When talking about what a game has to offer, we often bring up the “gameplay loop,” the cycle of tasks that players partake in, and how satisfying it is. Loop Hero is a game that puts a laser focus on the concept of the gameplay loop and completely flips it on its head.
Developed by Four Quarters and published by Devolver Digital, Loop Hero is set in a medieval world, thrown into an endless time loop by an evil lich. Players will have to navigate dangerous lands and recurring foes in order to stop the Lich and restore peace. However, it’s the player that chooses just how easy or difficult the path will be.
This is where the developers put their own spin on the time loop trope. Though the players’ ultimate goal is still to build their character, get stronger, and expand their camp, they’ll be the ones that put different creatures and monsters out for every loop. While killing monsters can yield some fabulous rewards, it also raises the difficulty.
A balance of space and time
Practically the entirety of Loop Hero takes place on a set track, with the player completing laps as the days pass. Using cards, players lay out different terrain, as well as monsters to fight during a given loop. In the beginning, it’s easy to just throw down a few cards, tear through the enemies, and reap rewards. However, as you unlock rarer cards and more powerful enemies, it can be tempting to just throw them across the board, excited to reel in those sweet, sweet benefits. I quickly found myself biting off more than I could chew, when I ended up fighting way more vampires, spiders, and wolves than I could handle in one trip. It forces you to think strategically in a way that’s really unique from other games in the genre.
When players get back to the start of the loop, they can either call it a day and head into camp, which clears the board but allows them to safely store all of their loot and recuperate for the next adventure. However, players can also opt to just keep moving forward and take another spin around the loop. All of the hazards stay there, but rewards get better and better. It’s another instance where the game forces you to play smartly. Thinking you’ve got the bandwidth for one more lap could result in you losing all of the precious items you’d earned over the course of the run.
Though the base loop is pretty standard, there’s also a level of strategy to where you place things, and how you space them out. Some cards are there to help the player, providing health regeneration or other boosts. I was sure to have a couple of these cards scattered out between enemies and hazards, as not to put myself in a situation to be beaten down by foe after foe.
Time is of the essence
Though the primary mechanic is gathering cards and strategically placing them around the loop, players in Loop Hero will also be able to engage in a real-time combat system, where enemies attack based on speed. It’s pretty hands-off, meaning that you select weapons and gear to put your character in the best position to win in fights, but you don’t actively swing a sword or raise a shield.
When players do return to camp, they’re able to build and upgrade facilities, which are used to provide stat bonuses, as well as unlock new items and cards. This is why it’s important to get a good haul of resources before returning back to camp, because you’ll need them in order to upgrade facilities and ensure you’re ready to roll for the next adventure. Some facilities will allow you to start an adventure with a full set of armor, while others will provide extra HP. As players progress through the game, they’ll have a bustling camp full of people and important facilities.
I do wish that you could read the names of items missing when trying to craft new facilities. If it was an item I’d yet to discover, I often wouldn’t know what I was looking for until I found it. It would have also helped to be able to pull up the items needed while on an expedition.
Stuck in time
What really blew me away with Loop Hero was the classic art-style. The game goes full retro, with minimalist sprites used in the overworld. However, the game doesn’t feel “old” by any means. There’s a wide color pallet, which is used to detail the various creatures and locations. All of the different characters that players meet feel hand-crafted, as the pixelated art style works so well in this world created by Four Quarters.
Sounds design also contributes to the retro vibe of Loop Hero. There’s melodic 8-bit music that invokes classic games from decades past. The sound effects of combat, movement, even shifting items around the inventory, all feel like they were ripped right out of an SNES game.
End of day
Loop Hero succeeds as an adventure game by blending together elements of strategy and roguelikes in a way that feels clever and fresh. Giving players agency on the adversaries they encounter, and the frequency of said encounters, is an exciting spin on the genre, and one that forced me to strategize in a unique way. Couple the outstanding mechanics with a gorgeous and well-executed visual design, and you’ve got yourself one satisfying gameplay loop.
This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Loop Hero is available now for $14.99 on Steam.