Advocate for Sega. Fan of the 90s.
May 13, 2021
Lost Ruins is yet another retro-inspired 2D survival action game, this time featuring a girl who wakes up in a dungeon without her memories. With the help of a mysterious magician, Beatrice, we embark on a perilous mission exploring ruins, battling monsters, and facing the inevitable bosses in a Metroid-lite adventure.
Developed by Altari Games and published by DANGEN Entertainment, Lost Ruins was initially funded via a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $45,000 toward production. Gameplay is a mix of platforming, exploration, and real-time combat via swords or magic. These are all good things in theory, but delivering them in practice is another thing altogether.
Lost Ruins has the visual style of an early 90’s PC platform game, which is pretty much like 16-bit Super Nintendo or Sega Mega Drive games, but with a low resolution feel meaning everything looks blocky and pixelated. I’m personally not a fan. When there are games out there that use a similar base aesthetic but feature beautiful, sharp, hi-def graphics and art, the pixelated look feels comparably weaker. With so many retro-inspired titles out there, you really have to be on point with presentation, otherwise your game can just get lost within the jumble. That’s not to say that Lost Ruins looks horrible, not by a long stretch, it’s just easy to see room for improvement.
The dungeons themselves feature varied locations including underground caves with the odd waterfall, then as you travel upward you find yourself exploring a castle and there are outside sections with snow. These outside sections feature parallax scrolling, which is a feature that should be obligatory for developers attempting retro graphics. But the darker sections underground could have benefited from some more detailed backgrounds to give the player more to look at while exploring.
Lost Ruins looks like a 90’s PC game, which is fine, but a bigger problem is that it also plays like one. Whenever a title puts a foot into platforming gameplay, strong level design and tight control is an absolute must. Especially if you are exploring a large dungeon instead of moving between themed stages, it’s just all too easy to create a monotonous experience by accident. Unfortunately Lost Ruins falls into this trap more often than not with humdrum backgrounds and awkward gameplay.
“Whenever a title puts a foot into platforming gameplay, strong level design and tight control is an absolute must.”
Some of the jumps between platforms are just a little too far apart which makes it unnecessarily tricky at times. Missing a jump and falling into a ravine accidentally, just to travel all the way back through the dungeon, is just annoying. The dungeon is large enough for some decent exploration, but it didn’t take long for me to feel like I was merely wandering around, there really wasn’t that much going on most of the time.
To help you out on your adventure, there are plenty of save points sprinkled throughout the dungeon and right before bosses. Lost Ruins does a nice job of letting you know when you need to gear up with weapons and items before moving to the next screen to take on a more dangerous foe. I would also say that some of the bosses are definitely highlights and well implemented, with large sprites and plenty of action.
There are also lots of portals throughout the dungeon which makes it easy to warp to specific areas to go back and forth and do some exploration in case you missed something. Exploration is definitely recommended, it’s easy to find some powerful weapons pretty early on and a handy item that will regenerate your health by a point or two a second. It’s a useful item but it did also appear to make things oddly easy.
“I was surprised just how quickly I could be finished off by a boss if I found myself in a corner or too close, mere seconds.”
Unfortunately Lost Ruins attempts to balance the aforementioned powerful healing item by not giving the player any period of invincibility after taking a hit. So too often it means a boss will just nail you with a series of quick, powerful hits in succession in an attempt to KO you almost instantly. I was surprised just how quickly I could be finished off by a boss if I found myself in a corner or too close, mere seconds. It’s little things like that bizarre approach that can really take away the fun from a game.
One aspect of Lost Ruins that is interesting is the different combat strategies available. Hacking away with a two-handed sword is one such option, although they are often too slow, meaning unless you take an enemy down in one hit, you will likely lose some health. There’s also a range of magic such as fire and lightning, but they drain your MP far too much so you will likely only be able to fire off two or three spells before you are empty.
There are other combat strategies available. You can throw a bottle of oil on the ground, or onto water, then set it on fire. The blazing inferno satisfyingly damages the bosses or enemies in the vicinity. If you are in water and use lightning, prepare to get shocked yourself (unless you are wearing a special swimsuit you can find early on). However, if you can get yourself onto a platform, you can electrocute all the enemies in the water. The drawback to all of this is that you accrue SO MUCH STUFF your menu ends up packed with different items and pickups.
The result of having such a densely packed menu is that you will frequently be going in and remapping your gear and items, sometimes mid-battle, as you run out of arrows, spells, etc. This results in a really awkward stop and start nature to the game – the boss battles just don’t feel fluid. The other thing is, despite all of these complex strategies available, the bosses are going to move too fast for any of your hair-brained schemes to really work. To be honest, you can just ignore those options and brute force your way through the game with a good sword and loads of health items.
Lost Ruins is one of those titles that is a good idea in theory, but in practice, it’s just not as much fun as it should/could have been. It lets itself down on some of the basic, most crucial aspects of this genre, gameplay and mechanics. Metroid worked because you had to unlock abilities to travel to new areas and fight new enemies, it guided you through. With Lost Ruins it feels like you are just wandering around a largely boring dungeon.
There was not a moment in the game where I reached an area and thought “Wow, that looks great/interesting”. The fact that engaging with the strategic aspects of its combat is basically optional is another problem. Why bother with complex strategy when you can just keep healing and attacking for the most part? When there are so many other options out there this one just doesn’t stand out from the crowd.
At the end of the day, Lost Ruins is a retro-inspired cautionary tale. For every Metroid or Double Dragon back in the day, there were a hundred clones that just did not get it perfectly right. Even 30 years later, developers can’t always figure out the secret sauce or how to make it all work.
In some ways Lost Ruins is a proper testament to the classics, they were just so much more nuanced than their visuals let on. This game has some great ideas and a concept that works on paper, and from time to time it works in the game too. But all too often it stumbles when it should have soared.