Platform games are one of those things the old-fashioned phrase ‘ten a penny’ seems to have been coined for. Especially when looking at the indie games section of Steam, where you can probably rack up several human lifetimes’ worth of backlog if you bought platformers alone. There are a lot of them, and it can be tough for a developer – especially a solo developer – to stand out from the crowd.
Enter Ruggnar, an enemy-free platform game featuring a dwarf, with its attempt to stand out being that light is its main mechanic. The entire game is in darkness and Ruggnar himself wears a candle on his helmet to see things in the dungeon that the plot mandates he ransack for its riches.
Water can extinguish this candle, or the candle can be thrown ahead to light up a potential jump destination; but also candles light up the checkpoints, which are candelabras. A good job then, that these can be picked up in the various levels, as can various temporary power-ups to illuminate things better for a short time, either the entire level or just the coins that Ruggnar seems to be here for.
These coins can also be spent, as a merchant found in the levels will trade them for more candles, or various spell books and equipment – plus cosmetics such as different coloured armour or beard dye, if one is so inclined. The best of these increase visibility, but not by a lot; for the game’s focus is still navigating in the dark across its various levels.
This is nicely done, visually. Not only are the candles a light source, but tiny windows in the dungeon and lava and other things provide small sources of light, too. Visual flourishes are everywhere, things like background chains being brushed aside gently when Ruggnar touches them, it all looks lovely. To accompany this, the game sounds great, with clear sound cues in lieu of the reduced visibility and clear UI elements communicating the game and its mechanics very well. There’s also some pretty good voice-acting all around and a nice musical score. What a pretty game, almost a joy to play.
Almost. You see, the main mechanic of impeded visuals due to darkness might seem pretty neat and fairly unique, but in practice it’s actually irritating. Certain watery obstacles will put out Ruggnar’s fire, forcing another candle to be lit. Also, many jumps are outside of the player’s visual range, forcing either a leap of faith (not ideal) or pausing to throw a candle to reconnoiter any potential jump trajectory (again, not ideal) – slowing the gameplay down to a careful crawl, which would be fine were it not for the helmet-candle having a limited lifespan before a new one needs to be lit. It’s like the game wants you to play in a rush, only it doesn’t.
Add to this the placement of some hazards such as swinging spike balls and checkpoints that appear to be entire parsecs apart, and we’ve got an annoying experience that inflates the length of the otherwise-short levels from ‘pleasantly brief’ to ‘do I have to pick up that damn key again? This is the worst’.
It’s pretty, and it has no shortage of charm, and I wish I liked this game more than I do, especially as it is incredibly polished for a solo-developed game. But unfortunately, Ruggnar doesn’t really light my fire.
Developed by Sword N’ Wands and published by PID, Ruggar is out now on Steam and Switch.