Take a look at this game, Loop Hero, and you’ll probably dismiss it as “another one of those retro-loving indies”. Yes, Loop Hero looks like a SNES game. Indeed, its graphics are pixelated and too simple; you are a small hero that looks like… something, a skeleton maybe, build on basic animations and zero details. Another dungeon crawler, another roguelite, by the looks of it. Well, dungeon crawler and roguelite are terms that are needed to describe Loop Hero, but they are by no means enough.
You see, this little game punches far aboive than you’d except and works far better than it should be allowed to. It’s a weird experiment, a strange mix of genres and mechanics, a combination that sounds too niche to be fun, or even to exist. It’s a part rogulite, a bit RPG, it utilizes loot, turn-based combat and even cards, it has a story and can eliminate your free time -and you’ll love it.
The only entry point is that you must be tempted by this description. If rogue-card-RPG sounds even a little enticing, chances are this will be one of your favorite recently released games. If it sounds like trouble, well, better stay away. Loop Hero is, after all, very strange.
First things first: yes, this weird mix has an actual story and surprisingly it isn’t just filler material. This is a genuinely well-written plot, engaging, full of character and personality. The dialogues are the star of the show, charming, funny, interesting fun but also somber. Moreover, the story does a great job making the roguelite elements feel plausible. In Loop Hero’s world, everything has disappeared. There is no color, mountains don’t exist, rivers, forests, land and sea are all absent; the world is now a black void. Nobody can even remember how it used to be, everyone has forgotten. So, it falls upon you, the hero, the one who can actually remember the previous state of the world, to reconstruct it.
This premise is expertly designed and creates the canvas on which the game builds its story, lore and gameplay. Yes, the gameplay is also built on the black, empty void. If you watch a trailer or a gameplay video, you’ll see that the little ghostly knight walks in a circle, with empty nothingness all around them. Here lies the core concept: Loop Hero doesn’t give you control. You don’t control the hero’s movement, you don’t control the way they fight. The hero walks, in a circle, looping again and again, and you help them remember by placing memories to form a place. Memories are cards, of course, and there are strict rules to follow. You can place a mountain here, a river next to it, a village down further and some spider-monster nests near a road.
This way, you actually form the terrain on which you walk but also the difficulty, all at once, because everything you meet as you traverse the loop is placed by you. Terrain cards can give you boosts, raise your max health for example, and there are some secret combinations to discover that invite a lot of experimentation. Why would you make the game more difficult, then, if it’s entirely your choice (and also affected by a bit of luck, for sure, as your deck of cards behaves like, well, a deck of cards -you build it, but it’s handed to you in random card order), what’s stopping from just chilling in the black void?
You have to try and find balance, creating a world full of buffs and boons for your hero, but also filled with dangers, traps and enemies. You need to place cards on the world, because, if you want to face the boss and end the stage, you have to fill a bar that’s filled, yes, by placing cards. It’s a matter of balance, of choice, of finding the right moment to raise the stakes, when you’re well equipped to face the harder foes. Enemies give you loot, after all, so you can get better weapons to destroy what’s coming and, mind you, Loop Hero’s combat is hard. Every loop you complete raises the enemy level, so you can’t just take it slow either. It’s a perfectly balanced system, incredibly fun and addictive, well-designed and constantly surprising.
Interesting on its own, the gameplay system gets even more fascinating because of its choice-based difficulty. Loop Hero couldn’t be an easy game; its influences certainly lie on the difficult side. Although, instead of making you face hard challenges and intimidating foes at set or procedural stages, it mixes things up by having you call the shots, shaping the landscape and level of difficulty as you go. It is a good, original idea that fits this particular genre(s), and it’s made with care and attention.
Some problems do arise if you play for a long time -it takes around 30 hours to finish a playthrough- because it does get repetitive and some skills take too long to unlock. Also, the PC version is the better choice to play this game, even if the Switch port tries its best. The lack of a mouse can be felt and if you’re playing on docked mode you’ll encounter some frustrations, as the touch controls are by far the most convenient scheme. Even on handheld, though, you’ll see that the UI is not perfectly implemented to take into account the smaller screen. However, any way you decide to play, you’ll find that Loop Hero is a beautiful experience that takes advantage of its pixelated SNES graphics and throws in some great music too, to create a singular, atmospheric loop that’s as fun as it is memorable.
No problem is enough to detract from all the things Loop Hero gets right, thankfully. It’s full of ideas, excellent in their implementation and unusual in their concept. It merges different genres successfully and will rule your every thought for some days. The enthusiasm can wane over time, the narrative is a bit sparse, but this is a delightful game, full of heart and character, bursting with originality and excellent mechanics. If Loop Hero sounds even a little fascinating to you, just go for it and you won’t regret it.