The problem with trying to emulate old-school adventure games, is that it's hard to get it right. Nostalgia is a son-of-a-gun, and more times than not, you get a game that's decent but doesn't live up to games of the past. Rack N Ruin attempts to tug on your nostalgic heartstrings, but how well does it accomplish its goal?
Rack N Ruin is a top-down, action-adventure game blended with a classic shmup developed by LifeSpark Entertainment. There’s dungeons, bosses, secrets to find, lots of strange items, and plenty of enemies to give you a hard time. The difference from old-school games is that you aren’t the good guy in this scenario. You are Rack, an evil demon that gets punished by the demon overlord for destroying planets instead conquering them. His punishment sends him to a pristine planet that he has to enslave, but demons have been sent there before and have died. It’s a fun, little story with an evil main character that’s colorful and entertaining.
The games consists of you exploring areas and dungeons, which are all connected. The environments are colorful, and exploring is simple, but it’s very easy to get lost due to areas looking very alike. It was actually annoying navigating the map and trying to get back to where I was. That said, you will explore many different environments, and they’re very easy on the eyes. Another big problem I had was the checkpoint system. When you die, you could be sent quite far away, and since navigating is a problem, the whole system is a big annoyance.
To conquer the areas, enemies and puzzles you come across, you’ll rely on your movement and spells. Spells are how you progress in the game and get stronger. You start weak with only one spell, and progress through the game to gain new spells, which lets you progress in the game even further. Spells not only help you kill enemies, but they help you solve puzzles. In order to get a barrier down, you might need to zap a certain stone with electricity, for instance. Or a puzzle might require you moving blocks to pressure plates.
Unfortunately, you never really feel like a powerful demon in Rack N Ruin, and that’s due to the powers not feeling particularly powerful. You always feel slow unless you’re using an item for a speed boost, and enemies constantly get more powerful. But the real problem is the combat itself. Don’t bother fighting without using the lock-on button, which makes targeting and killing enemies a lot easier than just running and aiming in that direction. Even though there are some problems with lock-on at times, it’s pretty much a necessity. Another problem is that fights usually require you just circling enemies or backpedaling while shooting — it’s not particularly a matter of skill. And there’s often so many projectiles and enemies that you get swarmed easily and die; it feels kind of cheap. Items can help — like bombs, speed bursts and turrets — but I still don’t feel skillful when using those.
But as unbalanced as normal combat can feel, the opposite is true of boss fights. The boss fights are spectacular. It requires you learn the boss’ moves and attacks, and figure out what items are smart to use, what attacks would be best, and how to move around the battle area. And the whole time there’s hard rock blaring in your ears.
Rack N Ruin is fun during the boss fights and puzzles when everything is running on all cylinders. The humor in the writing, the main character, the boss fights, the nostalgia — they’re all positives. But the combat, exploration and map design are all lacking, mostly due to horrible checkpoints. It ends up being a game that will be fun for those looking for an old-school Zelda-like hybrid game, but the experience isn’t as great as you’d hope it would be.