Loot Hound Review
Rhizome Games' Loot Hound is a top-down navigational puzzle game with set-collection elements set in a vibrant and colorful world. In it you lead your canine companion through ten different parks of varying complexity in order for him to sniff out and then unearth buried loot. The question is, will the dog dig up a hidden gem or something utterly forgettable?
A Man And His Dogs
Loot Hound doesn't feature an elaborate set-up; you assume control of a nameless protagonist while he is alone in his apartment. A knock on the door breaks the silence, and the protagonist answers the door to reveal a package containing his first dog: Marley. He is an extremely friendly-looking dog--resembling a Cocker-Spaniel--with soft golden fur. Over the course of the game, two more dogs join your budding loot excavation enterprise. There is Wifi; resembling a small black Chihuahua with big ears, and Mr. Anderson, who is reminiscent of a Dogo Argentino. In addition to their cosmetic difference; each dog enjoys a unique special ability that is required to exhaust each park of loot. Marley's tough claws enable him to dig through any type of turf; Wifi's small stature allows him to squeeze into small areas inaccessible to the other dogs; and Mr. Anderson may "persuade" (read: scare off) other animals loitering over potential dig sites. In addition to their special abilities, you may upgrade each dog's core attributes--digging, detection, concentration, luck, and stamina--by spending acquired loot points. Rhizome Games' distinctively cheerful and colorful art direction splendidly conveys their varying personalities but more importantly establishes them as the loveable stars of the show.
Explore, Dig, Level Up, Repeat
Loot Hound features a simple and intuitive control scheme; you move your character with the left analog stick, and you either tighten the leash--giving you more control over the dog--with LT or extending it--allowing the dog to explore--with RT. This leash manipulation lies at the core of the experience. Since the dogs have minds of their own, it becomes your job to minimize their exposure to potential sources of distraction, while at the same time performing a thorough search of each location. When the dog inevitably catches the scent of buried loot, an appropriate sound effect and visual cue--a red exclamation point--alerts you it's time to extend the leash and give the dog free reign to pinpoint its exact location. Rhizome Games utilizes the same method to alert you when a dog becomes distracted--and like real dogs, they will become distracted a lot--; a blue question mark visual cue accompanied by a sound effect alerts you to tighten the leash or else the dog will run off to investigate.
Rhizome Games anticipated that this leading mechanic might feel unfamiliar to new players, and devotes the entirety of the first park to serve as a tutorial - that teaches you the basics. Overall, Loot Hound does a commendable job in detailing each new mechanic as it introduces it; ensuring players never become lost.
There are ten parks of varying size and complexity to explore in Loot Hound. Each park contains a pre-determined amount of loot giving the player a tangible goal to complete. When you begin the game, you only have access to the tutorial park, and Rhizome Games unlocks each subsequent park after you reach the various total collected loot requirements. You don't have to--and won't be able to--collect all the loot on a single walk. However, your actions are persistent and carry over to the next one. This persistence enables some enjoyable tactical gameplay; a viable and effective strategy is taking the dog with the highest detection skill with you the first walk to explore the park, and return the next day with your best digger and a plan of attack. The later parks require you to revisit them several times in order to utilize each dog's unique special ability. Even though there is a total of ten parks that will last you a good couple of hours, I am disappointed Rhizome Games didn't include more, and I would greatly appreciate more of the wackier ones--like the ninth park--to mix up the gameplay. As it stands, even though the parks appear cosmetically different, they aren't differentiated enough to make them feel unique and sort of mesh together.
There are 110 unique pieces of loot hiding beneath the surface of the ten parks. Each piece of loot both belongs to a particular subset and is categorized depending on its rarity: common, uncommon, rare, and legendary. Whereas a loot's subset category is purely cosmetic, its rarity distinction decides how many loot points its discovery is worth. The common loot items are worth a hundred points, whereas the more sought-after legendary ones bestow a thousand loot points on the player. You may then cash in the loot points to upgrade one of your dog's attributes. This simple leveling up system is incredibly effective and in a subtle way gives the discovery of loot a more direct and meaningful effect.
Friendly Audiovisual Design
Loot Hound's colorful top-down aesthetics immediately resonated with me; creating a welcoming and cheerful atmosphere that perfectly suits the lighthearted and genuinely enjoyable game. Even though Rhizome Games sparsely animates the non-essential, what present--like butterflies flying--is enough to create the illusion of vibrancy and life in each park. Loot Hound almost entirely forgoes a soundtrack in the traditional sense in favor for the natural ambient sounds of the park along with context-sensitive sound effects to immerse players. When it all comes together, the audiovisual design creates a relaxing and peaceful tableau.
In lieu of traditional menus, Rhizome Games instead opts for an interactive representation of your apartment; in which you cook food and feed it to your dogs to level them up, admire your loot collection in the cabinet, and access your computer to tinker with the game's settings.
Similar To A Board Game Filler
In the board game world, some games are categorized as fillers; mechanically simple, quick to play, and often lighthearted and fun. For the last couple of weeks, I have trudged through the bleak and oppressive world of Fallout 4; concerning myself with multiple questlines, settlements and inventory to manage, and a gigantic world to explore. After wrapping it up, spending some time in the entirely positive, fun, and lighthearted world of Loot Hound turned out to be the palate cleanser I didn't know I needed. One of the things I enjoyed the most about Loot Hound was the fact that I never maimed or killed anyone--from start to finish it is a peaceful experience that celebrates cooperation between man and his best friend. I expect I'll return to Loot Hound from time to time, to play a quick round of the scavenger mode (a free-roam mode you unlock after completing a park) or start a new playthrough - just like I would a board game filler.
While the audiovisual design remains chiefly responsible for the genuinely charming experience; it's the well thought-out gameplay loop that makes Loot Hound such an addictive and fun experience. At every step of the way, Rhizome Games reinforces the collection aspect by striving to make it as fun as possible, and more importantly ensuring it serves a purpose beyond the purely cosmetic. The main object of the campaign is to find all the loot in each of the ten parks, and in order to achieve this Loot Hound requires you to upgrade your dogs to become better scavengers. The points needed to upgrade your dogs' attributes are obtained through the discovery of loot. To get the necessary loot to upgrade your dogs to become more skillful excavators; you need to collect enough loot to unlock additional parks where you can--you guessed it--discover even more loot. The loot economy fuels the entire game in such a way you'll often go for "just one more walk".
Loot Hound impressed me with its audiovisual design, overall approachable and friendly aesthetic, and genuinely enjoyable exploration mechanics. I also think growing up with dogs predisposes me to enjoy a game that so lovingly celebrates them. However, Loot Hound is fairly short on content and can be beaten in around four hours, while this by no means is a bad thing in and of itself; the lack of variety between the parks may make the game feel a tad samey. As a small, bite-sized palate cleanser, I think you would appreciate Loot Hound.
Rhizome Games provided me with a review copy of Loot Hound, however, this did not factor into my opinion. For more information, please consult the ethics section.