Loot River Review – Pieces Sailing Into Place – Game Informer

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Billed as a union between SoulsLike and Tetris, Booty River delivers this interesting combination with genre. Every moment swings between clever puzzle solving and smooth action. Players must expect to die continuously in the dark atmospheric levels of the Loot River, with each death setting you back to square one. However, the thrilling gameplay and rippling pixel art make it hard to resist another run.

I start on a raft; A pitiful mattress and discarded junk scattered all around me. I know I’m in Sunken Village, a pitiful looking place with rotting wooden decks floating above the muddy waters, but not much else. The tone and cryptic story scream Dark Souls, especially when I get a note: “This ain’t no empire; it’s a tomb.”

To move from place to place, no matter what the level, requires me to move my character around multi-shaped platforms with the right joystick while controlling it from the left. Navigating through arenas surrounded by narrow corridors and platforms required me to constantly swap shapes from one shape to another to find my way. I was worried it might get cumbersome, but after a few moments of adjusting to the controls, it feels comfortable and provides a sense of accomplishment outside of combat. The pixelated waves flowing after I wake up also give the world a wonderfully dynamic feel.

Procedurally generated, block-sliding labyrinths are never the same twice, and the designers also do a great job making sure each level offers a unique challenge. The problem-solving of the incendiary level platform or mesh traversal in my raft adds deep, and sometimes necessary, layers to the design. I often get caught off-guard by enemies with unexpected abilities, like insidious monsters who lock a stage until killed.

The unusual movement mechanic lends itself well to combat. I would often charge an attack, draw next to the enemy’s raft, and deal a crushing blow before using untouched or magic spell to become temporarily invisible. Also, parrying is my strategy. Getting the timing right opens up my opponents to a devastating counterattack that makes me momentarily impenetrable. It’s unbelievable how powerful landing the perfect attack feels.

Loot River’s heart-wrenching combat and traversal-by-puzzle design is built on a roguelike foundation. I fight my way through creative and specific areas until an opponent is eventually better than me. Then the process starts all over on the first level, with most of my hard-won upgrades lost. Progress doesn’t work like a souls game, and eliminating that expectation early helped me enjoy the experience better.

It is tempting to equate knowledge, the in-game currency sometimes discarded by defeated opponents, from the inspiration of the game to the spirits. But while I could spend resources to permanently unlock better gear from specific vendors, I couldn’t use it to upgrade my stats. Leveling is entirely dependent on the number of enemies defeated in a run, and usually reverts to the starting levels upon each stat death. Also, just because I unlocked a new weapon or armor option with my knowledge doesn’t mean I always had access to it. There are a few ways this affects the type of gear I’ll have at the start of a run, but getting hard-hitting weapons or stat-boosting accessories is mostly what I can find in dropping loot monsters or chests. It can be a brutal and frustrating cycle, but it’s also satisfying to find a game-changing item quickly or to have my stats perfectly tailored for the needs of that run. Despite the constraints of this system, I always got back on the field.

However, it’s not all doom and strife. Successfully passing a level or succumbing to an inevitable death brought me back to a calm center called the Sanctuary. The bright environment boasts chirping birds, a healing monument, helpful NPCs, and petable chickens (which I saw between every mission for good luck). My quest, the immortal state, and the ability to move the world beneath my feet are all linked to the relic at the center of this peaceful realm. Despite being a bit vague, the story is thought provoking. The characters bound by this miraculous and ominous item ask me to consider the cost of its power, even though I happily take advantage of it to continue the looping gameplay.

It took me a little over six hours to get my first win screen, but that wasn’t the end of the game. Unraveling everything, uncovering mysteries and tying the lore together are all part of an almost inexhaustible experience. Hunting down a first level enemy after almost reaching the final boss in the last run can be extremely irritating, but the game is hard to put down. Loot River redefines the best elements of some of its inspirations, giving players the chance to skilfully sail through each environment, once powerful enough to eliminate impossible threats, and uncover a story which smartly weaves it into its gameplay.

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