This may seem an odd way to start a review, but I would like to take a moment to address the lack of presence the developer of this game has online. Mr. Zachary Lee, while probably online under a pseudonym, cannot be found anywhere if one searches his name. No Twitter, no personal website, no game database where he may have submitted his game to to accrue some publicity. He’s a ghost! I was absolutely shocked to find absolutely nothing on this lad. I’m beginning to think Ruination was simply graced by the will of Steam.
Based on the trailer (which was also difficult to find outside of Steam), one can tell almost immediately that its aim is to please those looking for edge-of-their-seat excitement. Fast-paced and full of death traps, Ruination is something of a niche taste, for those fully entrenched in the “Dark Souls or bust” crowd that has grown since the early 2010’s. While not nearly as expansive, there’s something to be said about how the game wonderfully mixes strategic level design and blatantly unfair lack of polish to resonate the sweet taste of challenge.
Ruination is available on Steam for your regional pricing (it’s not substantial).
There is a single reason why a “Story” header is included for this review: There is a story attached to the Steam description of this game. While not completely bereft of elements that would imply a background narrative at play, almost nothing about the game suggests that anything happening is relevant to some greater cause. No dialogue, no cutscenes, no opening scene prior to any combat. One is simply thrust into the action without a word or mission. It’s almost like a game from the ’80s in this sense, where the context/motivation comes from outside sources (like a manual).
One may ask if a story really matters with a game that promises a lot more on the gameplay end, to which I would say it varies, but personally, I had no qualms about the lack of story. I had actually ignored the Steam description of the game, so I never realized there was any story outside of what I could infer from digging deeper into an alien planet. There are three specific areas one explores throughout the game: caves, depths, and the core. By the time one gets to the core, any experienced gamer could assume that there’s a bigger threat at play, especially with the technological environment and security turrets. To an extent, this almost makes the game a little more interesting, such that a subtle indication of unknown danger heightens the desire to continue onward, in spite of how unfair the game can be. Ultimately, however, if it contributes anything at all, it stems from the imagination of the player.
Playing Ruination gave me feverish flashbacks to the constant tension of Deadfall Tropics. The latter game, which is at least expansive enough to provide wiggle room and experimentation, has as intentional a goal to be as soul-wrenchingly difficult as this current game. Where most of the difficulty arrives with Ruination comes from a very claustrophobic and slippery existence; the player is essentially walking soap. Playing the game for the first time, I experienced numerous deaths only from trying to get used to how incredibly quickly one moves and one accelerates to get to full speed. It doesn’t help when the level design is intentionally cramped and littered with spike traps.
The collective enjoyment one can derive from Ruination is spent when one has become comfortable enough with the controls and the pace to adequately strategize for each level. For me, personally, this came around the third stage, the core, which had a roomier design to implement more platforming and maze-like anxiety. For as fast-paced as the game perhaps encourages the player to be, I found myself performing very carefully throughout, stopping and aiming at every junction, specifically intending to stay as far away from enemy threats as possible to test if I could destroy them undetected. This method normally worked, as the weapons collected during my trek made it fairly easy to do so.
Hopefully gamers enjoy running around and shooting. If it works for Mega Man, it certainly works here. Control-wise, Ruination is very limited in flexibility. Moving, jumping, collecting guns one may find in the journey, shooting, and dodging are all the actions one is capable of performing here. All conveniently wrapped in a tight placement of keys on the keyboard (the game recommends keyboard controls). The “niftiest” implementation is the mouse-based aiming system, which, like the movement speed, is so sensitive that the tiniest budge to the mouse will send the player’s focus sky-high or to the floor, hampering the field of vision. In true challenging fashion, there is no option to change the sensitivity measures for this game; it’s all part of the patience-testing fiesta.
Moving on to the inevitable “Dark Souls” comparison, I find it hard to put this game within the same category. It’s difficult, sure, but does a difficult game automatically make it binding to a notoriously difficult game from years past? I would be far more willing to place Deadfall Tropics closer to the title of “The Dark Souls of 2D platformers”; that game at least has courteous amounts of platforming, as well as enough polish and content to make it difficult by a variety of measures. Ruination is simply difficult on the cusp of the controls, which has one traveling like Speedy Gonzalez through tiny caves and spike-filled depths full of hostile creatures. In hindsight, the game isn’t even that difficult by the design of its levels, enemy placement, or objectives. It all comes down to controls.
An important thing to note about Ruination is that it is tremendously short. With three stages consisting of four sections, with the fourth section being a boss fight, one doesn’t actually traverse a lot of ground in this game (which is likely why it costs so little). For example, the first stage, the caves, took about ten to fifteen minutes to complete (when the controls weren’t leading to easy kills initially). I completed this game in an hour, and I believe a nice-sized chunk of that time came from numerous attempts at the final boss. Ruination is one that thrives on the compliment of “Short, but sweet”; there isn’t actually a lot of content here, and it shows through the limited capabilities and quantity of levels.
So far, there has been a lot of ample description of the game, but not a lot of direct criticism present. Allow me to address that by saying that the game is fun, and I eventually found myself enjoying the process by which I was taking down enemies. At the same time, I found it counter-productive that every movement, every glance, and every shot seemed to carry a magnanimous weight, even though it probably shouldn’t. I believe the game is focusing a little too heavily on making the game difficult, rather than making the game more varied in its style or mechanics. If not for the requirement to destroy monitors in the core to advance to the next section, this game would literally be a Point A to Point B shoot ’em up on iceskates. Knowing what’s to come in later stages, many of the starting sections in the first level seem so barren in content.
Graphics & Audio
One last comparison to Deadfall Tropics—the quality of pixel art in that game was gorgeous, among the best I had ever seen in a working video game. Compared to Ruination would be akin to comparing a gem to a shiny rock. Granted, the rock is still smooth and very shiny. The detail here is heightened by the nifty color scheme and the fluidity with which the enemies travel. The description on Steam claims it was inspired by games such as Metroid and Enter the Gungeon, which is pretty easy to spot with the overall design. The space-like environment and enemies often made me remember fondly the Metroid series, though not much from the constantly bequeathed Dark Souls moniker. For a rookie submission, the design is pretty sleek, though nothing that’ll blow one away. I would’ve enjoyed a little more variety to levels, though the game doesn’t offer much content for what it’s asking as compensation, so expectations should be kept in check.
Here’s an intriguing tidbit that one will realize upon booting up the game: no music. Indeed, Ruination has absolutely no musical tracks to its name; only the sound of gunshots and enemy cries will ring through the player’s ears. Personally, I don’t like this choice, as musical composition almost always heightens an experience, even if it’s simple ambience. Perhaps the exclusion was to give it a more isolating feel, but more than anything, it only made it feel lesser on content. The sound quality itself is acceptable, thankfully, as there are recognizable sound cues to inform the player if their weapon has killed an enemy or anything similar, which makes traversing less strenuous. This is especially nice during the core, as the defense turrets are very irritating.