Originally released back in September of 2017, Reikon Games' Ruiner is an ultra-stylish, ultra-violent isometric action affair than flings its players unceremoniously into the role of a nameless, faceless cyborg assassin on the trail of his missing brother in the future metropolis of Rengkok. This is Hotline Miami filtered through Ghost in the Shell and Akira; a slick, stylish techno nightmare in which your primary objective is to gratuitously kill everything that moves as you rampage forward through the game's pulsating industrial jungles towards your final truth.
When we first heard Ruiner was being ported over to Switch we were a little dubious as to whether Reikon could successfully manage it, this is an intensely good-looking game that moves at a relentless pace for its entire duration. However, amazingly, this Switch version performs pretty much immaculately in handheld – and almost as well docked – and still looks absolutely fantastic whilst doing so.
Set in 2091, Ruiner's violent tale sees you infiltrate the ranks of Heaven, a corrupt conglomerate that has a stranglehold on the city of Rengkok. Initially, your cybernetically masked assassin's objective is to simply hunt down and kill Heaven's leader, The Boss, but almost immediately the signal between you and your mysterious employer is overridden by a hacker known as 'Her' who informs you the people you're working for are holding your brother hostage.
You team up with Her – who delights in calling you Puppy and pointing out how badly you just performed every time you die – to take the fight to Heaven in order to free your bro and reveal the true nature of the conglomerate's shady operations. What follows is roughly six hours of non-stop, hyper-violent, twin-stick action that delights in denigrating your best efforts and, even on easier difficulties, provides a stiff challenge that requires you get to proper grips with its multitude of skills and systems in order to be successful.
Ruiner starts out slowly – perhaps a little too slowly – with a prologue that sees you with very little in the way of combat options, simply hacking and slashing with your basic melee weapon and picking up guns to fire at advancing enemies. It's a prologue that gives off a bit of a wrong impression in many ways, successfully setting the scene for the action that follows but also temporarily leading you to believe that your protagonist has a somewhat barebones skillset at his disposal.
As it turns out, this is anything but the case as Ruiner's delightfully anarchic brand of combat hinges entirely on the huge number of offensive options that it gives you to unlock and employ as you make your way through its hellish futurescape. There's a constant stream of skills to get to grip with here, and you'll need to mix them up continuously during battle in order to successfully traverse the bloody neon gauntlet the game lays before you.
As you blast your way through Rengkok South, Creep's Nest, Hanza Compound, King's Lair and so on, you'll accumulate Karma which earns you skill points used to gain access to the multitude of combat options that make up your assassin's expansive skill tree. You'll gain access to a personal shield, deployable energy barriers, enemy mind control, a reflex booster that slows down time, dash move, grenades, a shock launcher and more. Each and every one of these skills can then be upgraded through several levels; your dash, for example, starts out as a single-use dodge but evolves into an almost infinitely chainable move capable of dealing out damage and granting you temporarily increased defences.
Mixing up all of these moves is a breeze and jumping into your skill tree allows you to remove and reassign points as much you want at the push of a button, enabling you to constantly change up your fighting style as you engage with the various enemies that inhabit the murky depths of Rengkok's cyborg-filled subterranea.
Basic enemies can be dealt with in any number of ways – we personally liked to max out our dash and zoom around the screen whilst using mind control to have goons square off against each other – and the game also gifts you with a huge array of brutal weapons – katanas, clubs and fiery maces as well as miniguns, plasma rays, shotguns and sonic blasters – with which to dole out brutal punishment. Beat on any opponent badly enough and you can even put them into a dazed state, indicated by a yellow circle, enabling you to move in for a special Ruiner finish which sees you kick their heads clean off their bodies, execute them at close range with your weapon or simply stomp them into bloody giblets. All of the good stuff.
Beyond the rank and file enemies, however, most fights require that you study your foe and figure out the exact combination of skills you'll require to defeat them. Mother, for example – a huge mechanoid boss you'll face off against multiple times during the game's campaign – fires an enormous plasma beam that can destroy you in seconds but needs to be recharged after every attack. You'll want to max out your personal shield and dash moves here in order to soak up the beam's damage and then move in quickly to cause her problems as she reloads.
Cyborg minibosses, on the other hand, like to zip around you at lightning pace; by deploying fully-upgraded energy barriers you can slow them down, but you'll also want to ensure your slo-mo ability is maxed-out to give you the upper hand against their viciously quick assaults. Of course, you'll also need to constantly monitor your energy levels in order to use all of these skills – health and energy can even be traded off against each other when things get particularly sticky – and the whole thing comes together to create a properly intoxicating blend of combat, puzzle and light RPG elements that keeps you on your toes at all times.
There's tons of variety with regards to combat, and Ruiner successfully manages to keep drip-feeding you fresh skills to try out against new enemy types right the way through its roughly six-hour story. By the time you reach the end, your assassin is transformed from that simple hack-and-slasher you met in the prologue into a nigh-on unstoppable killing machine, perfect for jumping straight into the unlockable New Game+ mode where increased enemy numbers and difficulty will really put you to the test.
Alongside New Game+, there's also a speedrun mode that charges you with blasting through the game sans its cutscenes in as quick a time as you possibly can – rewarding you with new costumes in return for your bloody toil – and an arena that pits you against endless hordes of the game's enemies to put your skills to the ultimate test. Levels in the game also reward you with a rating based on how well you perform, and chasing S+ ranks here is just as rewarding as ever, which lends the campaign some extra replayability.
It's all super slick stuff, it really is hard to overstate just how phenomenally good-looking everything is; there's also a truly superb soundtrack filled with thumping techno beats to accompany the relentless onscreen carnage. There are a few niggles here and there, however.
Occasionally, enemy attacks can be a little hard to read on account of the moody darkness against which a lot of the action is set; it makes things difficult to keep track of from time to time and can be exacerbated by just how much carnage is flying around the screen during intense battles. It's not a major problem, but it does make Ruiner feel a little more scrappy that it needs to at points – dying when it's your own fault is all well and good, but dying because you couldn't make out some detail or other during an intense encounter can be slightly irksome. Having said that, it's not a problem that occurs too often and we were really surprised at how well the action translates onto the Switch's portable screen, with everything more or less just as readable in this mode as it is on a TV.
The game's central hub, the painstakingly-detailed Rengkok, is also completely under-utilised. It's an initially exciting place to explore and there are a few side missions and objectives to complete while you're there, but after the first mission proper, it's a place you'll rarely be allowed to return to. It's a shame because a little more meat here could have provided a nice change of pace from the relentless action of your assassin's sorties into enemy territory. It feels like something that could have been easily done, too; the game's codex is full of extra info on the world, enemies and politics of what's going on around you and it would have been fantastic if all of this could have been relayed by NPCs scattered around Rengkok, rather than just stuck in a codex for you to read through.
In terms of this Switch port, as we mentioned, this is a surprisingly good-looking version of the game. There's no doubt the graphics have been toned down but, to be honest, we'd be pretty hard-pushed to tell you where the real nips and tucks have been made without a side-by-side comparison. Performance, too, is surprisingly good – this is a game in which the framerate struggles in places on PS4 and Xbox One – and the Switch's handheld mode manages to stick pretty firmly to its 30fps target for the duration of the campaign. In docked mode, things aren't quite so smooth-sailing and there are some points – especially the game's ferocious final battle – where things do begin to stutter. It's not a huge problem, and as we said it's something that rears its head in other console versions of the game, but it's there and is definitely noticeable, especially during that final boss encounter.
Overall though, this really is a surprisingly successful and solid port of an excellent cyberpunk action game that looks and plays beautifully for the most part on Switch. Ruiner is a tough, unique and super stylish affair that's an easy recommendation for fans of top-down, twin-stick action games, as well anyone else looking for an intense and challenging ride through a blood-spattered future dystopia. Reikon has also priced this one perfectly on Switch, putting to rest any concerns we may have otherwise had relating to the length of its campaign versus the cost of a full-price release.
Ruiner is an exceptionally stylish, brutal and bloody top-down shooter that hurls you unceremoniously into a relentless onslaught of deranged creeps, cyborgs and enormous mechanoid bosses all hellbent on your destruction. A steady drip-feed of new combat skills – alongside a ton of meaty guns and melee weapons – keeps the action feeling fresh, and the game's excellent graphics and thumping techno soundtrack do a top-notch job of bringing the whole thing vibrantly to life. There are a few framerate issues here and there in docked mode – something which has been an issue in other versions of the game – but, overall, this is a super-solid version of a supremely enjoyable and challenging cyberpunk action-adventure.