Okay, so here we have one of those procedurally-generated games that has you fighting weird beasts, loot weapons and treasure and trying to get back to the hub (the Sanctuary) without dying so you can spend your Loot on upgrades for your weapons, spells and gear, or save it for later. You can't die as such, you just lose almost everything you looted-yep, it's a Roguelite game, and thankfully not a Roguelike (in which you lose everything if you die, just like in the old days of gaming.) The big hook in Loot River is the maze-like landscape which is built out of interlocking stone blocks that you can slide independently of your character's movement, in a very Tetris-like way. You need to slide these blocks to progress, and you'll sometimes have to traverse an area that feels like a puzzle in itself.
In Loot River's maps the Tetris-like blocks of scenery can be moved, swapped around and slotted together to access previously inaccessible areas and solve exploration puzzles. Get sneaky and you can also use the blocks in combat to manipulate enemies, isolate one from a group and thus make fights easier. Learning to charge up your heavy attack (hold the RT) and release it as your platform arrives at another are vital in defeating large groups of enemies, as are dodge (A button) and block (B).
Being a Roguelite game, should you "die" you lose most of what you found, and returning to the dungeon-like waterways of Loot River you'll discover that the entire map has changed, and so has the placement and type of enemies you encounter. No two runs are ever the same, this can obviously be both good and bad. Weapons and armour you've acquired in previous runs will appear as drops or in treasure chests, but you basically start from square one every time you use up all your lives.
Exploring the ruined waterways of Loot River, I discovered several new weapons and magical spells that greatly enhance your chances of survival and returning to the Sanctuary safely, loaded with loot to spend on upgrades.
As you advance you'll unlock spells (mapped to LT & LB) and can heal with a limited number of potions (Y button.) You can lock on to an enemy with R3 and switch weapons with X. Picking up loot will reward you with new weapons, spells and charms that give passive perks.
Here are a few of the characters you meet along the way. Visiting Iphis to equip modifiers is a good idea, as some make the game harder but many make the game easier.
Freya is the big guy you need to see to add any weapons upgrades you unlock with the "knowledge" you loot. Upgrades seem very hard to unlock and knowledge is, initially at least, hard to come by. It's gonna take you a while to unlock all 26 weapons, that's for sure.
Rupert will sell you spells like Knockback, Shield and Invisibility, and these soon become just as important as enhanced weapons.
Callum will pull something (it could seemingly be any weapon or perk in the game) from the netherworld and trade it for something of yours–but the catch here is that he gets to choose what you trade… This means you could end up with a cool weapon, or a crap one and lose all of your MP, XP or cash.
An alchemist named Soap will duplicate potions for you, but you can't collect them until you've finished a run–this makes giving all of your potions to Soap and playing the early levels with no potions highly profitable, but risky.
Hoby is another weapon trader who will offer you upgraded versions of known weapons.
The important thing about any Roguelite game is the difficulty, and Loot River is just too hard to be enjoyable, unlike Hades, another Roguelite I played not too long ago. The constant risk of losing everything forces you to be cautious, while many of the fights demand taking huge risks, having perfect reflexes and a total command of the control system–it's not an easy game to get into and even harder to make any genuine progress.
The boss battles were the killer for me–the first one has no clear way of hurting the massive, screen-filling boss monster (she's called Gwen, and really has the hump about something) while she spawned dozens of minions and reached me wherever I hid, stabbing at me with incredibly quick movements and killing me in two hits. Then (Doh!) I recalled the message at the entrance that hinted at a solution to killing her and I eventually managed to beat her. However, taking 20 minutes to fight your way back to a boss 20 times before you figure out how to even damage it isn't my idea of fun. The next boss is considerably more difficult–good luck getting there. Even on the game's "Easy" mode setting the boss battles are a grind, and ruined the game for me.
I wouldn't get too upset about a couple of typos and glitches I spotted during my many hours with Loot River, but the fact that the game prompts you with "Press Any Key" at the start shows how much effort went into this PC port.
It's a shame, because developers Straka.Studio clearly have imagination and talent, and there's potential for a minor classic, maybe even a Hades-beater here. While I appreciate that a hard game might appear to give more value than an easy one, Loot River is priced at £19.99 right now and is just too hard–too hard to be fun. The game could however be addictive to those gamers with the "one more run" mentality, and a masochistic bent, but be warned, you might be in Loot River for a while, there are a ton of secrets to find.