Have you ever spent time playing an RPG-type game and you felt like you were stuck going around in circles? Well, I have some good news, because today we have a case where not only is going around in circles a good thing, it’s central to the game mechanics.
Loop Hero, developed by Four Quarters and published by Devolver Digital, is something of a roguelike game that will indeed have you going in circles. I’m willing to bet this idea came from the fact that roguelikes/lites usually involve some kind of randomization and repeated plays with iteration and progress each time. It’s certainly interesting to see such a literal interpretation of the concept’s mechanics, and the result is certainly not quite like anything I’ve played before. So let’s set things in motion then, shall we?
A World Forgotten
The story begins with a world that is collapsing in on itself and essentially vanishing. Just before it’s completely gone (and forgotten), our unnamed and rather young-seeming hero sets out to the last place where there is a chance to stop it.
The hero ultimately finds himself on a barren path entirely shrouded in darkness; literally everything else is gone both physically and from their memory. Nothing to do but walk the path. But as the hero goes, he encounters monsters. As he defeats them, memories of things lost come back, and this results in those things also physically reappearing. It becomes the hero’s goal to remember and literally piece the world back together.
The story is straightforward but quite compelling. As you play, you uncover things, discover people, and pieces of the lore come together. Even though there isn’t a really complex plot, it is interesting enough to drive the gameplay forward and compel you to keep playing. The game takes on a retro style, with the story is told through static dialog and imagery, as would have been done in the early days of gaming. It’s simple in design yet interesting, and very well done.
Round and Round
Loop Hero‘s game design is somehow both relaxing and engaging. Each expedition you go on, you start with a totally empty looping road (hence the name) with a campfire marking the start and end of it, and some monsters. Your character starts walking automatically, and engages monsters automatically with a real-time combat system that resembles an old-school RPG with your turns being taken automatically.
When you defeat monsters, they will drop equipment and cards. These cards, which come from a deck you set up beforehand, represent features of the world which you “remember” by placing them on the map. Each card has different features and effects, and this is where the strategy of the game comes into play. Some cards may summon enemies, for instance, and you may want to be careful not to put too many of them next to each other to allow time to recover.
Each lap you complete around the road causes the enemies to get stronger and the loot to get better. After you’ve remembered enough of the world, a boss will appear. But you aren’t going to be strong enough the first time, so what to do? Retreat to your camp, where you will have the opportunity to build it up, discover people, and unlock new cards, classes, and other things. But whenever you return, you somehow forget everything that you saw out on the road and have to start anew. You get to keep what you take with you, but how much depends on how close you are to the campfire when you do it. Die, and you lose most of what you picked up in that run- typical of the genre through and through.
Because the core gameplay happens semi-automatically, it’s quite easy to play, and why I find it somewhat relaxing. This isn’t a twitch action game, and for periods of time you can just watch and not have to interact too much. But it’s not an idle game, and there is a ton of strategy in how you use your cards and equipment, which you stop the action with “Planning” mode to do. There’s a wide range of both and to be successful you’re going to have to carefully consider how to arrange things and how to build your character with the equipment effects, as the game feels quite difficult. It’s actually quite addicting and, even though the game is always saved and you can close it at any time, when I sat down to play, quite a bit of time had passed when I eventually stopped…
Moving on to the artistic components, Loop Hero has an excellent retro aesthetic, with a limited color palette reminiscent of the early EGA/VGA graphics era of DOS games, with simple (but not TOO simple) pixel art that reminds me of some of the RPGs and RTS games I played back in the day.
There is one element of authenticity I didn’t like QUITE as much, but it does reflect on how things looked in the day when 320×200 was your typical graphics resolution: sometimes the text can be hard to read. The main font used outside of dialog scenes is very minimalist and, despite how large the “pixels” are, some letters in the font are hard to distinguish. But really, that’s the only bad thing I can say – this game solidly nails the retro aesthetic and will please any fan of mid-to-late 80s gaming.
The soundtrack is just as good. The game offers a rotation of original chiptune music that has kind of a eerie, creepy vibe to it, reflective of the dire state of the world in the game. The music truly enhances the game experience and unlike some games, I didn’t quickly want to turn it off. Very, very well done.
And Around We Go Again
I was a little bit skeptical of this game when I first started it, despite being published by Devolver, whom I know to have put out some excellent games recently. But Loop Hero delivers, both for retro and roguelike/lite gamers alike. It is clearly a lovingly crafted game that compromises on nothing. It offers creative story, game, and progression mechanics, and a wonderful overall aesthetic. It’s the kind of game that just makes you say, “one more round,” in more ways than one. Definitely give this one a go at release.
Preview copy provided by Devolver Digital for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.