Lone Ruin Review – The Next Great Indie Roguelike Hit

Lone Ruin kicks off 2023 with a bang. Tight controls, fast-paced gameplay, and a thumping soundtrack combine to make an awesome roguelike arena action game.

Posted By | On 12th, Jan. 2023

Lone Ruin Review – The Next Great Indie Roguelike Hit

Lone Ruin is a twin-stick spellcasting arena roguelike from the developers at Cuddle Monster Games and published by Super Rare Originals. Cuddle Monster’s previous work consists of the frenetic action-platformer Hell is Other Demons, and much of the style and fast-paced action that game has come to be known for is also present in Lone Ruin.

However, it is also a completely different beast. Guns have been traded in for a myriad of spells, the limited 2D side-scrolling perspective has been replaced with a much wider isometric camera, and the simple, monochromatic 8-bit art of Hell is Other Demons has evolved into a fascinating mix of fully 3D environments and 16-bit-like pixel art character models. Now, it’s not without its faults, but Lone Ruin is an awesome experience that is a great way to kick-start 2023 gaming for roguelike fans.

Roguelikes don’t tend to rely on their settings and stories to keep players engaged, but the ones present in Lone Ruin definitely stand out. An ancient city built on powerful magic has descended into chaos and corruption for a thousand years, leaving it a husk being puppeteered by the evil that resides within. The very same magic that was used to build the civilization was changed and turned sour by some unknown force, leading to the downfall of an entire people.

lone ruin

"It’s not without its faults, but Lone Ruin is an awesome experience that is a great way to kick-start 2023 gaming for roguelike fans."

Now, a nameless mage explorer dares to venture into this Lone Ruin. They will fight the creatures and magical beings that rule it now, and travel to the center to hopefully find a way to erase the corruption once and for all.

As you might have guessed, the player will take control of this brave explorer, who serves as a blank slate for the whims of whatever playstyle you might choose. Lone Ruin is a roguelike game, so every encounter will consist of “runs” through the increasingly difficult levels of the ruin until you die and start at the beginning once more. Each death will inform you about what works and what doesn’t in terms of spells and strategies, and there are plenty of both to go around.

Each run begins with your default ZL maneuver, a potent dash move to get you out of harm’s way. Besides that, you will be able to select from eight core attack spells before you get into the thick of it. These spells are all flashy and visually impressive but vary wildly in their function. There is the high fire rate Shards spell, the slow but explosive Fireball, and the Scythe melee spell if you want to get up close and personal.

Which spells work best will differ from player to player, but you aren’t stuck with the base version of any spell for very long. Each spell can be upgraded many times, and not just by arbitrary levels. When you obtain an upgrade for a specific spell, you can choose to improve one of several aspects of that spell. The options for an upgrade might include the spell’s strength, its cooldown time, the addition of an element, or an increase to its area of effect.

This novel system allows the player to fully customize their experience with each spell, and it works fantastically in action. However, it’s not all smooth sailing. While some spells come with free upgrades from the selection room, you’ll often have to turn down other great opportunities if you really want upgrades.

lone ruin

"Deciding whether to turn down an awesome new spell in favor of an upgrade to your Old Faithful can be extremely tough sometimes, especially in later levels when the difficulty is ratcheted up considerably."

When you clear a room, you’ll be given a choice of two possible routes for your next room. Each one will have a displayed reward, which could be an upgrade to a spell you have, a new spell, or some other benefit, like a visit to the shop or a treasure room where you can win more gold. Deciding whether to turn down an awesome new spell in favor of an upgrade to your Old Faithful can be extremely tough sometimes, especially in later levels when the difficulty is ratcheted up considerably.

Some players will opt to try to fully upgrade their favorite spells, but the real fun in Lone Ruin is had by experimenting and trying out all of the game’s spells to find their synergies. A loadout that seemed powerful and efficient was an upgraded Fireball combined with the Blizzard and Grenade spells. That provided a good balance of attack power, range, and area denial, all of which are extremely helpful when dealing with Lone Ruin’s selection of monstrous enemies.

The game contains twenty-one “rooms” that are broken into three seven-room layers. Each successive room is more intense than the last, and introduces new enemies and enemy patterns that will put your spellcasting skills to the test. It’s not uncommon for Lone Ruin to throw in a completely new enemy type without warning that will completely wipe you out and ruin your run. Players not familiar with Roguelikes will call that unfair, but fans familiar with the territory will take it in stride. What does seem unfair, however, are deaths that occur as a result of the arena designs.

Because the game is in the isometric perspective, you get a pretty good view of the battlefield in most cases. However, the layout and features of each room arena are different, and some have archways or other features that block a seemingly insignificant portion of the area. But, when an enemy is able to pass behind that feature, remain unseen, and attack from that hidden position, it doesn’t give you many options in terms of avoiding taking that damage. It’s not a frequent occurrence, but having a great run brought to an end by an enemy you couldn’t see isn’t a great feeling.

"Boss fights feel epic, and dodging waves of projectiles while flinging your own spells back, bobbing your head to the awesome soundtrack that is present throughout the game is a highlight of Lone Ruin."

The seventh room in each layer before you descend to the next one will feature a boss encounter. These fights feel epic, and dodging waves of projectiles while flinging your own spells back, bobbing your head to the awesome soundtrack that is present throughout the game is a highlight of Lone Ruin. There are unfortunately just a few of these battles, so a future content expansion that features more bosses or even a boss rush mode would be very welcome.

If you’re a roguelike veteran who manages to conquer all of Lone Ruin in one sitting (which could take as little as an hour or so with the right spells and skill), there is also a challenging Survival Mode that can be accessed from the start screen. This timed, wave-based mode ditches the fancy arenas and dumps you into a huge open space filled with all of the enemy types from the main game. Survival Mode is great fun if you’re in tune with the mechanics of Lone Ruin, and it is a great way to get even more replayability out of a game designed to be infinitely replayable.

Overall, Lone Ruin has the makings of the next great indie roguelike hit. It feels just as polished and fun as something like Dead Cells, just with much less content. That is something that is easy enough to remedy over time, and it’s definitely worth seeing where Cuddle Monster Games takes this one.

This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.


THE GOOD

Detailed setting; Intense combat; Awesome selection of upgradeable spells; Great boss fights.

THE BAD

Level design is occasionally inconvenient; Slight lack of content.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
Lone Ruin is a hardcore, action-packed roguelike game to its core, and it absolutely shines on the Switch. If more content is added later on, this could be an early front-runner for the top indie game of 2023.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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