Rogue was a game that came out in the 1980s. In it, you explored a dungeon in order to reach its end while picking up items that would aid in your quest, and any demise prior to that success sent you back to the beginning with a new procedurally generated dungeon to explore and a brand new character. It’s hard to believe that for the last 43 years this game has not only persisted in presence, but went on to solidify a genre of video game in the roguelike and its younger sibling, the roguelite. Like right there, neither of those words get the little red underline if Google thinks I made a little typo in the draft— that’s how you know it’s legit.
When it comes to the longevity of specific titles, however, theirs is a much more volatile existence. You have hallmarks of the genre in Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, and most recently Hades; but then you also have every other game trying to take the features of each of these games and profit off it for mixed results. It’s not an outright judgment of quality mind you: there is simply a surplus of roguelikes in this day and age that finding one that necessarily pops, if it’s not already generating buzz, is rare. Lone Ruin, Cuddle Monster Games’s newest entry into the genre, is not necessarily a bang, but it’s a reminder of what can make the genre solid.
Immediately, Lone Ruin takes roguelike to the hardline example. You hit play, you choose one of several starter weapons to choose from, you take a route for your first power-up, you go until you die, then you hit play again from the title screen. There’s no innate story progression, no cast of characters to learn the lore of, and no permanent power ups to make the climb manageable. This isn’t a net negative to the game, but is something to consider if you’re looking for that kind of thing. I at most ended up getting to the 4th floor across my playthroughs, and the will to persevere is truly up to the player in order to see what lies ahead. I didn’t feel like I was cheated, but the chance to progress would definitely have to just strike me one day in order to try and get back into it.
In terms of gameplay itself, Lone Ruin is a twin stick shooter. My immediate point of comparison would be Enter the Gungeon in terms of how free the right stick maneuverability feels, but it could also be compared to other games like Hades and Nuclear Throne. The weapons don’t feel bogged down by the maneuverability and genuinely do feel fun to mess around with. Your weapons come in the form of spells that are gifted to you by a shadow figure outside the main dungeon entrance who you encounter first thing each run. Your options can vary from melee weapons like a scythe, heavy hitting rail blasts that you can charge and time a release for maximum range and impact, and a charged barrage of blasts that can act as a shield before being shot out. You can hold a maximum of four spells each mapped to a shoulder button on the Switch, all of them with their own variability in ammo and cooldown times. If your spell mapped to the R button is empty, switch to what you have on L, ZR, or ZL based on the loadout you’ve ended up creating. Having such a wide array of options as your first weapon also helps in at least establishing a personal flow; I instinctively like keeping a melee weapon or quick-firing long range weapon mapped to ZR so any weapons I get after will vary in terms of what I naturally opt for next. The game also offers a survival mode that feels much more aligned with the mechanics of the game. For 10 minutes you have to endure waves of enemies in an arena, your victory leading to experience you can trade in for heals, spells, and other collectables as you try and make it to the end. A perfect off-ramp from your recent Vampire Survivors fixation and definitely my favorite aspect of the game.
Aesthetically, the game is a slam dunk. Cuddle Monster Games seep this joint in neon blues and pinks with dark shadows in every corner. This game could exist in the background of a scene in a Blade Runner spin-off and not feel out of place. The music is also a fun electronic stew that gets you amped the deeper you get into your run. While the game itself is set in this pseudo-fantasy location, the cyberpunk-adjacent visuals and music end up creating a very distinct look for the game. It’s like someone took the artistic direction of the poster for Streets of Fire and used that palette in constructing this fantastical ruin you explore.
Ultimately, Lone Ruin isn’t a barn burner but it’s a reminder of what you can do when you work towards a foundational goal. The gameplay feels fun, the look is killer, and the loop is easy to pick up and put down. It’s not trying to be a great player of the roguelike genre, but honestly you don’t always need that. Like I said, the roguelikes and roguelites have come into such prominence lately that you can’t always guarantee a base hit, let alone a home run. If you’re looking at something to gift a kid for their Switch library, this aptly fits that bill and it’s at an accessible price point that, should the urge hit you, bring you a nice time. So often we find ourselves caught in the narrative loop of games having to be outright improvements per generation, and maybe I say this on the tail end of GOTY season, but Lone Ruin is a good reminder that when you have a solid concept, you just have to act on it. And if you end up short of your goal, start from scratch and crawl your way back up, just like our forefathers did back in the ZX-Spectrum caves of 1980.
"Nice and engaging to ease into the New Year"
Lone Ruin shows that the roguelike formula itself can't fail. With stunning visuals and a captivating soundtrack, this game serves as a great way to pass the time, even if it's not the end all be all of the genre.