In the video game industry, a fundamental problem has been dragged for years: not infrequently the satisfaction of feeling full, but never satiated, is confused with the feeling of never feeling completely satisfied. While the first is that deep sense of communion with our environment, everything fits and has a meaning. Even if we do not understand it, the second is simply a compulsive obsession, the need to return again and again because there is a task left pending to do. In other words, great games stay with us and make us want to inhabit them, hooking us in the process. In contrast, games designed to hook us become a constant cycle of dissatisfaction where there is always something new that we want to achieve beyond being playing, burning in the process.
Loop Hero is a game that does not confuse this feeling of communion with the game with the mere feeling of making the player never feel satisfied. And for that reason, the game of Four Quarters is a true prodigy from which it is difficult to detach.
First, the game’s greatest peculiarity is that we never get to control the main character directly. When we start to play, he is in the middle of the void, in a more or less circular dirt circuit, where there is nothing more than a handful of slimes, a village, and an eternity of spinning, if we don’t tell him to go back to the village or the slimes end up condemning us to premature death.
Said like that, it can sound not very clear. In principle, an idle game can only see our fantasy adventurer spin infinitely, defeating the most crappy enemy in history. Now, if something is empty, it can be filled, and this is how we interact with the game, filling the empty spaces with things.
This is explained because, when dying, the enemies give us two possible types of elements: cards and equipment. With the cards, we can place elements of the game world, creating new game elements that also have secondary effects on the mechanics. Some cards can get in the way, like the town, which cures our lives when we pass through it; some just by the road, like spider cocoons, which spawn a spider every game day that passes; and others just off the road, like the meadows, which heal us for extra health points at the end of each day. The team is literally the team for our hero. Swords, shields, and armor, in the beginning, have different stats and base abilities, which we will have to combine to optimize our hero’s abilities as much as possible. In this way, by placing cards, we fill the world with enemies and effects, and by choosing equipment, we increase our chances of surviving it.
Live, Die, Repeat
Therefore, our duty is to maintain the perfect balance between elements of the world and our character’s equipment. Something to which we can add that for each card that we use, the meter that will make the final boss appear will increase a little, that each day that passes, we recover a small amount of each life and that in each loop, each entire turn of the stage, the Enemy attributes are increased by 2%. This makes the game a delicate puzzle where it is important to know when to withdraw, when to accelerate, and when to slow down our character’s advance a little. Especially since every death or every return to the village implies that we will have to start over from scratch.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Loop Hero is a roguelike because it is actually a rogue-lite. A game with character progression. After each run, we will be able to take a series of resources to build different elements in our central hub, the only village that already exists in the world and that we are helping to build. In this way, each building unlocks new classes, improvements, cards, and even menu options, making the game itself remember itself as we progress, giving a narrative sense to all the game mechanics.
Because although it may not seem like it, Loop Hero is a game with a narrative. And one, also, very interesting.
Our character is a person who can remember the fact that all the other people who exist seem to have forgotten: before there were things, but they were eaten by a terrible lich, an undead magician. In this way, going on adventures to go around without end has an ultimate goal, which is to remember. Each card, each piece of equipment, each material are elements that we remember and can keep a certain amount of time. The runs’ elements are volatile; they only exist while we look at them, but the village elements are permanent; they are stable despite the chaos that reigns in the world. Something that will have narrative explanations throughout the game, since we will unlock dialogues, memories, and various information as we progress,
That the game consists of remembering explains, in turn, why the real sauce of the game is deckbuilding. Before starting each run, we have to choose which cards we are going to take with us. We cannot carry all of them because no territory in the world accumulates all the possible elements existing in reality. Which, narratively speaking, creates a mechanical limit for us: the cards that come out during the game are random but always from a pool of cards that we have previously chosen to mount the run. In this way, knowing which cards harmonize with others, which have secret effects and which help us and which harm according to class – because, also, there are three classes of characters, each with their abilities and needs well-differentiated deckbuilding -, it becomes vital, both mechanically and narratively, since they allow us to create, on the one hand, coherent landscapes that explain what the world was like before the apocalypse, but also because a scenario of little harmonic elements will end, necessarily, with our hero biting the dust.
Fortunately, the game’s progression turns out to be as smooth and graceful as you’d like to expect. Having to overcome each level defeating the final boss, activating new levels where what changes are the conditions -essentially, each higher level has enemies with more active skills and a higher percentage of attributes, but in return, it has a higher drop rate and a maximum cap of elements- and the boss against which we will face each other, the progression is natural because they always give us the necessary resources to unlock new buildings in the village, which give us new cards and abilities to continue advancing. A cycle where we learn to play naturally, adjusting the game to our rhythm, as we are the ones who advance, with some intercession of the RNG here and there, according to our learning of the mechanics, hidden or not, of the game.
All of this is further enhanced by the incredible artwork they have done at Four Quarters. Clearly drinking from Dungeons & Dragons and the current fantasy current closer to an aesthetic of decrepitude, desolation, and terrible cosmic entities, all the artistic work moves in darker references than the average of the fantasy genre. Even if they consistently avoid the platitudes of it, like Lovecraft or the grimdark, it favors a style that could only be more definitely defined as doom metal.
Something that doesn’t necessarily show through in the music. With an emphasis on synth sounds, heavy percussion, and a hint of dungeon synth, it feels retro, but not retro. No console from the nineties could have allowed the composition of these songs, nor probably anything outside of a fine-tuned use of FL Studio; not when it sounds like a Mega Drive gaming soundtrack, that is, like a Yamaha synthesizer, if it could have moved the clarity and cleanliness of a Super Nintendo’s percussion.
That does not mean that the most shocking part of the game is, without a doubt, the graphics. Made entirely in pixel art, with very pronounced color palettes, they can be repellent to the inexperienced eye – accustomed to the nostalgic cleanliness of contemporary pixel art, with sharp pixels, saturated colors, and neon glows – but the graphics are, both in terms artistic as well as design, a true marvel.
This becomes particularly evident when we look at how perfectly readable everything that happens in the game is. Be it the large illustrations or the smallest elements of the game. Everything is always easy to follow. There are very few occasions where we cannot know exactly what is happening and what will happen if they run like this at a glance.
Also, it works because, in fact, they understand that each part of the game requires different aesthetic approaches. While great illustrations work well because of their excellent character design and UI integration, gameplay elements work because of their use of color contrast (world elements have muted colors, living things have vivid colors; in the letters highlight the illustration and the text, in objects the color of the background and the object) and the composition of the elements (each group of elements has a clearly differentiated size and aesthetics, separated in a specific place on the screen).
Something that means that not only are all the elements integrated, fulfilling mechanical, artistic, and narrative functions at the same time but that they are also thought from the point of view of the usability offered by their design. Loop Hero is a game readable even in the character table, full of numbers, but always giving us the right and exact amount that we need to know to pass each game phase.
That’s why it’s impossible not to get excited about Loop Hero. A game full of subtle decisions polished to the extreme, where each element plays in favor of the whole, raising the stakes and making it impossible not to repeat over and over again “one more game and I’ll quit.”
A game based on a straightforward basic concept and that, for once, has been adequately evolved into an interesting, albeit inherently repetitive, experience. Great for hit-and-run sessions, with enough room to delve into its bizarre mechanics. In case you “catch,” you have to play for many hours, including plot, elements to unlock, and lots of room for experimentation—all in a riot of pixel-art that gives a heavy nod to the old days of Amiga computers.
Offering a unique playable experience, Loop Hero is a game that is easy to understand, difficult to master, and almost impossible to stop playing.