Ratropolis Review: Inspired Rodent-like Slays

Ratropolis is available on PC

Overview

Ratropolis is very clearly inspired by big daddy Slay the Spire, so much so that it even has a few adorable references to it inside the game. Ratropolis is no copycat though. It fuses its deckbuilding rogue-lite nature with real-time strategy and kingdom building. A combination that makes it a one of a kind game, as far as I know.

In Ratropolis you choose one of six leaders. Each one with unique cards and playstyles, and then you attempt to construct and use a deck in real-time. Ratropolis is not turn-based, time is always ticking, including when monsters are hammering at your walls.

Kingdom Building, real time strategy, deckbuilding, resource management and a rogue-lite all rolled into one.

The card types vary from units that can be deployed to defend your settlement, economy cards to earn you gold, buildings to grow your home, and skills that can have several effects.

Cards cost gold to play, and units and labor cards require ratizens. So you must always be on the move to manage and expand your kingdom ever outward while fending off the likes of Mutant rats, vicious Weasels, and hungry Lizards.

Of Mice and more Mice

One of the most striking aspects of Ratropolis is the sheer variety of cards and leaders. While there are some basic cards that cross over, each leader has unique pools of cards, and advisors to pull from. Advisors function as relics in other deckbuilding games, providing game wide bonuses.

I didn’t expect that kind of staggering variety given that the game is real-time, and features a significantly higher amount of animations than your average deck builder. The visual style and art hold up too. It’s equal parts adorable and visually attractive with nice effects and colors that pop.

Each leader plays entirely different, and each one has several viable strategies. Though you will need to unlock additional cards and advisors for each leader to see their true potential.

Each of the six leaders have unique card pools and advisors.

Unlocking cards is nothing new to the genre, but it can be a tad bit grindy in Ratropolis. An average winning run takes around 40 minutes, and that’s not always enough XP to unlock the next batch of goods.

Regardless, each leader is varied. The Merchant has an extremely powerful economy but relies on mercenary cards that will leave after their contract is up. The Builder is an expert at the city building aspect, but must also rely on defensive buildings more than other leaders.

The Shaman can use the souls of discarded cards, while the General has a potent military presence. Each one is viable, and the game feels shockingly balanced when you factor in all the moving parts.

Like Herding Rats

You can purchase new cards from a wandering merchant, and you can potentially select some between enemy waves. You do, have to play your cards intelligently and build your deck wisely, while cutting out the dead weight that doesn’t add to your strategy. However, you must do so quickly.

The game’s real-time nature gives the game a very different feel from other deck builders. You have a limited time to deliberate as the enemies come in waves and wait for no one.

You aren’t just managing cards either, you must also manage your gold income, and your Ratizens. It may be tempting to simply play every unit that enters your hand, but it’s better to do so carefully. Units and labor cards take up limited space in your Ratizen pool. You can increase it by expanding with housing and apartments, but it’s always finite.

You can use ranged and melee units to protect your walls.

Additionally, many buildings have active abilities with a cool down. You will need to learn how to dart between them while keeping an eye on both sides of your settlement where the attacks come from.

Once placed, units can be moved between walls, but it’s a slow process. An enemy breaking through at a bad moment can easily end your run. All these components lead to a gameplay mix of fast tactical thinking, strategical deck building, and pulse-pounding action. It’s a fusion that sounds like it should fall apart on paper, but in practice, it works incredibly well.

Playing Ratropolis opens up your mind to a different way of thinking about the genre. It can be frustrating at first, but once you get in the rhythm it flows nicely. That said a few hiccups can break the fluidity.

Carefully building your deck is key.

Its 2D side-scrolling nature can make groups of characters cover each other up. This can make individual entities incredibly hard to click on and target with abilities. Ordering your troops to move between walls is also very cumbersome, especially when you have many different types piled on to a single wall.

It’s a fairly minor gripe. But given the real time nature of the game, losing a few extra seconds fussing around while trying to click on something can cost you.

Rats, Weasels and Lizards, Oh My!

A standard run has 30 waves, each one getting progressively stronger. At first, you contend with mutant rats, followed by an army of Weasels and finally powerful lizards.

The enemy variety is quite nice and differs between environments. For example, the Weasels may deploy Pharaohs that can raise the dead in the desert, or a cannon bearing ship on the island.

Different enemies can also have special abilities. Some might hop over a wall, others may shoot from a distance, and every boss and mini-boss functions differently. I nearly crapped my pants the first time I encountered the Owl, and it just flew in the middle of my settlement where I had no defenses.

Boss fights can be intense.

Despite the variety, waves can become a little predictable. After a few games, you will be able to predict when the game will switch from mutant rats to weasels then to lizards. After a few more games you might even be able to predict most of the units that will appear in each wave.

I still find that Ratropolis has an insane amount of replay value, in spite of my complaining. First is the sheer variety of leaders, cards, and advisors, much of which you have to unlock.

Secondly are the three special environments and the multitude of random events that can appear. The third is pollution levels. An ever-increasing difficulty you can enable, there are 20 pollution levels in all, so mastering the game is an incredible feat.

A ton of random events give you choices during a play through.

However, the most intriguing feature occurs at the end of a run. You can choose to end your run after the boss on the 30th wave, or continue on. If you continue, you gain a special boon, and the enemies grow more powerful. But you also must choose a new leader, while retaining your already built settlement and deck of cards.

This opens up all kinds of combinations you can cheese, by synergizing the elements of cards granted by your new leader mixed with the ones you already had from the previous leader. Ratropolis truly has incredible replay value. The game also features a handy log that tracks your playthroughs and what you used during them. This can help you analyze your successes and failures.

Verdict

The fact that Ratropolis manages to successfully fuse so many different genres is nothing short of impressive. Not every fan of deck builders will enjoy the real-time nature. It takes a lot of twitch skill and speed that deck builders generally don’t require. But if you enjoy fast-paced strategy in addition to deck building, Ratropolis is a true gem.

The game keeps a handy log of your gameplay, what cards you had and what you upgraded. It’s nifty.
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The complaints I have are fairly minor compared to the full package the game presents. It has a couple of hiccups in an otherwise great looking, smooth playing, and thoughtful experience that is highly re-playable. And all that for a price that’s under $20.

Ratropolis is an engaging real-time strategy and kingdom building game that successfully fuses with the thoughtful deliberation of deckbuilding, tactical card play, and resource management. I sometimes think cards can make any game better, Ratropolis certainly makes a strong case for it.

You might also be interested in my reviews of Monster Train and Slay the Spire.

Pros

  • Impressive blend of genres that is both fluid and fun
  • Six varied leaders with unique cards and playstyles
  • Difficulty settings in the form of pollution levels
  • Great art style
  • High replay value
  • Nifty player log
  • Nice enemy variety and bosses split between three environment’s
  • Playing beyond the 30th wave opens up great combo potential with other leaders

Cons

  • A bit grindy to unlock new cards and advisors
  • Clicking on, or ordering specific units can be clunky
  • Enemy waves can become predictable