When checking out games in a large-scale setting like PAX, it’s easy to make comparisons between new games and those you recognize. Go too far one way, experimental games can be a hard sell, but it’s important to have a distinctive voice in the crowd.

Loot Rascals, the new turn-based rogue-like from Hollow Ponds, walks that wonderful line between evoking what you love and know while also forging a path all its own.

My demo opened with a dryly funny cinematic following a space cadet on a repair mission to a resort planet. As the blue-skinned, teapot-headed guide told me, the device holding the “liquid anything” that makes up the planet’s attractions has fallen apart; now it’s my job to get the resort up and running again. That hits a snag when my vessel is intercepted by large, pink monster that looks like the lovechild of a giant squid and a piece of gum.

As I got my bearings, the new goal was to venture out into a monster-filled wilderness and make it through five procedurally generated stages. You’ll see anything from robots to tentacle beasts to my personal favorite, the half-horse-half-seahorse hybrid. Character designs are reminiscent of the old KaBlam! cartoon on Nickelodeon; it’s no surprise that animator Dave “Swatpaz” Ferguson has worked on Adventure Time in the past.

Hollow Ponds

It’s clear the team at Hollow Ponds has put a ton of effort into the incredibly deep combat system, which is at times overwhelming but never frustrating. Loot kind of works like Munchkin; you pick up cards with equipment or weapons on them, and you lay them out in two rows of five. The better cards you get, the more stipulations they’ll have, like giving a bonus to the card above it or gaining additional points if it’s in an even-numbered space. Placement matters just as much as the cards themselves.

Once outfitted, you’ll have free movement across the hexagonal battlefield. Each enemy you come into contact with launches a fast-paced back-and-forth battle. If you played your cards right (sorry) and considered the enemy’s attack or defense stance, you’ll go first and likely win.

But it’s so much more than a numbers game. Each enemy reacts differently: some will rush you and go for the jugular, some run away and some keep their distance while lobbing missiles. And those reactions can be exploited. Hollow Ponds co-founder Ricky Haggett saw I had several guys chasing after me, so he had me move long enough until they were lined up. I zapped them with an electric attack, and the bolt went down the line of enemies, taking them out in one fell swoop. The demo was full of these game-changing discoveries that could’ve very well gone unnoticed.

Hollow Ponds

Don’t let the speed of the game fool you – you’ll need to be methodical in using your turns wisely. They act as a form of currency, counting down as you move from space to space. You can use a number of them to teleport back to the base and heal, or you can use money to build them up. Every five turns, the game switches from day to night, changing how the enemies attack and defend. If your turns run out, the game calls reinforcements, though they’re less of an instant game over and more of a kick in the butt to get you in gear.

It’s a lot to remember, but Loot Rascals’ charm alleviates any frustration with remembering the mechanics. My first death resulted in another cinematic showing me more behind what I was doing and why. There are much worse consolation prizes.

Loot Rascals is one of those games I just had to tell my friends about. It’s good that it comes with multiplayer elements. Each game has a seed number, so if you found one session particularly tricky or memorable, you can save it for later or send it to a friend. You can also find rocket ships that send your loot cards into your friends’ games for them to discover.

With its deep mechanics and outlandish world, Loot Rascals is a hard game to wrap your head around – that’s probably why I’ve bent over backwards for comparisons. It’s kind of like Fire Emblem meets Munchkin meets Spelunky meets Saturday-morning cartoons with a dry, British sense of humor. There’s a lot going on in Loot Rascals, but there’s also a lot to love.

Loot Rascals is now available on PC and is coming to PlayStation 4 later this year.