone, so there should be a reason for everyone to stick with even the hardest of games.
Moving platforms offer a fresh take on the genre
Plenty of gear and equipment
Really tough throughout
Randomness of drops feels harsh