Destroying planets is easy, it’s conquering them that’s the tricky part, and you’re about to learn this the hard way. In Rack n’ Ruin you take control of our little evil star ‘Rack’, and he’s been a little overzealous with recent planets. Instead of taking them over, he’s been blowing them into cosmic dust. Well it seems Rack’s master, aptly named ‘Ruin’, has grown tired of the failures and sends Rack to one last planet filled with peaceful people to enslave. If you haven’t guessed by now, Rack n’ Ruin does things a little bit differently than most games; you play the villain.
Rack n’ Ruin is a top-down RPG with the basic hack and slash combat mixed with a decent arsenal of spells and power ups. Your objective is to take innocent’s souls and corrupt any lands you come across. This is done by powering up shrines with the souls you’ve collected. Once you control the shrine, the land will change dramatically; from a lovely forest with green foliage and flowers, to a dark and dreary wasteland. As you roam the world looking for shrines you’ll come across various dungeons, which is to be expected with an RPG. They are packed with puzzles, enemies and loot for the taking. Some can be quite long, and unfortunately contain no checkpoints, so if you die mid-way, prepare to start from square one.
This leads me to one of the biggest problems with the title; unbalanced difficultly. Now being a fan of the ‘Souls’ games, I’m not opposed to many deaths in a video game, if they are a result of my own mistakes. The problem with Rack n’ Ruin is it almost always feels like my deaths were caused by the game and not me. You are often overrun with foes and they can vastly out-fight you. This mixed with the lack of a proper checkpoint system, this can lead to some extremely frustrating situations.
You are given a vast amount of items to help you out of tough spots, such as bombs, decoys and floating eyeball allies. Sadly I didn’t find any of these, except for the land mines, that helpful or even slightly effective. I found myself resorting to spamming the same fireball spell attack in nearly every battle, which needless to say got very dull, very fast. While you do obtain more weapons and spells as you progress throughout the story, the same ‘run around in circles and spam the attack button’ tactic still remains the most effective. This might be acceptable for the games of yesteryear, but for a modern game, there should be some level of strategy in the combat.
Other than the basic combat the game contains a heavy amount of puzzles and exploration. While the exploration is actually pretty fun and rewarding, the puzzles on the other hand are dull and uninspired. The exploration of dungeons would be another great feature if it wasn’t for the lack of checkpoints. Having spent over fifteen minutes exploring, fighting and collecting, only to be returned to the very beginning when killed, which in my opinion is almost always a cheap death, can make you want to drop the title all together.
Rack n’ Ruin’s visuals are definitely one of the game’s strong points. The game features a hand-drawn art style and it really adds loads of charm and character to the game. It’s creative, fresh, and a joy to explore. The character portraits are humorous and detailed. I must say the art design is the high point of Rack n’ Ruin.
Audio work is very solid as well. The music is catchy and well crafted. Each area’s theme is more infectious than the last. With perky guitars and strings for the ‘uncorrupted’ areas, and dark hums and heavy themes for the corrupted; the music is right on target. Voice acting is non-existent, except for a few chuckles here and there, as the story is told via text. While the writing can sometimes bring out a smirk or two, it begins to feel forced and may even verge on trying too hard to be funny.
In the end, Rack n’ Ruin is a lack-luster hack and slash RPG that feels hollow and uninspired. While the art style and sound design is fantastic, it just can’t make up for the poor combat and bland enemies. If you’re a fan of the old school dungeon crawlers, and can’t wait for a price drop, then give it a go. But if you’re looking for a modern take on the genre, look elsewhere.