The first thing that strikes you when you boot up Lone Ruin is the striking colour scheme chosen by the fantastically named Cuddle Monster Games, with shocking neon pink scattered throughout this twin-shooter rougelike. When you add in the 2D pixel gothic aesthetics, you know you’re in for a one-of-a-kind experience.
That’s not to say you won’t see mechanics that you’ve seen in previous rougelikes; you will. From dashes to shops, secondary weapons and buffs to upgrades, there’s a lot to compare. But we have a few different mechanics in place here to keep you invested.
I went slightly wrong with Lone Ruin. I walked in expecting a usual rougelike experience, and I wasn’t mentally ready for what I found. During the first few runs, I came away unsure of its longevity. The biggest reason is that, like in other games of this genre, your character gets stronger the more runs you complete. Here, this doesn’t happen; when your time has come, you start again with the same strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t feel any progression from where I kept dying, and I was left wondering how I was supposed to get further on in the game, and this didn’t sit comfortably with me. But what I started to realise the more I kept playing was that I was missing the point of the game.
Lone Ruin isn’t here for us to spend hours progressing through hundreds of rooms with branching paths to a multitude of different areas until the end. It’s certainly not here to give us a ton of options for permanently upgrading weapons, spells, or powers; this is no Hades. What Lone Ruin is here for is to give us an arcade style hour long rush, destroying monsters to get our grubby mitts on an ancient power with as many points earned as possible.
Yes, we have online leaderboards, an old-school gaming hook that still entices you to try to be the best you can, and when you combine that with the twin stick shooting to master, THIS is what’s at the heart of the game. Getting to grips with the dash controls and amassing points as you take down this horde of monstrosities.
Of course, this sounds much easier than it actually is, and the difficulty level is challenging. I kicked off my campaign of hurt on normal thinking this was a good place to start, but I was constantly losing and ended my run on the first of the three levels featured. I reduced it to easy, and by using my favourite spell (from the eight available), I found it more forgiving. I was grateful to see more hearts on my health bar, but it still wasn’t an easy ride to the end, which I did manage, so I felt confident to knock it back up to medium, only for me to be put in my place once more by the first boss. I would highly recommend starting on easy until you feel confident enough that you have mastered the twin stick/dash combo and are also comfortable that you know the patterns of the three bosses like the back of your hand before raising the difficulty. But once all this had clicked in my brain, I started having way more fun with Lone Ruin and now look forward to a quick run whenever I can fit one in.
Which should be pretty achievable with only three levels of five rooms to complete the game. But of course, this all depends on the spell choices and upgrades you find during your run. As with all rougelikes, using the right mix of spells, upgrades, and tools will make it much easier than other runs. Lone Ruin tackles these in a similar style to Hades, with each room having two exits per room. Above the exits, it will tell you what you will receive on completion of that room with a symbol and text. An upgrade to your spell or dash, a piggy bank so you can carry more cash for the shops you will encounter, or new secondary weapons or health—the choice is yours. Complete the five waves of monsters each room contains, and the prize is yours.
It would be amiss of me not to mention the eight spells you can choose from at the beginning of a run. All have different abilities, and each time, random spells receive buffs to try and get you to choose that one over others. Some really didn’t hit the mark for me, mostly short-range weapons like the rail or the scythe, but some fitted my style perfectly, like the fireball, shards, and especially the chain lightning. Destroying two or three monsters at one time was exceptionally fun, and with upgrades, it can become very powerful. It’s one of the spells that made the game slightly easier, while others certainly made it harder, which is a nice mechanic to include to mix and match to your own personal taste and difficulty.
While you're busy slaying monsters and enjoying the amazing soundtrack, the game is doing a fantastic job of running on the Nintendo Switch.
With all this going on, you have a soundtrack that shouldn’t work but absolutely does in this gothic world with a banging 90s style drum and bass/dance soundtrack pumping away in the background, spurring you on more and more with its bassy tunes. I commend Cuddle Monster Games for not taking the easy route with this and settling for an OST with music fitting for the environment the game is set in and just going for it, which benefits the atmosphere of the game massively. I was often caught nodding my head or tapping my feet to the tunes, and I have all my fingers crossed that the soundtrack becomes available to purchase or stream at some point.
While you’re busy slaying monsters and enjoying the amazing soundtrack, the game is doing a fantastic job of running on the Nintendo Switch. There was no experience of stuttering, frame rate drops, or crashing, with everything moving butter smooth on the screen. The majority of my playthrough was handheld, but for the time I did play docked, I can only emphasise what I have already said. It’s a refreshing change to have a game with no issues that need attention or patches to download on day one.
A big hearty well done to all involved with the development of Lone Ruin. A game that gives you a mini rougelike experience whenever you want one, perfect for the person who finds gaming time more difficult because of life, all wrapped up in a bundle of gorgeous art and sound. With its control mastery, tough combat, the added survival mode, and that urge to be on top of all the leaderboards, this will keep you busy for some time and is another exciting game from publisher Super Rare Originals.