I’m not the greatest fan of games where you have to rummage through cards to make the best hand you can so I was quite surprised to find myself enjoying Loot Rascals a great deal.
It helps, in no small part, that I adore its ability to front itself as a videogame through the eyes of a child. It may well have (and does, to be fair) a very keen eye for elegant mechanical design that comes with a certain expertise and grown up knowledge, this much is true, but it’s shot through with the kind of joy and wonder that we normally steal away as for children only.
It seems very much a game that’s borne of a sort of Very British Adventure Time. If someone were to tap me on the shoulder and point out it was built from one of the (largely quite wonderful) stories in the Adventure Time comics, I would not be surprised. There’s that same glee and acceptance of childlike things as stuff that maybe, as an adult, you don’t need to put behind you. That it is absolutely still OK to laugh about something being called ‘Big Barry’ because, y’know, it is. It so very much is.
I can’t and don’t care to make any mechanical comparisons to other card games, deck builders or whatever. I’ve bounced off plenty with them often feeling arduous or steeped in layers of obscurity and nerd-dom that I don’t care to scratch at. I only really care that Loot Rascals is the sort of game I end up playing because I spent time thinking about it. Not thinking about the cards or the strategy or whatever, I think about playing it because it’s a joy to play.
It looks good. It makes me smile. I enjoy my time with it. It has robots and I’m very big on robots right now. That’s all I need.
Partially, I enjoy my time with it precisely because Loot Rascals is a game built around making your time with it as pleasant as possible. I would, in some ways, describe it as the perfect Popcap game – you know, before Popcap became whatever they are these days under EA. It’s light, it’s breezy, it explains itself in a fun and accessible way. It’s a friendly game and full of things I find so sorely missing all too often. Sometimes I don’t want a slick techno UI and a thousand graphics settings, sometimes I just want a computer game to be nice to me. This is something that once upon a time, Popcap excelled at. It’s nice to see someone else run with games as a kindness to the player. It’s nice to feel like someone wants me to play, doubly so when so many works seek to exploit me either financially or at the expense of my time.
And of course, in true Popcap-as-was style, its gentle nature hides a mountain of smart, considered design decisions. It’s sort of the act of beautifying surface stuff like menus, button presses and so many other things in a certain way so that it ultimately obscures the sheer amount of craft that goes into building a thing like this. It exists, fully formed, as a videogame that hides its mechanical nature, where you only see the beauty and parts of a game the designers want you to see.
You might have guessed that I like it, anyway. I’m not for a single second suggesting that Loot Rascals is the only game that follows this sort of route either, it just excels at it, y’know?
I realise at this point that I’ve barely touched on what the game itself is. It is a game where you walk across a map that’s different each time fighting monsters by trying to build the best hand from the cards you’re dealt. Along the way, the player is able to grab cards deposited by defeated monsters, find special cards tucked away on the map often surrounded by monsters a tad more difficult to defeat. In the tradition of roguelikes, the player is also tasked with progressing to the next stage of the map so there is always a goal.
There is a day and night cycle where battling during day may prove easier than battling at night, your cards being split between attack and defence mean likewise, the player may become an easier target at certain times too. As far as I’ve played it feels gloriously balanced, it doesn’t take long before I found myself running into fight after fight, traps, dangers and well, some weird things that land after a certain amount of turns has passed. Whatever they are. I’ve seen them. They’re not nice.
And maybe that doesn’t make for a good sell to folks who are neck deep in card shuffling games, I’m not equipped to make any sort of comparison to others anyway. So perhaps it may be the case that Loot Rascals is a game for people who have shied away from wanting to build the best deck of cards to fight a monster when a laser sword and a punch would normally suffice. Maybe it is that.
I hope not though. I hope it gets to be something more than that because it’s quite a special little game that deserves to be played as much as the game wants you to enjoy spending your time with it. Which is to say, a lot.