Loot River, the pixely roguelike with a bit of Souls and a bit of Tetris, is all about making multiple attempts to navigate weird dungeons made of moving platforms, before dying and starting again. It's one of those games that's perfect for Game Pass, at least in its current form, but that's going to be changing in a small bit, according to a post devs Straka Studio made yesterday. Straka note they are a small team who playtested with a very small group, and didn't realise the game would be unwelcoming to newcomers. In fact, they've already made some smaller tweaks to the game that have made quite a difference, but the most notable problem players raised was the lack of any, umm, loot?
When Loot River was first revealed last year, we all went "oooh that's such a cool idea!" at the announcement trailer. And it is! I've been playing it since it came out last week, and you swish around flooded dungeons on tetronimo-shaped pontoons that you control independently of your little warrior. This means that you can kite enemies away from the chest you want to open, or lure them into little traps where you leave them stuck on an island. There are traps that start fires, and can set half a level ablaze if you don't cut off its route by moving a float.
This is all great stuff, because it makes you feel very clever and somehow more adventurous than the average warrior in your normal kind of roguelike. That guy just walks along straight paths and up regular stairs like some kind of dungeon-traversal loser, so easily cucked by architecture.
There are a lot of things to like about Loot River. You come up against a number of enemies - annoying shadows, bipedal lumps of bubblegum that throw explosives, big chonks with hammers and even bigger chonks with giant scissors - and will, eventually, die. You can push this eventuality to its limit, mostly by getting better at the combat. Straka have already tweaked the dash and parry to improve this experience (and the parry in particular, if you pick up the right buffs, is very forgiving and almost overpowered). You will still die, though, at which point any levelling you've done, gear you've collected or currency you've accrued is all wiped, and you start again.
This is all pretty standard roguelike stuff. The proc-gen nature of the dungeons in Loot River complicates it, because you can't farm for XP in, for example, the flooded village, the first level. You can only run each area once before you die, and then it resets and you don't know where the pockets of enemies are any more. But you can see how Loot River is supposed to work. In theory, you would pick up interesting loot drops and thus make some successful runs, sometimes very successful ones, that let you hammer in pitons a little higher up the cliff that is this game. This would then make the next run that bit easier and mark some overall progress. You can, for example, buy better weapons that you'll keep permanently, using a kind of currency akin to Souls or Blood Echoes.
The issue is that you don't get many loot drops, and the ones you do aren't great. I never got any armour drops that weren't duplicates of what I was already wearing, and the other drops (rings and passive buff abilities) were often duplicates, too. It is, in fact, usually not worth risking your health bar to fight through to a loot chest. Most of the time, I was always picking up an item called Royal Blood, which makes you bleed money and is, at least early on, fucking useless to me. I had one run where I got a good combination of fun, weird things - including a ring that made every third successful hit into a knockback, and another that restored health with every parry. That worked super well, and I had a cool run that time... but I also didn't get enough blue knowledge orbs to trade in for a better weapon (the cheapest new one was 20) and I couldn't figure out how to bank them between runs.
You can see the edges of interesting stories in Loot River, and the ways in which it can be very fun, but right now it's too difficult to get a foothold and start grabbing on to any of it. But as Straka have identified, it's quite possible they can sort this out by just throwing a whole load of cool junk in there. I'd happily give it another crack once they have. Loot River is a game you really want to enjoy.