Each week in the Weekly Cheapery, TroytlePower shares a $20 or less game from the Nintendo Switch eShop! This week it's the brand new rogue-like tactics game, Ruin Raiders!
The last tactics game I tried on the Switch didn't quite click for me, so I was a bit hesitant when I first fired up Ruin Raiders. The hook of a “tactical roguelike” is still enough to pique my interest, but it was the power-suited anthropomorphic animal characters that really pulled me in.
Having spent a bit of time playing the game, I'm walking away with mixed feelings. There are a few aspects of both the combat and meta gameplay loop that aren't clicking with me, but it's still a pretty solid way to scratch your cartoony tactics itch until the next Mario + Rabbids game releases!
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of mechanics, I want to talk a bit about the presentation in Ruin Raiders. In short: it’s great.
The story, at least from what I’ve seen so far, is super minimalistic. Basically, there are some weird ruins that everyone who explores disappears inside of. A base has been built up around it to support exploration. Each run of the game sees you commanding three explorers as they delve as deep as they can, gathering new gear, scraps of story, and resources.
Oh, and also all of your troops are bipedal, anthropomorphic animals wearing some sort of sci-fi armor with arm blasters.
So far, I haven’t come across any explanation for why the characters are what they are, but I’m also not really concerned with it. It’s just an interesting enough wrinkle to make the fairly generic, spelunking, roguelike premise eye-catching.
The main crux of Ruin Raiders is a delve into the mysterious temple. Each floor is compromised of several square rooms, and you wander through them until you come across something of interest. There are treasure chests, shops, places to craft consumable items, and, of course, battles.
Stepping into a room with a battle immediately shifts you from a free-roaming setup to a grid-based control scheme. Each of your characters can take two actions in a turn, then the enemies all go.
Each of your characters has a special ability, one or two guns, and items they can throw. You’ll always be vying for cover, which influences the percentage chance of attacks hitting. Weirdly, the percentage doesn’t go up to 100% even when you are aiming your weapon at an enemy a single square away with no cover.
Missing that shot really, really blows.
If I don’t sound super enthused, it’s because the combat is kind of rote. It doesn’t feel like Ruin Raiders is pushing the envelope on what a character tactics game’s combat feels like, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s trying to. It's just a pretty solid example of what this genre is.
The Bigger Picture
As you fight your way through the ruins, you’ll inevitably lose a character in a combat encounter. As long as you ultimately win that battle, though, any knocked-out characters rejoin you with 1HP for the next go around. You can find a few ways to heal as you progress, so I actually made it into the second environment of the ruins on my first run, which felt pretty forgiving for a roguelike.
When your whole team does fall, you end up back at the base camp outside the ruins and can spend your hard-earned gems to upgrade a few buildings here. These can let you recruit new animal species, retain more cash, or unlock more potential for the characters on future runs.
You see, as you explore your characters can level up, unlocking new abilities, and can equip new guns they find. However, at the start, they can only advance to level two and you can only equip basic guns. You have to upgrade your base camp in order to open up those higher-tier options in the future.
The problem is that your unlocks don’t change anything at the start of your run. You always start with three level-one characters with basic weapons and have to work your way through a lot of darn easy fights before things get interesting.
I like Ruin Raiders, but I can’t figure out how much I like it. It looks great, the controls work super well on the Switch, and when you get into a tense combat encounter it feels really good. On the other hand, when you start a new run and wander through a bunch of mostly empty ruins with mostly routine encounters with mostly uninteresting weapons before things ramp back up… it feels frustrating.
As much as I love the idea of the infinite replayability of a roguelike merging with tactics gameplay, it feels like maybe those two tastes are more like chocolate and mashed potatoes than chocolate and peanut butter. (Editor's Note: As someone who loves chocolate gravy, the idea of chocolate mashed potatoes doesn't sound that bad. I'd give it a shot. Much like Ruin Raiders, hah!)
Still, I’m having fun playing Ruin Raiders, and will probably keep picking away at it until Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope monopolizes all my tactics time in 2022.