Demonic underlings always seem to catch flak from their demon lord bosses, and they never really amount to anything no matter how hard they try to please their master. Prime examples of this evil doer hierarchy can be found in NISA's Disgaea series, and in the "Legend" movie which featured a younger Tom Cruise. In a similar fashion as those examples we find yet another demon underling named 'Rack' within the recent release of LifeSpark's "Rack N Ruin". A demon underling who just can't seem to do what he's told. He turns planets into asteroid fields on routine outings, and in doing so doesn't spread the universal darkness that the demon lord, 'Ruin' is aiming for. As a punishment for his disobedience Rack is sent to Galia in a supposed last chance opportunity to prove his worth, and is ordered to give the people of the planet a proper taste of the dark side lest he come to know true punishment by his otherworldly boss. Upon the arrival of his destination Rack finds a former slain demon underling named 'Nihil' who tries to warn him that he was setup to die. After hearing the disturbing news from the spirited demon Rack decides reluctantly to join his newly found ally if only for argument's sake. The unlikely team of Rack, and Nihil journey together through Galia wreaking havoc, and inflicting chaos upon the inhabitants of the planet as they join the ranks of other fallen demon underlings in order to turn the tide, and best their boss.
'Rack N Ruin', in generality is a hybrid game of sorts that incorporates the top-down RPG exploration of the classic "Legend of Zelda" games while adding some shmup (Binding of Isaac) mechanics, and some hardcore 'Dark Souls" features. As Rack, a rather arrogant minion, you will be heeding the advice of your new ally, Nihil, and will carry on about your business as initially planned. While you traverse the puzzle, enemy, and boss littered areas of Galia you'll be utilizing the tools that you find, and that you start off with. This includes a fireball spell, and a melee attack that can be used to regain magic meter. Of course as you defeat enemies find secret chests, and unlock new usable items in progressing more of Galia will become accessible to you. In a 'Legend of Zelda' sort of way.
Defeating the enemies before you will definitely require some strategy, and skill to overcome in 'Rack N Ruin' as they each have different attack, and defense patterns. Much like a shmup. Luckily in a Dark Souls manner you can access, switch between, and assign your weapons/items to the right shoulder buttons for easy access in-game. Also like Dark Souls you'll find that your progress is only saved at certain points, so making to those points before you die is a top priority. Should you die not in reach of such a save point though you will be teleported back to your last accessed Goddess shrine. In Galia there are multiple Goddess shrines that link areas of interest together. These portals also act as a gateway between the demon realm, and the actual Galia realm. Paying tribute to the shrines with the right amount of gathered souls will open up new regions on the map (Touch Pad). Making it from place to place can be a tedious task as various types of enemies often times respawn, and will block your path in both versions of the world. The bosses who you'll encounter after solving some unlock puzzles along the way,and within gated castle-like structures will also test your skills in a signature Dark Souls manner. While you have, and can obtain the items, and weapons to deal with any enemy before you the boss battles require as much patience, and attention to attack patterns as that of a boss battle in a Dark Souls game. These battles can take in excess of 10 minutes each due to the fact that your main weapon does little damage. Being equipped with bombs, and other spells can definitely shorten the fights though. You also have to manage your health, and magic meters wisely as they govern your spell usage in battle as well as how long you can survive, respectively.
As you'd expect from a game that obviously takes inspiration from games like "Legend of Zelda", 'Rack N Ruin' also does good to incorporate plenty of character interactions. These candid conversations come in the form of alternating dialogue bubbles that are accented by animated avatar images of each character involved in said conversations. You'll even find cliche villages to plunder (complete with breakable pots), and humans who are easy to influence with your naughty deeds. There's even a witch store owner who will buy, and sell goods for a price. That price is of course tied to the soul orbs that you collect from fallen foes. While the story elements of 'Rack N Ruin' do carry the game along, and make it make sense it is the gameplay that is the true gem in this particular misadventure. The boss battles in particular will definitely test any action RPG skills that you have amassed over the years, and upon defeating the bosses you'll most certainly feel as if you've accomplished something great. In a Demon/Dark Souls sense of the meaning.
One thing I really liked about this indie, aside from the gameplay was the art style. It's very unique, and looks almost like a living oil painting. The characters, enemies, and bosses come to life vibrantly onscreen through the applied visuals, and the voice overs/sounds. As Rack you definitely feel like a diabolical badass that's up to no good, and the things you do in your otherworldly adventure really feel as epic as Rack plays them out to be. The fact that there's bloody bits, and a heavy metal soundtrack involved really sends this game's hardcore vibe over the edge.
The Verdict ...
While 'Rack N Ruin' is a game geared after obvious influences it does good to feel like it's own unique adventure. Subtle hints towards the 'Legend of Zelda' games, and the Demon/Dark Souls games only serve to give this game a truly badass feel. I particularly loved the art style, and the heavy metal soundtrack that accented the core gameplay. Rack is definitely one of the coolest indie characters I've had the pleasure of playing as in the history of my journalism career. The only thing bad about playing as him though is having to suffer through the obnoxiously in-your-face dialogue that drives the story forward. I personally feel it could have been approached in a different/better way, but at least there isn't too much text to read. I also feel that the dialogue boxes could have used a 'skip' function for those instances when you accidentally opt to speak to an in-game character again. It can get rather annoying especially when there's more than one window of character dialogue involved in the conversation. Other than that minor set of complaints I actually enjoyed playing this game, and so much so that my first time spent with it was three hours. It's a game that's hard to put down once you get into the thick of it.
If you like the 'Legend of Zelda' games, and don't mind some hardcore 'Dark Souls' action I think this game would make the perfect addition to your PSN game library. Don't pass it up!
Rack and Ruin (MEANING) - "To decay, decline, or become destroyed."