Loop Hero is Devolver Digital‘s latest indie offering, and it jumped to the top of the Steam best seller’s list on its release day. Developed by Russian studio Four Quarters (who have previously worked on Flash Games, more on that later), Loop Hero is addictive, beautiful, and challenging.
You start out as a lone hero in an utterly dark world. Nothing is really explained to the player beyond that simple premise at the beginning of the game. Then you enter into a compelling gameplay loop of rogue-like mechanics, card building, and micro-management, and then, oh, it’s 3 am.
I’ve clocked 5 hours on the game and only just beat the first chapter. Look, I’m no expert, and Loop Hero can feel unforgiving, especially at the start of the game. My problem was not using the Oblivion cards to destroy some of the boss’s buff buildings so the Lich was always super strong when I fought him.
That’s my fault for not accurately reading the cards, and for not putting two and two together. There’s a lot of that in Loop Hero. The most exciting game mechanics aren’t explained to you. Just like the character, who has lost his memory and identity, the player has to uncover these mechanics as they go.
In terms of game design, Loop Hero is stylized and pretty. The Pixel Art is a real throwback to ancient titles but rendered in super high-quality and fast frame rate. The music, too, is classically 8-bit and chip-tuney, but not in an old-school screechy way that sort of hurts your ears after a while.
The gameplay is repeated, over and over, around a circuit. You defeat enemies and collect loot, such as swords, shields, and rings. These items have different attributes, like vampirism, or counter.
As well as loot, enemies drop resources (which can be used to build up your home base) and cards. These cards are what make Loop Hero so compelling. Build a deck of compatible cards and make your run much easier, finding synergy and using strategy to place the cards. There are rocks, mountains, and cemeteries, and much more.
For example, if you place a Vampire Mansion next to a Village, the vampires infest the village, kill everyone inside, and make your next visit a lot less pleasant. However, after a set number of loops, the monsters evolve and drop incredibly powerful loot.
Loop Hero is a balancing act. You set your own difficulty by how you layout your cards. The idea is not to die, but also collect enough loot to be strong enough to eventually take down the Lich, the final boss of each chapter.
I mentioned earlier that Four Quarters developed Flash games in the past, including the somewhat classic Please, Don’t Touch Anything. It’s interesting to consider this studio’s history with Flash in the context of Loop Hero.
Loop Hero does what every Flash game is designed to do: eat your time. Except rather than a buggy and a bit laggy Flash game, this is a fully-polished potentially one-hundred-hour experience.
Some critics have referred to Loop Hero as an idle game, a genre that became a staple of browser games in the 2010s, but this is a pretty unfair comparison. Sure, all combat is automatic, but you are definitely not idle when playing Loop Hero.
The only glimpse I got of the idle mechanics is when I first (and eventually) beat the Lich after chapter one. I left the game running to see what would happen, and after a while, my character was so strong that it managed to last several more loops without my assistance. I basically filled the map with cards.
Overall, Loop Hero is a compelling title, and another indie gem published by Devolver. If you’re daunted by the complexity of the game or put off by the pixel graphics, put your worries to the side for a moment. Loop Hero is unforgiving, but you learn with every loop, and sometimes it’s okay to just sit back and listen to the music, and watch your hero cleave through another stack of spiderlings.