Lone Ruin, developed by Cuddle Monster Games and published by Super Rare Originals, is an action roguelike twin-stick shooter where players control an explorer who must harness the power of magic and battle through enemies to make it to the center of the magical city ruins.
If you can swing the $15, the 2.5D neon-pixel fantasy art, DnB soundtrack, and challenging yet addictive gameplay loop make Lone Ruin a one-of-a-kind must-play indie game of 2023.
The game centers around spells — whether you’re playing in Normal or Survival mode, the objective is to build a powerful loadout of spells and blessings that you will use to dive as deep as possible into Lone Ruin. Normal mode is more or less the game’s story mode, where players start by picking one of eight spells (Chain Lightning and Rail are my favorites).
After picking your spell, it’s time to start the chaos. You can hold three spells and a dash move. You’ll always need to think about what type of build you want to go for in any run, and no two runs will ever be the same. At the start of the game and after each level, you can choose from one of two doors, each labeled with different powerups. Do you want more blessings? An additional skill? How about upgrades? The choices influence your final build, but don’t worry about picking the wrong spell because you can always sell it if you need the gold.
The initial number of hearts you get (your life pool) depends on the chosen difficulty. On Hard mode, you only start with three hearts. However, you can pick up the Beef Heart upgrade to increase your total life and survival Blessings like the Ankh to revive you on death. Normal mode has three bosses: The Gardener, Three Shades, and The Mana Drinker. Each brings a unique challenge and moveset that will probably catch you off guard the first time. Dying and starting all over again with nothing but the knowledge you gained in the previous run is part of the challenge.
Lone Ruin’s other mode is Survival, and it’s basically what you’d imagine. In Survival, players pick one of three randomly selected spells and make their way into the ruins. Your job is to kill enemies and collect gold coins to level up and unlock new upgrades. Unlike Normal mode, this is one ongoing level — the enemies progressively get more difficult for ten minutes. Score as many points as possible and see how your build stacks up against other players on the leaderboard.
Learn as you go
When you die in Lone Ruin, it’s game over. There are no persistent upgrades to make things easier, and improving your build will rely entirely on RNG. This game is challenging — you will die and probably get frustrated, especially when the third boss is one hit from death and you dash in the wrong direction only to meet your demise. But you learned some things along the way, so it’s back to the start menu to do it all over again, this time with a more efficient build and some tricks up your sleeve.
The game offers three difficulties, with your options being easy, medium, and hard. These are tuned pretty well, though the game could maybe use an extreme difficulty, as I could see it getting rather easy after a few dozen hours. Either way, it’s sufficiently challenging and a great deal of fun. Action roguelike games like Lone Ruin are all about experimenting with different builds and trying new things to find your favorite combos, so players that like customization and creativity will feel drawn to the game.
One of the highlights of Lone Ruin for me is the music. Anyone who enjoys drum and bass music will appreciate this game’s soundtrack. The music pairs perfectly with the game’s style and really sets the vibe and pace for the action. Normal mode features some great tracks that help you focus on the bullet hell in front of you. Of course, for people who aren’t into drum and bass music, there’s always the option to turn down the music and adjust the volume of the effects via audio menu sliders.
Room for more content
Normal mode is your traditional roguelike, where you climb through different stages and get more powerful by unlocking skills until you reach the end. I beat Normal mode on Hard difficulty in about 30 minutes, leaving me wanting more challenges. I was expecting more ruins to blast through after the third boss, but alas, three bosses are all we get on release.
At the current price point, I anticipate many players will feel somewhat frustrated by the amount of content. Perhaps the developers will add some more things down the line, and only time will tell. After playing through Normal mode, you’ll probably find yourself trying to optimize your builds to last as long as possible in Survival mode. In theory, this mode offers infinite replayability.
It’s also worth mentioning the leaderboards in this section. The leaderboards are a nice touch and something all games should include, so I appreciate the developers taking the time to integrate them. Leaderboards give players a way to compare themselves to the competition, and in games with highly customizable builds, it’s nice to know if you’re on the right track.
Overall, my only gripe with Lone Ruin is its price. At $15, I expect a little more content. However, Lone Ruin is a thoroughly enjoyable game for any fan of the action roguelike genre. It runs great on Steam and the Steam Deck, has a solid soundtrack and sound design, and the gameplay loop is fun and addicting.
Lone Ruin Review
Lone Ruin is a visually appealing roguelike with a great soundtrack, high replayability, and a challenging Survival mode that will keep you coming back for more until you top the leaderboard.
Lone Ruin was reviewed on PC. A review copy was not supplied for this review.
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