When I saw Loop Hero was releasing for the Switch I knew I had to try it. I can't even remember if I had read Randy's review for PC from 9 months back, but I certainly remembered that he loved the game. I mean, like, really loved it, was writing articles about it daily. I can't see a second chance come around for a game that highly regarded by another GN staffer and not take the opportunity. So into the loop I went...
...and largely I really didn't know what I was in for. If I had read that review from earlier in the year, I had forgotten everything about the game except: it's a roguelike, it's pretty basic in the visuals department, and it is highly addictive. While I am not as sold on the first point after playing, I can now attest to the second two: the visuals in this game from still shots or even gameplay videos will never do the gameplay itself justice, and once you pick it up it does embody the very best of the roguelike effect - always leaving you wanting just one more run loop.
But while it embraces the best effect of the roguelike, I hesitate to really call it a true roguelike. Every loop does trace a map different than those before it. Is it a procedurally generated dungeon? Ehhhh, not really. But along the route of that map you will encounter enemies on a somewhat random basis, earn loot in a consistently random payout, and place cards randomly acquired to build the world. However, it's that last point that makes me question whether calling Loop Hero a roguelike kind of misses the point. Everything you are going to experience in the world loop is pre-determined by how you select the possible tiles before you even leave your basecamp. There is a deck-building element, in that you can stack your deck with the very tiles that will eventually build out the world itself. The randomly generated map, however, is really just a running track that makes a circle with a few kinks to break up an even curve - but nothing more. What populates the map is created each loop by you and you alone - strategically and intentionally, not randomly. So you are in control of the deck, the map, and how most things get laid out on it except for only a very few random enemy spawns. What you are not really in control of is, well, everything else.
You don't run the loop other than telling your hero to pause or resume. You don't fight the encounters... at all. Combat is entirely played out but the AI for both friend and foe. You equip weapons and armor on your hero, and even have a choice of hero as you progress in building out your basecamp with collected resources from previous loops, but the primary game loop is really just exercising agency over the world building using resources randomly handed out, not really running a roguelike rampart against a world created by the game itself. You are the creator of this story, not really the actor. The AI takes those reigns. It kind of flips the roguelike script on its head in that way and the core of the gameplay is actually something I found closer to a city building sim or even a tower defense than a roguelike dungeon crawler.
Loop Hero is so automated that it at times blurs the line between playing and watching, yet you dare not let your eyes wander form the screen lest the hero's hit points whittle away to zero before you even can sort out what your mistake was. And that becomes the core loop - learning how to best collect resources, build your basecamp from those, and then place new tiles in the most efficient way to grind more treasure without overburdening the quest with a difficulty the hero's AI and boons you have acquired over time cannot overcome. The game is actively played outside the loop as much as in it. And while none of this might make sense if you've never played Loop Hero, that's entirely because if you haven't actually played it, then you've also never played anything like it either.
The game could stand proudly on its uniqueness alone, but once embroiled in the tragedy and ecstasy of failed/successful loops you can't help but be addicted to its charm and the way it hides so many of its secrets behind experimentation. And that might be the greatest triumph of the gameplay: how it makes you a passenger for so much of the in-loop experience. When you fail, there is no need to be upset. You didn't mis-time a jump, or chose the wrong enemy threat in a group only to be overwhelmed by what remains. You just ran out of HP or didn't get good enough loot in your loop. All you really can do is know when to hold them and know when to fold them, then build up whatever resources, great or small, you did exit the run with and invest into a better basecamp and better chance at the next go. And by removing that personal frustration of failed effort, it frees you up to invest in another loop time after time because the game constantly hits that reward endorphin without really battering you over the head in between with failure you might be apt to take personally.
So that's Loop Hero, or at least what Loop Hero is to me. And how is it on the Switch? It's a hard comparison to make given I've not actually played it on any other platform, yet I can't imagine any other platform claiming superiority. Loop Hero is a well crafted port, one that was done with care. All the main actions are mapped smartly to buttons. All the button prompts pop clearly into screen when needed and tuck neatly away when not. The game can be played on joysticks easily and is not hindered in any way by lack of mouse and keyboard. However, where I feel this version might actually be able to make a claim as the definitive one is how well the touchscreen controls are also integrated. Text and some detail (not that the case graphics really offer than much to begin with) can suffer on the cramped screen real estate of the native LCD. But you always have the option to dock the game and fall back on those well laid controller actions, and the game at no point calls for any quick response or action so you are always afforded ample time to choose your next move by the gameplay itself. Overall, it's simply a masterclass on how to port a game from PC to Switch.
And the verdict? I can't fault Loop Hero for being what it is, and what it is is something entirely different than any game you've ever played. It embodies the best of the one more loop experience even if for so much of the actual game you are more a passenger than participant. I did find it took a few runs to really start to figure things out, but with every new introduction of a character or Easter Egg, I was being pulled in deeper and deeper into a fondness for the game. It is maybe the perfect example of a game having that je ne sais quoi - the thing you just can't explain, but it has it in spades.
Don't come into Loop Hero with expectations simply because you've never really played anything like this before. Whatever those expectations might be, they're probably wrong. But do come into Loop Hero as it embodies so much of what makes games great: storytelling, engaging interactions with a digital world, the rewards of looting, world building, strategy, but most of all that ceaseless desire to just dip in for one more run.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...