Gamers tend to ignore games that require patience before they start to shine. The same could be said about modern classics such as Demon's Souls which took a great deal of time before it become popular. As far as I can tell, this tendency is due to the inability to give unfamiliar experiences a chance. Such is the case with Rack N Ruin. On the surface, it appears as if it's yet another throwaway indie title, but at its core, it's one of the most rewarding and challenging old-school adventures that I have ever had the privilege to go on.
Rack N Ruin follows a small demon named Rack as he attempts to demolish planet after planet. Preferring to take his own course and not follow in the big guy Ruin's footsteps, Rack invites all sorts of chaos to unfold wherever he travels. Throughout the journey, you'll have hilarious conversations with many ridiculous characters while Rack's ceaseless craving for destruction persists as a driving force for the humour. You're sure to at least crack a smile if you don't laugh out loud, but either way there's no denying how ludicrous much of the plot is.
Graphically speaking, you're treated to beautifully rendered environments and plenty of wacky character illustrations. You'll find yourself in locales such as forests, swamps, ice caves, castles, and deserts. Each one does a terrific job of establishing a unique atmosphere complete with fitting music. As you progress, Rack can demolish areas one by one and once he does, that area becomes a smoldering and demonic wasteland. To think that the artists not only drew wondrous magical environments but also painstakingly drew them again in their ruined form shows how talented these folks are. Although the visuals are impressive, at times foregrounds get in the way of the action. It may also be difficult to distinguish certain features such as which ledges you can jump down from. These problems don't arise regularly but it should be mentioned since when they do occur, it can be annoying. That being said, watching flashy projectiles as they burn images into your retinas and hearing the explosions and firepower in the heat of combat intensify each confrontation perfectly. For a 2D 32-bit era experience, it looks and sounds fantastic as if it's a long-lost PSone gem.
As you traverse the significantly large game world, you'll find memorizing the controls to be an easy endeavor since they're tuned to perfection. Rack is equipped with magic spells such as a fireball and a sword-like attack that he uses to harm enemies. You can lock-on to your opponents and start shooting all kinds of magic until they eventually reach their demise. Rack also carries an extensive inventory with him that includes healing and attack items, buffs, and permanent accessories that provide upgrades. You'll unlock additional spells that unleash a fury of chaos such as asteroids that rain down from the sky, a tornado of fire that circles around you, and even summon a burping demon to assist you (trust me, he's extremely helpful). The large arsenal of attacks combined with precise controls make combat a series of exciting encounters that never become dull. This is especially true in the massively epic boss battles.
One aspect of Rack N Ruin that'll blow retro gamers' minds is the integration of shoot 'em up mechanics. As you battle your foes, they'll generate storms of countless projectiles in wide arrays of colourful flashing blasts that only the most skilled gamers can weave through effectively. When you add this gameplay mechanic to the fact that most of the game is similar to an old-school overhead Zelda (complete with difficult yet satisfying puzzles), you'll quickly realise that only hardcore gamers should attempt this journey. Sure, new-school and casual gamers may complain that they don't know what to do next since this game refuses to hold your hand, but if you grew up playing Zelda then the open-ended game world will feel both familiar yet fresh with its ingenious gameplay twists amalgamating all kinds of challenging classic video game mechanics into one rewarding adventure. Trust me, if you can't find out where to go then you'll easily find something to do within a few minutes. In fact, you'll uncover many treasures and secrets for your exploratory efforts.
Rack N Ruin came out of nowhere and, although I was intrigued, I didn't expect much. Even a few hours in, I was still doubtful. But, after completing the game over ten hours later, I must say that I am thoroughly impressed. Be warned that taking on this journey with a lack of patience and/or skill will regularly make you feel like throwing your controller. However, if you're willing to put in the time to learn the combat intricacies and explore the game world then you're in for one of the most rewarding, challenging, and thoroughly enjoyable experiences that you've ever had the pleasure to partake in.
- + Incredibly rewarding albeit intense old-school challenge that doesn't fail to satisfy
- + Variety of perfectly implemented mechanics
- + Beautiful art and strong sense of humour
- - Sometimes the visuals are unclear and foregrounds get in the way
- - Only patient hardcore retro gamers need apply