What is it?: A fusion of rogue-lite, tower defense, city-building, and deck-building with lots of rats and monsters.
Reviewed on: iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, 2020.) 3.6 GHz 10-Core Intel Core i9. 64 GB 2667 MHz DDR4. AMD Radeon Pro 5700 XT 16 GB.
Time Played: 10 hours.
Expect to pay: $18.
Ratropolis is an odd beast. Why am I thinking of beasts? Because this game is filled with rodents. If you don't like rats, read no further.
A self-proclaimed fusion title, Ratropolis is basically a deck-building defense game. That's right, not a tower defense game, but a card one. But there's also city management, card management, and a dash of strategy/deckbuilding involved. Sounds weird? It is, but indies Cassell Games have crafted a surprisingly workable recipe.
The story premise is that you are in charge of a colony of rats and must build up your town to suitably defend against various monsters and predators out to get you. What's even more interesting is that this takes place in side-scrolling 2D, not overhead or 3D as you might expect.
The view lends itself to easily read things at a glance and a certain intimacy with your buildings and soldiers. The downside is that the view means the field of play is quite linear or limited. In this case, enemies will simply attack from the left or right with no other variety.
This pro/con mix extends to the city building. There are hardly any exciting choices to make when placing your buildings. It's just to the left or to the right. However, with the right cards or Leader characters, you can upgrade buildings to additional tiers.
Still, the core gameplay of Ratropolis is all in the cards. These are your economy, buildings, soldiers are more. There are over 500 cards in the game, but you'll only see a fraction of those in a given run. You can add or remove cards in various ways. For example, treasure chests drop after every defeated wave, town events may give you options, and a trader regularly comes through in a boat, offering you a card market. Managing your flow of gold to spend on new cards vs. other things is a fun little puzzle but never too taxing. In standard deck-building fashion, your initial goal is to build up a deck, but later, you'll want to thin it out so you can hit your best cards more often. Your hand of cards is on a timer, where you can then discard and get fresh ones. You can force this timer with gold, but that gets increasingly expensive. This can lead to some tense late-game moments when you are being flooded by waves of monsters but need more cards. Killing monsters also grants gold…so you can see the loop at play here.
There are also a variety of Leader rats to pick from, which gives you unique cards and a particular Leader skill. For example, an economist has ways to gather more gold, the General can summon extra troop cards in hand, and so on. It's great that the leaders are varied, but annoyingly most are locked behind X amount of plays before you can even try them. And much like Griftlands, which I last reviewed, you have to grind many plays before unlocking more cards or ways to play. Some may call that incentive to continue. I just find it time-wasting.
The Leader rats provide the bulk of variety in gameplay due to their unique card decks. Some generic cards can show up anywhere, but the majority of influence comes from the Leader. Of course, you can try different strategies, but I quickly found very similar starting paths with each Leader.
I have to highlight the theme, artwork, and visuals in this game. It's really sharp, colorful, and brings the world of Ratropolis to life far more than you'd think. I'm not fond of rodents, but I found this game charming. I enjoyed gazing around the screen at various things during downtime.
I actually got this game during early access on Steam, where most of my hours went into. Sadly, on release, they wiped all progress due to some changes. I played a few more hours, but losing all my unlocks a real drag, and I couldn't find the mojo to play more. This isn't a knock against the final product, just a coincidentally poor experience for me as someone who played it in early access. The game seems to be polished and bug-free, however, which is welcome. Performance isn't really worth talking about since I believe just about any Mac could run it.
I found Ratropolis a fun but ultimately limited experience. I have no desire to play more than the 10 hours I have. The visuals and theme are tremendous and come through strongly, but the actual gameplay feels repetitive quickly. The variety that would entice me to play more is locked behind a grind I have no desire to do. A catch-22, it would seem.
It's worth peeking at to see if this unique blend of genres will entice you more than it did me, or there is some nuance to the gameplay I missed. Ratropolis stands out in a crowded market…but how long will you stay in it?
- Visuals & Artwork
- Camera perspective
- Locked content behind grind
- Repetitive gameplay paths