If you’re reading this, then I’ve somehow managed to pull myself away from my latest obsession: the generously purple, isometric twin-stick roguelike Lone Ruin. Though its main three-layer ruin might feel too short for some, I’ve found it to hardly dampen the perpetual fun; the creative possibilities from randomly distributed powers and items provides surprising moments of synergy and emergent strategies. Replayability remains fresh and reflexive. Toss in two difficulty settings, a horde survival mode, and a leaderboard that will tempt you even if you’re not the competitive type, and this is a game that I’ve happily installed on my Steam Deck with no intention of ever removing.
Out now on PC and Nintendo Switch, Lone Ruin feels like a twin-stick remix of Hades soaked in blacklight. In its “Ruin Run” mode, you’ll descend through three layers of eight rooms each. The final room of each layer is reserved for a boss fight. You’ll fight waves of enemies with a combination of randomly distributed powers and items you’ll grab upon clearing a room. The action is quick, requiring you to combine various abilities and stat buffs to emerge victorious. With clear language for each power or item and an aesthetic that’s as helpful as it is so, so pretty, Lone Ruin excels at guiding you through its mechanics with a relatively low learning curve that builds up to rewarding mechanical depth. It’s very easy to get sucked in, and just like that, it’s past midnight and you have work in the morning.
You start every run in Lone Ruin with a swappable Dash ability bound to your bottom-left shoulder button and one choice from eight abilities offered to you by a mysterious stranger who’s eager to warn you that it’s dangerous to go alone (I’m told that’s a reference to a popular game or something). But you don’t have a base “attack” like you do in Hades. Instead, you’ll attack with any of the four swappable abilities you can earn from completing a room. And as a twin-stick game, you won’t be using the face buttons of your gamepad for your abilities; everything is bound to the shoulder buttons (though you can remap this in the settings on PC).
In each battle area, you’ll fight through waves of bad guys who spawn from clearly marked zones that mirror the arrival of enemies in Hades. Some are really only a threat in high numbers, while others, like the little Doom monsters (that’s what I call ‘em) can snipe you and require more immediate attention than the easily dismissed bats and lesser foes. Some enemies, bosses in particular, can spit out enough attacks to create bullet-hell-esque sequences (which makes sense given developer Cuddle Monster Games’ first title, Hell Is Other Demons) but it doesn’t tip too far into that genre. It’s a nice touch that remixes the ongoing gameplay just enough to prevent it from going stale.
As might feel familiar to Hades fans, completion of each room will give you a new choice of rooms with powers to acquire. You won’t get the power right away; instead, it’s a preview of what power or item you’ll earn upon completion of that following area. Sometimes you’ll see a room that promises two rewards, which also means there are more waves of enemies there. Other times you’ll have the choice to dip into a shop as the next “room,” where you can purchase upgrades, additional powers, or stat-buffing items with gold you acquire from slain foes or from selling your abilities.
And this makes up Lone Ruin’s “loop.” Grab an ability at the start, defeat the enemies in the next room, choose what power or item you want next, rinse and repeat. And your abilities each have their own quirks, upgrade paths, and different ways they can combine with other powers and stat buffs. Since they’re randomly generated, and you can sell existing powers or items you have for gold, you’ll find yourself thinking several steps ahead, making choices based on what’s worked or hasn’t worked for you so far.
I tend to start every run with the Chain Lightning spell since, as the name implies, it chains across enemies, easily evaporating the lesser foes to help with crowd control. But what powers come next is entirely up to RNG; you’ll make choices based on how you want your build to pan out in the end (though I have observed what I think might be some subtle upgrade paths; it’s hard to know for sure how much randomness is behind each option).
One example of a “build” could involve grabbing the Blizzard spell in addition to an upgrade to your Dash ability that lays down an area of effect (AoE) attack, which slows enemies in your wake. Blizzard also lets you lay down an AoE with cold damage; now you have two ways to create difficult areas for enemies to traverse through. Pick up an item that causes defeated frozen enemies to explode, and your area denial becomes an additional AoE threat for advancing enemies. This is in addition to two other abilities, which could be anything from my go-to Chain Lightning spell, to something like Barrage, which seems to take inspiration from Devil May Cry’s Virgil, allowing you to summon blue blades around you that you fire off into your enemies.
This barely scratches the surface. There are many other abilities, each with exciting upgrades that can up their damage, widen the radius of an AoE, reduce their cooldown, or cause status effects like burning or freezing. On one run, I grabbed Beserk, which pauses all of my active spells for additional quickness. I combined this with the Scythe ability (which functions as a melee attack, and is not a spell) and after laying down some instances of Blizzard to cut down on spawning enemies, I berserked and was able to zip around and clear out the rest with speedy melee strikes.
All of this wonderful, highly malleable action is set in environments that just look fantastic. The game has an alluring “is it 2D or 3D?” look to it with a colour palette that very much reminds me of Hyper Light Drifter. It also features a wonderfully dynamic soundtrack that ranges from satisfying chill soundscapes to electrifying beats (seriously, I’m gonna have to figure out how to replicate this one particular bass hit I keep hearing with some of my own audio gear. Pure ear candy).
And while I can empathise with folks who find the length a bit lacking — and would never say no to more rooms, bosses, or enemies in the future — I think the replayability and motivation to ascend the leaderboard more than makes up for runs that can feel rather brisk once you’ve gotten the hang of it and can zoom through normal difficulty (though the game defaults to hard mode on launch, FYI). Cuddle Monster Games has already revealed some of its aspirations for where the game can go in the future, so there might be more to look forward to. And if there is, well, you can be damn sure I’ll be writing about it.