Shopping in the 1950s was an entirely different beast than it is today. Between catalog shopping from Sears or Montgomery Ward and massive storefronts like Gimbel’s and Marshall Field’s, the experience of browsing and spending money was a bit more personal than today’s Amazon-laden, fast-paced way of doing things. Regardless of how it’s done, however, the capitalist machine has been raging in America since the very beginning, and Rip Them Off embodies some of that soulless corporate jargon and mentality. Touting itself as a puzzle/tower defense game, Rip Them Off mixes some interesting mechanics to create a more unique puzzle experience while nailing its charming vibes and themes. Unfortunately, arbitrary rules and a failure to have a clear solution to each puzzle simulate difficulty through confusing, trial-and-error gameplay that loses its fun factor pretty much from the get-go.
As a new member of [Company Name Here], you’re tasked with taking mindless consumers for everything they’ve got. Without legitimate branding or products, Rip Them Off tells a story while not actually telling one. Encompassing the overall mentality of corporate America, it doesn’t matter what company you’re working for or what it is you’re trying to sell—it’s all about profit. Thus, storefronts are replaced with symbols that match up with color-coded groups of consumers, where maximized efficiency is the name of the game. Minimalistic aesthetic and a 1950s art style makes Rip Them Off look the part while matched up with a top-notch jazzy soundtrack. While certainly keeping up a trendy presentation, Rip Them Off loses itself through its anonymity when introducing and employing mechanics that don’t seem to match up all the time.
The baseline experience in Rip Them Off starts with a line of consumers moving across the screen, with empty buildings allowing for the placement of “products” along their route. Consumers follow a small list of rules, like not wanting to see the same product more than once along the way, but beyond that, you’re simply trying to drain them of color, which symbolizes the amount of money they have available to spend. Storefronts placed for the consumers can have varying traits, such as more space, more selling power, or speedier checkouts, but ultimately, it all starts with trying to match the consumer’s colored marker to the proper symbol that fully takes advantage of their wallets. While the gameplay is meant to be solved through trial-and-error, a quick tutorial and a few “help” screens do clarify the main goals of Rip Them Off. However, even after trying to learn the mechanics, it doesn’t make that much sense.
Each day of progression through a puzzle, the number of consumers and amount of money available changes, which throws a wrench into the color-coded mechanic you’ve previously learned. Additionally, more difficult puzzles change things up with multiple lanes of consumers, as well as stores that can grab consumers from the various lanes. Basically, Rip Them Off is a series of math puzzles with its own created language, where you have to solve them by simply trying different solutions over and over until you get it right. What’s frustrating about having these math-based puzzles is the game tells the player not to worry about being perfectly efficient, while also not offering a full solution to each puzzle. You just have to hit your profit margin, which is nice for difficulty’s sake but doesn’t make sense when paired with a system that doesn’t work without there being concrete answers. It feels like the game asks the player what two plus two is and then allows the answer to be “more than three.”
Even though the aesthetic, soundtrack, and intelligent dialogue create a package that looks outstanding, Rip Them Off fails to come together in its puzzle gameplay. While utilizing trial-and-error can have its merits, Rip Them Off’s method of having the player learn a mathematic language that it then changes constantly just doesn’t make for a fun gameplay loop. Lacking hard solutions and ramping up difficulty before you’ve been properly taught makes Rip Them Off a puzzle title that is hard to recommend.