Rack ‘N Ruin appears to be a simple top-down Zelda clone at the outset but soon starts to show its own charms. German based publisher, Secret Item Games, could have taken the easy route and copied the Zelda template. But although this title borrows a lot from Nintendo’s classic, Rack ‘N Ruin comes into its own with elements from other genres. The usual hack and slash has been benched for a control system that feels more twin stick or shoot’em-up.
The story is basic and takes a firm back seat to the main action. You are Rack, the underling of an almighty evil lord, who is charged with conquering the universe. You’re sent to an asteroid belt to enslave the creatures within the worlds. This is accomplished by sucking up the souls of vanquished foes in true Soul Reaver or Shadowman style. You are a demon yourself with magic abilities that get stronger as you progress.
From the outset this action RPG will be familiar to anyone who has tackled top-down games in the last 30 years. Paths must be cleared, enemies destroyed and puzzles solved. Where Rack ‘N Ruin differs is with its control mechanics. Instead of hitting an action button to use your attacks you first lock onto your enemy using the L-trigger. You then attack with your chosen weapon and you constantly face your opponent.
This mechanic has more in common with 3D games or shooters but it works well and sets this apparent clone apart. It does make combat easy though and we recommend experienced players move straight to the hard mode as normal mode is far too easy when it comes to combat. You will notice that you can use different tactics at different times, stay close or shoot from range. The controls really allow you to play how you wish.
The early parts of the game are straight forward kill and move but puzzles start to creep up on you. As you progress you need to use the items you pick up in clever ways. One stand out moment is using an electric attack to create a current to open electric doors. It is quite taxing and on par, if not trickier, than early Zelda games. You can see the developer has tried to mix up the puzzles for each area, some being block moving and others mazes as examples.
The different areas are distinct and helpful signposts navigate you to the next dungeon. The over-world has plenty of secrets and enemies to fight so getting from one dungeon to the next is fun. The range of weapons allows you to destroy them in different ways and they also act as keys that unlock switches. Although we did get lost a few times a little trial and error got us back on the correct route.
The souls you collect from fallen enemies are used as the games currency in shops as well a way to unlock new moves. Spread around the over-world are soul catchers that require a certain amount to unlock. Once you throw enough souls in the area is conquered and a new ability unlocked. It is a clever idea and helps you feel as though progression is being made. The shops seem a little pointless however, as you pick up more than enough items from enemies you have slain.
Many items grant a temporary ability such as swirling eyes that auto-attack nearby enemies and potions that replenish health. Bombs can be used to blow up enemies or in puzzles and mechanical parts have different effects depending where you use them. There is a lot of variety in what you do and how you interact with the world. But some of the items appear to serve no purpose or simply added to fill inventory gaps.
As you start to get further into the game its repetitive nature starts to show. Although there is a decent variety of enemies they are all killed in much the same way, with only a few involving any real strategy. This is a shame because the gameplay holds up well and you can feel this is a solid title. All the enemies tend to move the same way or take the same amount of hits. Most of the time you just need to stand far away and shoot your magic. And with the lock-on the challenge is non-existent.
Even the bosses are fairly easy for this kind of game. You want a real challenge, to die a few times. It all feels as though you’re simply going through the motions. Things do improve by selecting hard difficulty at the beginning but the reality is this game will not take experienced players long to finish. There is also little replay value unless you wish to uncover every secret.
Visually Rack ‘N Ruin is solid enough, bright and colourful with decent animation. The enemies look different, even if they act the same. Each environment has its own features and look that keeps the journey fresh. The music was one of the better aspects of the game. It does not sound like a budget title although some extra sound effects would have helped it stand out.
Fans of action RPGs will find enough here to warrant a play through. The controls make it quite novel but the story is weak and gameplay shallow. The puzzles can be good but will become repetitive after a while. Overall a solid title with much to admire but not enough to make it a must buy. If a sequel is released there is plenty for the developer to build on. A charming world with a likeable character is always a good start.
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