Loot River’s ‘Dark Souls meets Tetris‘ is one of the best pitches I’ve heard in gaming that also backs it up with some innovative yet challenging gameplay. A game on my most wanted, was it worth the wait? Short answer: yes.
We will borrow quite a bit from Dark Souls for this review. Loot River gameplay is very well-balanced with hit and run/evasive combat and problem-solving, but the former is definitely running the show. First up comparison: the ambiguity.
It wasn’t obvious what was happening in terms of storytelling and lore. That’s not bad as it works, and discovery in this procedurally-generated Venice-like maze is a highlight – notably the way you navigate the maps on Tetris-like tiles with your magical Relic.
From the outset, there’s a hub where everybody knows your name (they just don’t speak it), full of NPCs and with the option of adding more. While they don’t talk in riddles, less is more, so the only actual use you’ll get out of them is whether they sell anything or not and what they can do for you.
Initially, that will be nothing. There are two currencies in Loot River, where, unlike the Souls series, you can’t go back to reclaim any ‘drops’. When you’re dead, your wins go with it – weapons, apparel and dosh. The first one is actual money, and that’s awarded from smashing pots and raiding chests. The other, Knowledge, comes from completing challenges and locating items in harder to reach places. With the latter currency, you’ll be able to invest in a skill tree of moves, pending you have enough in the first place and can make it back to the hub.
Money allows you to buy from the merchants also located around the levels, but you’ll be best off to leave everything to chance as no run is the same, and the drops are pretty good. Levelling up occurs per run, and while you can invest in your stats, they disappear on your next run. The only thing you keep is your base health potions and any charms you unlock that are essentially modifiers. They’re actually very good and game-changing, but of course, optional.
Best tips for Loot River when you’re starting? Give your health potions to Soap at the start of the first area. Pending you survive it and do a speedrun in under two minutes (I can do it, so relax), you’ll get double your potions and some Knowledge to get you started. Potions are essential, depending on your ability, but the most reliable source has to be those charms, as they’ll be there for each run.
Combat is similar to the Souls mould in that you can opt for strength, dex and magic ‘builds’, yield two weapons, and use a very effective roll which works wonders when you have the backstab charm. But a standout has to be how the puzzle element works with combat in that you can do a hit and run approach – moving a tile next to an enemy, hitting them and dashing back. I think it’s what one may call cheesing it. Still, that’s by design and certainly not a glitch. It’s strategic.
Loot River is very much an exploration game in that there’s no handholding. Will I get to keep my gear? Should I donate all my money to Finnegan in the hope it does something early on? Why can’t I get the Tetris song out of my head? As a narrative-driven chump, I would have liked a bit more of a story and some guidance. Seriously, I’m going to lose my stuff every time? That said, the game, despite those limitations, is just so moreish.
As mentioned earlier, one of the challenges involves speedrunning an area in a couple of minutes. In some ways, straka.studio gives you the option to explore and tackle every enemy for high risks and big rewards, or if you want to storm through, it’s possible to avoid a lot of the enemies (not so much the traps) without getting a scratch. Again, this is by design and doesn’t insinuate that it’s easy in any form.
The stats aspect changes up the game once you’re able to invest, but having that threat of losing everything on the next run may put you off. I’d advise against this and, instead, check it out. Both Dark Souls and Tetris are some of my favourite games of all time, and while I’m not suggesting Loot River goes to the same country club and farts in the same jacuzzi, it certainly can hold its own, and it’s a game I highly recommend. Especially if you have Game Pass. That’s a no brainer. It’s also Steam Deck ‘enabled’. I’m just waiting for mine to ship later in the year…