Review: Ruiner (Switch)

A brutal but fun twin-stick shooter that should be on everyone’s radar.

By Angela Marrujo Fornaca. Posted 06/19/2020 04:15 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Addicting gameplay; gorgeous art style; absolutely fantastic soundtrack; complex skill tree that can be customized and changed on a whim; engaging story with interesting twists
Poison Mushroom for...
Difficulty level doesn't seem balanced; some glitches and framerate issues at times; the ending seems abrupt and unsatisfying; Rengkok City is sprawling and atmospheric, but with little to do or engage with

I discovered Ruiner by accident back in 2017 at PAX West, at a time when I worked for a PR agency that collaborated exclusively with indie devs. Walking the show floor before it opened to the public, I walked past Ruiner’s booth and was immediately intrigued. I loved the art style, the pounding, dark electronic music, the Blade Runner-esque vibes, and the imagery and environments that were all bathed in heavy shadows and red. Lots of red. I’d never played a twin-stick shooter before Ruiner, but it took me only a few minutes to start to get the hang of it while I played in the booth. I hadn’t found myself pulled so strongly into a game in a long time and knew I’d be getting it on launch day, though I had to play it on my PS4 because it wasn’t coming to Switch.

Luckily Devolver and Reikon Games listened to player demand and have finally brought the gritty title to Switch owners. And it was well worth the wait and the second playthrough.

Ruiner is an impressive game in its own right but especially given that it’s Reikon Games’ first project. Set in 2091, Ruiner explores a cyberpunk-themed future in the Southeast Asian city of Rengkok, where the average person’s life is bleak at best or horrific at worst; HEAVEN, a massive corporation that has invested heavily in the region, controls and monitors everyone and everything. Using a tracking method called the Citizenship Management System, HEAVEN manipulates people into making life choices that will most benefit the corporation, and rewards those people with Karma (the region’s currency), which is only earned by doing things the corporation approves of. Parents are restricted to two children, and if they have a third the child either winds up becoming part of a gang or forced into various forms of slavery, including becoming a human host for HEAVEN’s Virtuality program. This virtual reality experience eventually turns hosts into zombie-like people if it doesn’t outright kill them, and is the backbone of the region’s economy.

Ruiner opens with the nameless, voiceless protagonist, who is later dubbed “Puppy,” as he storms into HEAVEN to kill its leader, Boss. Puppy is being controlled by a rogue hacker named Wizard, who is using Puppy to do his dirty work. Before Puppy reaches Boss, Wizard’s signal to Puppy is interrupted by another hacker known only as Her, who tells Puppy that Wizard has hacked his brain, is using him to kill Boss, and that HEAVEN has kidnapped Puppy’s brother. The clock is now ticking to save Puppy’s brother, with the assistance of Her.

I played Ruiner with my Pro Controller and thought the dual-stick controls felt really good overall. My only gripe control-wise is that Puppy doesn’t move in a totally seamless, 360-degree circle when you spin the right control stick; he spins in more of a quarter turn style, meaning that the slightest spin of the control stick wants to force Puppy to rest facing one of four directions. This sometimes makes aiming guns somewhat difficult, especially during fights with enemies that vanish and reappear elsewhere on the screen, when you need to be quick to reposition yourself.

Despite this, combat overall is fun and addicting, especially when you start to rack up combos and feel like you’re unstoppable, with the game’s fantastic, brooding electronic soundtrack playing in the background. Puppy uses guns and melee weapons, and everything is disposable — once a gun’s ammo is depleted or your melee weapon is worn down, drop it and grab another that an enemy has dropped. Some guns are significantly stronger than others and are just a joy to mow enemies down with, others aren’t merely guns but energy blasters or other element-based weapons, and melee weapons are both fun to use and extremely beneficial in close-quarters combat. Players customize a skill tree in whatever way they like, and reallocate points at any time to experiment with different combat styles and skills. From a dash, to an energy shield that can be weaponized, grenades, and more, Puppy has a number of tricks up his sleeve. Each fight is graded at the end from E to S+, and I definitely ran the gamut of performance.

Ruiner is a difficult game, even playing on Normal (which is what I was playing on). And while I welcome a challenge (I was certainly a fan of Cuphead, for example), Ruiner comes across as unbalanced in terms of difficulty. It doesn’t particularly feel like the enemy difficulty ramps up at a pace that matches your slowly-increasing strength, but rather starts off moderate and then quickly becomes very challenging. Fights may frustrate when a boss is taking crazy amounts of damage with every shot, in many cases resulting in two- to three-shot KOs from even some of the earliest bosses. Ruiner reminds me of Bandai Namco’s Souls games in that it comes across like you’re probably expected to die a lot — there’s a resident in the city who will actually reward you for a high number of deaths — but because your performance drops with every death, it tends to be discouraging if you’re aiming for high rankings. On the flip-side, each death was a learning experience that helped me get better every time, and reloading the fight was almost instantaneous so you weren’t sitting around waiting for your next try. However, some fights that involve wave after wave of enemies are flat out too long, especially when the game is merciless about reloading the fight from the very beginning if you die. Again, balance is perhaps this game’s biggest weakness.

Ruiner’s concept art is gorgeous and is used in-game quite a lot, especially during segments when other characters are speaking or Puppy is talking to people in Rengkok South and their character art appears on-screen with their text box. Graphically Ruiner looks really nice, with a realism-meets-cel-shaded sort of style, though at times things look a little less clear on Switch than they did when I played on PS4 a couple years ago. I only experienced one area with frame rate issues and it was a loading sequence, where things got especially choppy, but other than that the game ran smoothly. The only glitch I experienced was during a boss fight, when a boss ran into a locked door and got stuck there (which made beating him like shooting fish in a barrel since he couldn’t go anywhere).

While Ruiner doesn’t have a super deep story or a ton of character development, the narrative is still engaging and keeps you on your toes. There are some good twists I wasn’t at all expecting, but the end of the game comes suddenly and abruptly, and left me feeling like it didn’t quite match the intense buildup leading into it. I also wish there was more to do in Rengkok, as Puppy interacts with a very limited number of residents and storefronts in the city, despite it being a sprawling location with a ton of atmosphere and character. However, those interactions are interesting and many of the people are captivating and mysterious, leaving you wanting more.

And “wanting more” is exactly what I want from this series. Ruiner has some flaws and isn’t perfect, but is still one of my favorite games and an incredibly fun and beautiful debut project from Reikon Games. Encouraged by the success of Ruiner, the studio is working on an FPS sci-fi game, but I do hope they’ll give us more from this series. There’s so much more to explore, so much more to Puppy and Her’s story, and a second game could easily build upon the very strong foundation of the first.

Ruiner is a fantastic addition to your Switch library and definitely worth your time.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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