Something struck me as I threw myself into Loopomancer hour after hour: roguelites have become so ubiquitous that playing a new one has become a meta-loop of sorts in its own right. It can feel like you’re replaying a remixed version of the same concepts over and over again, just with different titles and gimmicks – lather, rinse and repeat. To stand out, a game either has to do something extremely creative, or excel in quality and polish. Loopmancer, following in the footsteps of other 2D action-platformer roguelites like Rogue Legacy and Dead Cells, chose the latter – with great success. None of its mechanics are groundbreaking, and the cyberpunk storyline – while cool – is riddled with clichés. But after driving this loop for nearly 20 hours, I realize that what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for by capturing the genre’s key elements: outstanding gameplay and making every run fresh and meaningful make.
You take on the role of Xiang Zixu, a generic badass detective in the techno-futuristic Dragon City who was killed while investigating a missing person. Immediately after death, he wakes up in his bed the same morning of the same day and is given the same assignment to investigate the same missing person. It’s a tried and true time warp formula, and effective as a premise for a roguelite. Zixu doesn’t have much personality, but it’s fun to listen to him impatiently explaining to his supervisor at the detective agency that he already knows everything that’s going to happen.
As he progresses further, he can piece together the interesting details about who is pulling the strings and why. There are some branching paths along the way, and following them in consecutive runs leads to different story reveals and seven different endings. While the answer always seems to come straight out of the Philip K. Dick imitations, they’re fun to watch as they unfold.
The cyberpunk setting is used very effectively to create interesting environments. One minute you’re knocking down henchmen on dirty city streets while dodging oncoming traffic, the next you’re fighting cyber ninjas in what appears to be a modern recreation of Elevator Action while you search for the right elevator to take you up an office building . The Tang Dynasty Hotel in particular stands out for its varied design: you have to grapple or use an elevator to move around a stage and then engage in massive, multi-stage combat where the action is only shown in silhouette behind hundreds of crimson banners.
Loopmancer Review screenshots
Each level is divided into subsections with related themes, and they reshuffle each run in small but meaningful ways. Open paths are blocked while new routes become available. Enemy types are reshuffled, powerups change location. A visit to the crumbling slum known as The Ditch lets you smash giant spiders with a battle ax while tiptoeing between tripwires. Then you die, come back again, shoot giant mutants while trying not to fall into electrified water. It’s enough to keep Loopmancer fresh for a good while.
Combat is fast and aggressive. Melee weapons like swords and hammers mix with ranged attacks like shotguns or lasers to deal damage, while defensive dodges and parries make exchanges more fluid. Tech items like towers or mines can be used, and special attacks in the form of skill chips can end a battle immediately, but have a cooldown timer. Enemies come in a wide variety, and their design greatly affects how best to approach them. Your melee weapon might make quick work of a run-of-the-mill street gang member, but the skilled martial artist right behind him will shrug off and counter your attacks. It might sound like a good idea to dump your best attacks in the Giant Mutants…until you’re swarmed by venomous spiders. When you’re surrounded by invisible ninjas, sometimes all you can do is start shooting and hope you hit something – ideally not that explosive barrel you didn’t know you were standing on.
The best way to survive depends on the weapons and tools you have, as well as the type and number of enemies coming your way. As a result, heavy combat becomes an intricate dance, mixing attacks with quick dodges while making quick decisions about when to use your limited ammo and tech items. It’s exhilarating and keeps the experience fresh throughout.
With nearly 50 melee weapons and dozens of weapons, engineering skills, and abilities, the variety of tools at your disposal is very similar in scope to your Dead Cells arsenal. I’ve run into battle with swords, bo staffs, my fists, big fish, golf clubs, a frying pan, and more as my main weapons, all with their own unique traits and animations that make them viable. Choosing which one to take is rarely black or white: it might be tempting to take the Grenade Launcher into battle for its sheer blast damage, but this venom-spitting SMG has far more ammo. Sure, a crowd-clearing grenade can help you get to the boss, but those deployable Auto Turrets would be a big help when it comes time for that big fight.
Speaking of big fights, the variety of bosses is another of Loopmancer’s strengths. Most levels feature challenging combat against a unique enemy with patterns to memorize and windows to learn attacks. Earlier bosses, like the aptly named Big Guy, are easily defeated with well-timed dodges and punches, while others, like an AI-assisted hacker, unfold more like puzzles and really benefit from careful selection of the right tools before combat. A boss fight against a man in a mech suit ended many of my early runs, but later that encounter turned into a speedrun as I memorized his attack patterns and gleefully unleashed righteous fury with whatever weapons I could get my hands on. I found the fights tough but fair, and the first time I defeated the final boss (which I don’t want to spoil), I could feel my heart pounding and my forehead starting to drip with sweat.
The weapons and abilities are mostly found scattered throughout the levels and can be unlocked and upgraded by spending e-coins, a currency that – in true video game tradition – flies out of defeated enemies and broken pots or boxes. If you die, you’ll lose all your gear and have to start over with a random selection, but the unlocks and upgrades are permanent, and there’s a chance those new weapons will be part of your selection at the start of the next loop. After struggling to defeat them in the early hours of the morning, there is great satisfaction in ripping apart an early level boss with a maxed out endgame rocket launcher.
In addition, Zixu has its own persistent upgrade tree where you can improve your health, unlock new combat moves or buy new cosmetic outfits. Alternatively, you can toss your upgrade cores into terminals scattered throughout the levels to increase their healing ability. This leaves you with another decision: do you focus on your next upgrade to fuel yourself for future runs, or do you go all out on this one?
Optional challenges appear on screen in all levels and ask you to kill a certain number of enemies or eliminate them in a certain way. It’s entirely optional, but its rewards may be worth your time. Sure, you might have cut these idiots to pieces a dozen times already, but can you take them out with explosive barrels or throw them into traffic on the side for some extra money? You might earn a souvenir to look at in your apartment to build more worlds. It’s an added layer of intrigue, but of course it can easily lead to unnecessary deaths if you stray too far from what suits your gear and playstyle.
This risk/reward equation is a constant part of Loopmancer’s (and any good roguelite’s) progression. A key example is that each group of levels has a defined exit, but many will also reward exploration (assuming you don’t die in the process). You could Make your way through the elevator to the boss, but there are potential buff bots that can be found if you’re willing to climb some chandeliers or brave oncoming trains to reach a hidden platform. These are boosts that can improve your health, increase the damage you deal, and increase speed, among other things for the duration of the run. Some will be hidden, others will be clearly visible but surrounded by enemies. Of course, the options for replenishing your health are limited, so each hit you take will significantly affect your chances of surviving. On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself torn at a crossroads between advancing to the next stage and chasing a dangerously located buff bot. Those are the moments that make games like this shine outside of combat, and Loopmancer has no shortage of them.
https://www.ign.com/articles/loopmancer-review Loopmancer Review – IGN