I’ve been thinking a lot this week about games I wish I enjoyed. The whole trend really started with Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury™ last month. Though it’s come to a head with Loop Hero: the deckbuilding idle game with gorgeous pixel art that’s taken the Fanbyte Discord server by storm. This is sure to be a strange year for video games in general, but to kick things off its full of games everyone but me seems to love.
I played a Loop Hero preview a little while back. It didn’t make much of an impression at the time (thanks in part to that terribly generic name). Now I hear it sold 500,000 copies in a week. I’m genuinely very happy for developer Four Quarters, which also made the highly enjoyable Please, Don’t Touch Anything.
Loop Hero demands a lot more attention than that previous game. Please, Don’t Touch Anything was kind of a trifle — a toy you poked and prodded at to see what would happen. This new, more successful game hints at that kind of irreverence. The tutorial is full of winks and nods, breaking the fourth wall to tell me I’ve probably played a game before. Then it very quickly wants to be something else. It projects dark, Gothic art on a pixel canvas and has monsters explain philosophy as the world fades into nothingness around them.
It’s interesting. I have a harder time saying that it’s good. There’s a slightly “muddy” quality to the serious writing that rubs me the wrong way. Like a lot of beautiful indies with big ideas, it feels like a great game in need of an equally great editor. It’s trying to be so very much at once. It’s as if characters always use two too many words in every phrase. And the best editors always no what to cut. Personally, I’d start with the early jabs at humor (games attempting self-awareness and calling it comedy is serious brain poison to me).
The muddiness doesn’t stop there. Loop Hero is all about optimizing passive, well, loops as your hero walks a circle full of monsters. You can’t control his movement or actions. You can swap out his gear; some of which has “Defense 8” listed as a perk below “Defense 11.” It’s a UI nitpick, I know, but in a game where numbers are all that matter, presenting that information cleanly, clearly, and all that times is pretty dang important.
I have similar issues with Bravely Default 2. The job-based JRPG has lots of ideas; I’ll give it that. But so many of them irk me moment-to-moment. Loop Hero wants to be an idle game, but demands a lot of regular parsing through half-detailed information. Bravely Default 2 wants to feel like a return to classic SquareSoft games, as our own Renata Price put it so well, but lacks the charm of its predecessors and the no-nonsense mathin’ around of superior but equally technical RPGs, like Etrian Odyssey.
I’m genuinely being too hard on both games… There’s a lot to like about each of them. Loop Hero is gorgeous, for instance, and has a lot of really smart UI decisions to offset the bad ones. Such as the way mousing over your gear instantly pauses the action. Bravely Default 2 is hideous, at least when it closes up on the characters, but has some wonderful gameplay variety and in-game locales.
Part of the problem is timing. Yes, ’tis the season for games I wish I liked more. But only because it’s bookended by games I already love so much. I’ve just gotten back into FFXIV (a game that nails the story after its rocky start and has satisfying numbers to boot) and Monster Hunter Rise, my most anticipated game of the year, is right around the corner. These newcomers aren’t just competing for my attention; they’re competing against the comfort these old favorite franchises bring. That’s a tough equation to solve.
At the same time, there’s something to say for games that make me want to enjoy them. I’ve played plenty of bad and boring stuff in my time. These all have some kind of spark. Maybe I’m just missing the right conditions for them to ignite something in me.