Roguelikes have really taken off in the last five or so years, owing much to the success of games like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy, etc. Now it seems that every other game coming out on the indie scene is some form of roguelike. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the genre and still believe in its potential for producing interesting and exciting games, but developers need to start asking themselves do we really need another The Binding of Isaac or Nuclear Throne-inspired dungeon crawler? Clearly, Faux-Operative Games, the creators of Ruin of the Reckless, seem to think we do. So is its focus on melee combat and spell casting enough to differentiate it from all the other me-toos? Sadly, the answer is: not really.
Ruin of the Reckless throws you into an eponymous prison. Stargrove, your little pixel art punkette, awakes to find herself its newest inmate. It seems she’s dead and lived a reckless life, so now her soul is doomed to spend all eternity here. Handily, another spirit explains that escape is possible, but first she’ll need fight her way to the top of the tower where she’ll be granted a single wish. Well, that’s the plot out of the way.
From then on it’s a case of punching or stabbing your way through 19 procedurally-generated floors and two boss levels. Or, more specifically, you need to survive long enough on each floor to locate the key and take it to the elevator to ascend. Killing everyone is optional, though you do receive additional XP for doing so. However, with only 99 seconds before the level starts spewing out random fireballs, it won’t be your immediate priority, especially as you get further up the tower. Die and you have to start again from scratch.
Like other games of its ilk, helping you out is an array of randomly spawning loot. Vanquished foes drop spendable zenny and very occasionally other nice things. If you’re really lucky, you’ll stumble across a treasure chest. There’s also a trader dude who appears every two or three floors, though why forlorn spirits have need of money or even a barter system is very much a mystery to me.
As you’d expect, there’s different weapons to be found or purchased, each with slightly different ranges and attack patterns. However, you can also carry a consumable, a spell book, a trinket and a pair of boots.
Spell books act as a kind of secondary weapon and have a limited number of charges. They allow you to lob fireballs, lightning bolts, landmines and other magical skulduggery at baddies. Consumables include health potions, spell-book top-ups, temporary power-ups and abilities, and powerful but single-use spell variants. Trinkets confer a passive ability such as being harder to hit or providing free consumables or companions (little pets that defend you) at the start of each level. And upgrading your boots affects movement speed and the manner in which you dash.
A key concept in Ruin of the Reckless is the orbs, which act as a non-persistent form of progression that’s not entirely dissimilar to the Rads/Mutations system in Nuclear Throne. These come in two main flavours. Ability orbs are passive – some upgrade damage or max health or send out bolts of lightning when you get hit, others summon pets or provide a one-off boon such as replenishing your health or spawning a pile of random goodies. In contrast, power orbs are triggered by the player and can be used again and again, letting you detonate corpses, teleport or throw out mini-tornados that stun.
Orbs can be bought from the shop but you always find a number of these on every map, just floating around and minding their own business. Be careful though, they’re easily destroyed in the heat of battle. More importantly, you need to carefully consider which ones you choose to equip. You start off with just one orb slot, with more are gained as you rank up from dispatching enemies. However, they can’t be dropped or exchanged and you can only equip a single power orb. Unless, of course, you find a potion of unlearning.
So what’s the actual gameplay like? Well, the fights are chaotic, but not really in a thrilling or engaging way. Cutesy and insipid Nintendo-esque animals and monsters attack in huge swarms from multiple directions, most attempting to charge you down and corner you. Punching the little blighters and their projectiles into each other is kinda fun and there’s a sanctification to all the retro arcade clinks, bleeps and beeps, but the action largely boils down to circle strafing and back-peddling while spamming the attack button. It distinctly lacks nuance, variety and purpose. In terms of weapons, only the heavy bracer and spear are worth bothering with. And many of the spells and items feel a bit uninspired or useless. Also, with the right boots, it’s just a bit too easy to grab the key and leg it to the exit.
It’s not helped by the incredibly dull maps. Despite being procedurally generated, they all look and play out the same. Each floor is a single room, predominantly made up of empty interconnected open spaces with the occasional column or narrow passage. There’s next to no décor, aside from patches of grass or the odd destructible crate or barrel. Though later floors do spawn an increasing number of traps. Amusingly, they actually change the colour scheme for the last half of the tower – from green to yellow – as if this somehow switches things up.
In all fairness, it’s not a terrible game and it’s definitely fun for an hour or so. Also, I particularly liked the Chaos Cards, which are rare persistent mutators acquired through normal gameplay. You can activate up to nine in the lobby before you start. Some make it easier, some harder, others just different. Essentially, they allow you to customise the difficulty and experience to your own taste.
But overall, Ruin of the Reckless just brings very little new to an increasingly saturated genre. It’s just too familiar and desperately lacks the replayability and addictiveness of games like Enter The Gungeon and Nuclear Throne. And yes pedants, I know technically it should be roguelite or roguelike-like!