Lone Ruin waves the light, magic, and action from the arcade era of video games – without most of the frustrating parts – with a modern wand of variety and fairly forgiving design choices, which has conjured up the first must-play indie hit of 2023.
Though the game’s difficulty is undeniably high, Lone Ruin is an exciting and thrilling rush of color and light as your character’s magic powers splash across the screen. Lone Ruin features a story that’s even shorter and simpler than the likes of Donkey Kong, the original arcade version, but it’s also packed with that same chest-pounding, addictive, arcade action.
Lone Ruin takes place within magical ruins that hold great and ancient powers – for any spellcasters powerful enough to make it to the center of the city that once was. There’s evil wrapped up, down, and around nearly every level of the dilapidated city, giving life to dangerous foes. The game’s playable character, an unnamed wizard explorer, has arrived to cleanse the city of evil and wield the ancient power.
Nothing is ruined here
The ruins may be cursed with enemies but there’s power within those walls as well. The game’s starting area contains an assortment of magical powers, giving players the ability to choose how this run through the ruins will be tackled; there’s everything from fireballs to an enchanted, energy boomerang that dishes out continuous damage and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to see which strategy works best for you.
After grabbing your spell of choice, it’s nothing but paths of rooms with rewards listed on the outside, something that will be all too familiar for those that have played roguelite titles such as The Binding of Isaac and Slay the Spire.
Players can unlock new spells, upgrade powers already equipped, stock up on treasure, and more after clearing rooms of every fiendish foe, which is an absolute delight. Combat is fast-paced and frantic, with dodge rolls being a must if players hope to remain alive, much less have enough health to handle the later levels which include some nasty boss battles.
You can always try again – and differently
Players can stock up on powers and abilities, including a primary and secondary spell, but there’s more to it than just finding the right strategy. Lone Ruin’s roguelite wrapping gives death the highest price: back to the Main Menu without anything collected remaining – except for the lessons learned along the way.
Lone Ruin’s addictive gameplay loop is only briefly stalled by death. You can try other strategies quickly by simply grabbing a different weapon in the game’s first area, though it can be difficult building the exact loadout you desire, even after you figure out the perfect power combo, thanks to the random nature of the game. You can always pick the first power but everything that comes after is random. You get to choose between one of two rooms after clearing most rooms (boss rooms are mandatory) but your options are still limited by the random options available.
This could be frustrating but every ability and power has promise and Lone Ruin’s addictive gameplay is as exciting as it is difficult. It will take most players dozens of attempts to clear a successful run in Lone Ruin but each and every attempt will be as exciting as it is colorful, and it is very colorful.
It’s you when you lose – and you when you win
Lone Ruin features minimalist graphics that go a very long way, and not just in creating the atmosphere of an expanded game of Centipede. Lone Ruin is able to effortlessly communicate to players thanks to its smart and vibrant visuals, but also because it doesn’t let the game get in the way of well, itself.
The art style and neon colors makes it very easy to know exactly where it’s safe to stand, and that’s crucial. Combat is fast and frantic and will fill the screen, making it a mad dash for safe places to land without taking damage, especially in later levels, and particularly in the boss battles of Lone Ruin.
Spells, explosions, and damage from enemies will spray like fireworks all over the screen, but you’ll always know where to roll while you’re dodging and dishing out damage of your own. Executing on the necessary movements to stay alive however is another game entirely but developer Cuddle Monster Games designed everything in a way that prioritizes player communication. It’s definitely not easy, but it was my fault when I failed every single time in Lone Ruin, and that level of communication and trust is essential when designing a "just one more try" arcade title.
There were several times where I didn’t know if me or my Nintendo Switch joy-cons were going to make it through Lone Ruin. It’s a beautiful game but it’s hard, very hard and I beat the game on Easy. Shooting magic spells in this tight and twisted twin-stick shooter pushed me to my limits, with Lone Ruin taking me over two dozen hours to complete. And yet, I loved every single second of it.
An exercise in patience as much as magic
Popping off magic and dodging through an onslaught of enemies in the main game and wave-based survival mode were a thrill the entire time, despite the difficulty. I can’t say for sure if I would have finished the game or not if I wasn’t reviewing it because of the difficulty, but I know I would have spent a long time with it for the soundtrack alone. The game’s electronic, fast-paced and thumping soundtrack often pulled my heart rate to match most of the time. It’s just so good and adds an electrifying layer of atmosphere to an already spellbinding title.
Lone Ruin will test your patience, but let’s all be grateful the arcade action comes without the arcade cost. The “just one more try” gameplay benefits greatly from the snappy load screens and menus, even on the Nintendo Switch version, making it easier to recommend this brutally difficult and magical indie hit from Super Rare Games.
This review is based on a digital copy for Nintendo Switch supplied by the publisher. Lone Ruin is available as of January 12, 2023, on Nintendo Switch and Steam.
- Electrifying, spellbinding soundtrack
- Addictive twin-stick shooting arcade action
- Filled with variety and replay value (only partially from difficulty)
- Colorful, striking visuals
- Incredibly difficult
- Needs an easier difficulty option
Juno Stump posted a new article, Lone Ruin review: A descent into colorful combat
Fantastic review, looking forward to checking this one out!