I actively avoid games that have any roguelike aspects whatsoever. So it should carry a little extra weight when I say that Loop Hero is awesome and you should probably play it. Russian developer Four Quarters has stumbled upon a wonderfully novel formula that isn’t so easy to describe in a few words, but it’s an incredibly effective twist on roguelike elements and heroic journeys. It’s no wonder that Loop Hero was already a huge hit on PC earlier this year, and while I never played that version, I can still say with confidence for this review that it’s lost nothing in the transition to Nintendo Switch.
It’s about loops
The premise of Loop Hero is that the universe has basically become a black, empty void — but a tiny bit of loop-shaped land and one camp of people remain for some reason. Also, that bit of land is constantly changing shape. One hero is strong enough to traverse that land, fight monsters, collect resources, and use what is retrieved during a run to unlock new camp facilities or upgrade existing ones, which makes it easier to complete the game’s four levels.
The twist is that you never control the hero directly; the hero just marches down the same predetermined path on loop forever — or until you decide to quit, confront the level boss, or die. Instead, you play cards that create the whole world that surrounds the loop. This might include background scenery like mountains, grasslands, forests, and rivers, which provide slight improvements to hero stats. It also includes dangerous areas that spawn most of the monsters on the loop road, such as spider nests and vampire mansions. And it lastly includes a variety of areas with special effects, such as lanterns that decrease enemy spawn rates, structures that rain down lightning at random during battles, and buildings that offer support soldiers to help you fight within a given proximity.
While it may sound counterintuitive to design threats for your hero to confront on loop, it’s important to fight monsters so that the hero can acquire camp resources, in addition to run-specific better gear and special abilities. Monsters get stronger each time the hero completes one loop around the road, which includes the end-of-level boss that spawns once enough of the world has been filled out with cards during a run.
Bosses are likely to tear you apart unless you have assembled your hero’s gear, abilities, and even geography with a specific strategy in mind beforehand. However, just like with all other things in the game, all battles play out automatically without your input. At best, all you can do in a fight is choose to replace what gear you have currently equipped.
Again, Loop Hero is a difficult game to describe without playing it yourself, but the final result is kind of brilliant. For one thing, it just works on an aesthetic level. The story doesn’t go into too much depth, but what’s there is trippy. The 8-bit graphics complement the narrative wonderfully, employing a gritty dark fantasy style that still retains some whimsy. Even the soundtrack and sound effects totally deliver, with the former feeling mysterious and epic and the latter feeling harsh and brutal.
But more importantly, the gameplay is just so imaginative. The many different playable cards interact with each other in so many different and often completely unpredictable ways. For instance, putting a vampire mansion next to a village turns the village into a corrupted town of dangerous zombies. But then if you kill enough zombies, the village basically gets turned into a “super village” of sorts, restoring more HP than usual. Far and away, one of the most fun aspects of Loop Hero is just experimenting with different card juxtapositions and seeing if anything crazy happens. Even the class you choose to play as can have surprising, not-always-helpful effects on how geography reacts to you.
Speaking of which, you will eventually have access to three different classes for your runs: warrior, rogue, and necromancer. Each one can equip different things with different effects and has a different approach to battle. Warriors are the normal default, with things like sword, shield, and accessory. Rogues have two weapons and act fast but have to wait until the end of a loop to receive all their gear for that round of the journey. And necromancers use freely spawned skeletons to fight for them in battle. Each class provides a completely different flavor and strategy to gameplay, which is fantastic, but I personally have the easiest time playing as a rogue.
Naturally, Loop Hero was originally designed to be played with a mouse, but the game offers many different control options on Nintendo Switch simultaneously. The control stick basically behaves like a mouse would, but the control pad lets you move across tiles modularly. You can also hold ZL and ZR to immediately access cards and gear respectively, significantly speeding things up. Plus, when playing handheld, you can use touch controls for everything. I ultimately used every available control option for different situations, and it felt fairly intuitive over time (except in the slightly wonky supply and crafting menus). Four Quarters did a terrific job of making a very-PC game like Loop Hero feel at home on Nintendo Switch. In fact, it’s extra at home on Switch, since you can play a few loops on the go, save your game anywhere, and pick up where you left off later.
Any criticisms that can be directed at Loop Hero are pretty negligible. For one thing, some of the game mechanics are a little obtuse, but it seems like that was done at least partially on purpose, to enhance the sense of discovery. When you eventually unlock the Encyclopedia, many (but not all) game elements will become clearer. The other little niggle is that the game has a lot of different resources to grind, and some of them feel slow to grind under even the best of circumstances (though I concede that I am no master strategist). If you want to see every last thing Loop Hero has to offer on Switch, you’ll need to be in it for the long haul.
Loop Hero does a perfect flip onto Nintendo Switch
There is nothing like Loop Hero, and it feels born for Nintendo Switch. If you love roguelikes, nothing should stop you from playing this refreshingly weird game. And if you’re like me and generally detest roguelikes, I sincerely believe you might be captivated enough by the game’s unique and imaginative mechanics that you might not even think of it as a roguelike. The game just is what it is — it’s Loop Hero. And it’s the best example of indie ingenuity.
A Nintendo Switch review code for Loop Hero was provided by the publisher.