“What is Loop Hero?” a friend messaged me one night, seeing I was playing.
“Weird. Mostly weird.” I replied.
“Good weird?” he replied.
“I’m still not sure,” I said.
After about a dozen hours with “Loop Hero,” the latest indie game to take a crack at shaking up the formula of challenging pixel-art games with repeating run-based gameplay, I’m still not entirely sure. That’s because “Loop Hero” brings such a unique twist to formula that it’s like nothing else out there and while it certainly has its rough edges, there’s something really fascinating that has kept me coming back… even if I can’t figure out if it’s “good weird.”
“Loop Hero” has a standard enough setting: A magical enemy known as the Lich has erased the world and all memories of it, except your hero who has to rebuild the world one loop at a time by battling enemies, collecting resources and building a camp with permanent upgrades.
While most games in this genre will put you in direct control of the character to explore, dodge, battle and gain experience, “Loop Hero” takes away that control. Your hero plods around on a set route—a barren road called the loop — and battles enemies on her own. By defeating enemies, the hero will collect loot to upgrade the base, gear to upgrade your character for the run and tile cards to start building the world around the loop.
It’s here that the game gets really interesting ... and weird. While you have no say about what your hero does in the battle, you’ll be able to decide their equipment and the world they’ll go up against. Gear will boost your character’s attack, defense, counter chance and several other traits that can combo together in powerful ways. Placing the tile cards around the world will start to fill the loop with forests that spawn wolves, spider nests, battlegrounds that spawn chests but also can bring enemies back to life and vampire manors that add vampires to battles on adjacent tiles. Some of the tiles also combo together: place nine mountain tiles next to each other and they’ll become a peak that creates harpies that can land anywhere on the loop.
It’s almost akin to playing as a dungeon master in Dungeons and Dragons where you want to make the world challenging but beatable. The more challenging it is, the faster you’ll amass upgrades and loot, which can be used to upgrade your permanent base, which offers you new tile cards, gear and even heroes for future runs.
There’s an interesting risk and reward mechanic at play here. As the hero completes more loops, the world’s enemies get tougher but also drop even more loot and gear. Place enough tiles and the level’s boss will appear for an epic (and incredibly tough) battle. But die to either the world’s enemies or the level’s boss and you’ll only get to take home a fraction of the loot you’ve collected.
In my first few playthroughs, judging when to fight and when to retreat isn’t particularly clear and left me with several several-hour runs that ended with a quick loss to the boss and very little resources to progress the base. I think that’s probably my greatest complaint with “Loop Hero,” that it’s just not particularly clear about anything. (It also doesn’t help that the game’s play speed is pretty slow even on 2x time, though it does make it a good game to play with the TV on.)
It’s hard to understand how new gear will impact your hero and it’s hard to judge when you should battle and when you should run.
It’s something that I found improved a bit as I played more, getting a feeling of what the hero was capable of beating as I started to craft worlds that were challenging but beatable.
“Loop Hero” is really like no other game out there. By flipping the formula on its head, it forces you to think about the game in a completely different way and, if I’m being honest, that unique challenge is what has me coming back for another loop.
So, is it “good weird?”
Yeah, I think so.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
If You Play
Game: Loop Hero
Rating: 3 our of 5 stars
Price: $15 with a free demo covering the first level
Release Date: March 4, 2021