They say repetition is the mother of retention.
In the seemingly never ending genre that one could define as “roguelikes”, Loop Hero stands out for several reasons. I fired up this game expecting another run-of-the-mill indie game safely following a formula that has been used to near-death and saturates the market. Lo and behold, I was greeted by a battle system that was so simple yet shockingly in-depth, and a very compelling menagerie of ideas including auto-battling, deckbuilding, and tile-laying that all coalesce together and form one of the best roguelikes of the year. Let’s go over exactly what makes it so.
Loop Hero’s story is a surreal experience. The world has been ended by a Lich, the void created by him is nearly all that’s left. Memories are being consumed by it, as well as abstract ideas, and everything around that has life inside of it. All that’s left is your lone hero which is a class of your choosing, who cannot remember anything. Essentially that’s the set-up and once this game starts, it becomes a series of runs and loops to gradually remember things gradually as you fight monsters and all kinds of filthy mcnasties through the void and build your path forward.
From goblins to ghosts, ghouls to greedy bandits, they have remembered and willed themselves into existence to stand in your way. You converse with them and other beings in a strange, very trippy and dreamesque way. It reminds me of talking to NPCs in Hotline Miami where it almost seems like you can’t be sure who exists and what’s real and maybe this whole thing is one bad acid trip with RPG mechanics.
Gameplay & Presentation
At the start of the game, it autobattles for you and the first few runs are pretty mindless. Run through, complete your first loops, enjoy the excellent sprites and lovely early 90s retro sick chiptune soundtrack. Your fate and the conclusion of your battle is determined by each enemy’s Attack Speed, Damage Statistics, and Defense, while simultaneously praying to RNGesus that you get more crit, counter, and evade percentages than the enemy’s party. Boss battles have the same layout. This game is very much a stat-based battler. Is my number bigger? Then they die.
Eventually, the challenge elevates to the point where you have to pause your battles mid-fight and get your almonds activated. As you fight, you gradually earn more tiles representing pieces of maps amidst other loot acquired. You gradually “remember” that forests, mountains, rivers, villages, caves, and all that jazz were part of the world before it vanished, and you lay them out and make your path, restoring them back into reality itself.
Each new tile set brings stat boosts, but also each new environment tile brings about new enemies that live in each place. Beasts, vampires, mermen, and spooky scary skeletons come pouring out so it becomes a game of planning and balance. What do you want to lay down out of your deck/tiles, while not being overwhelmed and being slaughtered by nonstop enemies? I say the loot is almost too rng based. Darkest Dungeon in my humble opinion is the King of “tear my balls off this RNG is RIDICULOUS!” still, but the random nature of Loop Hero’s loot after battles does always keep you on your toes, even if it does feel a bit off the cuff.
Also, you better really enjoy pixel art. Chunky, thick, muted pixel art ala early Castlevania. You also have to make sure you go back to camp plenty as you remember and gain new tiles and loot. The eventual pattern you get settled into is: place your tiles, equip your gear, kill shit, get loot, go back to camp, and repeat until your loops are over. You can purchase upgrades back at camp too. You build your camp/base up and unlock upgrades, structures, and people for it as you remember them into existence or they remember themselves(?) into existence. Your expedition planning inside camp requires synergy and finding out what tiles can be used together to form what new regions and areas work best with your class. Optimization and streamlining are essential, same as any good deck building video game. This is also a game meant to be played in small bursts, not for hours and hours at a time I feel, since the formula does eventually get stale if you do it for six or more hours straight.
The simplicity and stripped down nature of Loop Hero helps its addictive nature quite a bit. Although wholly unique in its melding of concepts, another game similar to it (at least in the deckbuilding roguelike/lite aspect) that you might enjoy if you enjoy Loop Hero is Mega Crit Games’ ‘Slay the Spire’. They both have the same incredibly addictive and fun nature that appeals to the tcg lover in all of our hearts, and I can confidently say that Loop Hero will permanently have a place installed on my Switch’s SD card, because amongst the pick up and play aspect of Loop Hero in all of its surreal, dark, muddy pixelated glory, the fact of the matter is that Loop Hero is the first of its kind mixing three different game genres together. Not only does it do it splendidly, there is also nothing quite like it on the market today.
So, why should you buy it?
You enjoy roguelikes and/or deckbuilders.
You haven’t gotten tired of that 90s pixel art aesthetic from indie games.
You are on the Loopma Male Grindset and love that grind.
But why shouldn't you buy it?
You do not like roguelikes and/or deckbuilders.
You find that you’re really sick of indie games using pixel art and chiptune soundtracks.
You are not on the Loopma Male Grindset and do not enjoy the grind.
A review code for Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
A review code for PC was provided for the purpose of this review.
Joshua is a game reviewer and columnist from Indiana in the United States. His favourite genre is fighting games where you'll frequently find him in the lobbies or labbing in the dojo. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com