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Wot I Think: Loop

Running rings around me

Previously released on, puzzle game Loop arrives on Steam today. I've been creating order from chaos, to tell you wot I think.

As the concept sank in, a smile broke out on my face. A smile of relief, because this was to be a puzzle space to sink into, its calming ambient tunes and pleasing plinks and plonks accompanying the satisfaction of a cunning and rewarding challenge.

Loop consists of arranging hexagonal tiles such that the coloured lines painted across each line up to form looping patterns. It reminds me of cardboard tile games I had when I was younger, the sorts of things that might end up in a stocking after being spotted on the end of an aisle by a desperate parent (Surely Santa? – Ed) in WH Smiths.

At first glance it appears too simple – a little bit too much like a throwaway puzzle you might find in a hidden object adventure. But then within a few levels the complexity seeps in, with multiple options for arranging the tiles so they link, and only one correct solution. Except, unlike that pack of cards on Boxing Day evening, here once solved, another immediately steps in to replace it.

Developer John Cullen has opted for tile-swapping as the means of rearranging the grids. It’s a good solution, as loose tiles around the screen would feel unmanageable as the puzzles get trickier, although it does mean you’re always faced with the tangle of an incorrect solution in front of you.

Slightly disappointingly, occasionally the coloured lines don’t quite align, a millimetre out – it’s indicative of an overall slightly lacklustre approach to the graphics. There are levels where a bright white background makes it hard to distinguish empty spaces, and a lack of anti-aliasing on the hexagons gives it a mildly scrappy presentation.

However, aurally it’s superb, the ambient tunes soothing, while running the cursor over the tiles emits a splishy-splashy sound. There’s a showery theme, in fact, with a separate slider in the options for the sound of a rainstorm. Tiles thunk and swoosh, rotating tiles satisfying click around, and colour changes ploop-ploop-ploop raindrops.

By level 20 of its 100, the first new element arrives – rotating tiles, fixed in place. A bit further in and there are tiles that can change colour. Later still and the two are combined. What works so nicely here is the sense that a new puzzle is too overwhelming, and then picking away at it until you realise you’re onto something. Fixed tiles often provide clues as to possible placements for some tiles, or a probable colour to select for them, which then lets you start trying to assemble something.

Because of the nature of the puzzle, incorrect assemblies don’t require restarts, or undos, but simply rearranging further, letting you improvise and experiment. And, rather splendidly, it doesn’t count how many turns you took and judge you for it – a tiny detail, but one that emphasises the game’s focus on calm puzzle solving over high-strung precision. The down-side is it never becomes super-difficult, meaning once you're in a groove with the later levels, you can march your way through them, albeit slowly.

One hundred levels is a good number, and while you’ll fly through the first 30 or so, the difficulty ramps up, and the satisfaction increases accordingly.

I would have liked to see more variety in new elements. Every 20 levels is a big gap before introducing very slight changes. And there's nothing new at 60. But then it’s important that the puzzle not drift away from its roots.

The result is a pleasingly approachable puzzle game, that while not particularly swishy, offers a good deal of decent challenge. And most of the time, that’s more than enough.

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