Ratalaika know how to push a hell of a lot of games through Xbox’s doors. Don’t get us wrong, they’re capable of producing a terrible game, but when they get a game right, it’s often because they’ve built an attractive game around a simple mechanic, and not stuck around long enough to make it stale. So it goes with Loopindex, which is pretty much the poster child of everything Ratalaika gets right when they get it right.
The simple mechanic that Loopindex is built around is the ‘loop’: the ability to put your character into a looping state where they repeatedly do one action. That might mean you put your character into a walk ‘loop’, so they continuously walk on a treadmill, or lock them into a pushing ‘loop’, so they push a box around the map. Programming your robotic character to do an action, in the right place of the map, is the core of Loopindex.
While they’re in that loop, you can switch to a second character, since Loopindex hands you control of two characters at once. While Character A is in a loop, Character B can take advantage. The treadmill that Character A runs on might trigger a bridge for the Character B to cross. The pushed block might create a barrier to protect Character B from laser fire. You’re always creating situations that benefit the other character, so that you can – eventually – reach a lift down to the next level.
It sounds simple, but the opening levels get messy. The looping mechanic isn’t exactly intuitive, and we made constant mistakes. You have to remember to cancel out of the loop, or you’ll be accidentally pushing a block against a wall (block-pushing veterans will know that a block against a wall is the absolute worst). You might loop into spikes or a closing door. We kept pressing the wrong buttons, switching characters when we meant to halt loops, and we often found ourselves in weird states where both characters were looping into each other, or marching the wrong way on conveyor belts. Our only escape was to hold Y and reset the entire level.
Luckily, levels are short and resetting isn’t the end of the world. Practice makes perfect, and you learn to stop confusing the buttons. More importantly, while the levels are often fiendish (sometimes spikily so, as the difficulty curve is less a curve and more a difficulty rollercoaster), they’re rarely unfair. Only a few levels have situations that contain dead ends, forcing you to restart, and fewer still have time limits or threats that mean you have to do things at speed. Most of the time, you can take stock, push widgets to see what they do, and construct a plan that will get you to the elevator.
Things start out easy, with the old chestnuts of pressure pads, switches and pushable crates. At times, Loopindex can feel like a Sokoban (a sliding box puzzle), and you’ll know whether that’s a little too cliche for you. But in these opening levels, there are also red-hashed areas, where you can only walk if you’re in a loop. You’re pushing crates while in a loop state, and Loopindex’s uniqueness starts to shine through.
As the levels go on, the toolbox gets bigger. There are frogs, which are basically slidey boxes. Levels get scattered with teleporters, which allow you to send anything but your character to the other end of the map. Our favourites were arrows on the floor that not only directed a LAM crane (effectively a fairground-style claw), but changed the direction of conveyor belts at the same time. Managing both at once causes the odd brain-fart.
These extras are staggered every few levels, so they never get overwhelming. Achievement hounds should note that there’s a sizeable bloop every time a new one is added, and you’ll get to 1000G after the fiftieth level (Loopindex has seventy levels), which is no more than two hours of play.
There’s an admitted oddness to the level pacing, and we’d guess that Loopindex has come to Xbox with the DLC blu-tacked onto the end of the main game. An end-of-game boss appears on the fiftieth level, yet another twenty levels follow afterwards, and they’re all easier than what came before. They’re also of a lower quality: the addition of mice, which need to be shepherded around the map, never quite works. They felt inexact when everything else, up to that point, had been precise. If you’re not feeling Loopindex, and you want to get out early, we’d suggest leaving the last twenty levels alone.
As you’d expect from a game that encourages you to switch between two characters, Loopindex is absolutely made for co-op play. Available from the opening menu, two-player is a great way to play. It’s not flawless, as often your character will be left with absolutely zero to do (one level is entirely done by a single player), but you’re most often working in concert, and getting to a solution together is a joy – as long as you have someone helpful to play with, of course.
Loopindex is like picking up one of those puzzle mags on the bottom shelf of WHSmiths. It’s only £4.99, it gives your brain a workout for a few hours, and there’s a reassurance that all the puzzles function as they should. On top of that, the central ‘looping’ mechanic is just new enough to add some interest.
Loopindex may not win any awards, or get Phil Spencer to pull out his chequebook and buy up the studio, but it might also be what you need right now. It’s a concise, perfectly able puzzler, and it gets even better in two-player. For the low, low price, that’s an absolute steal.
You can buy Loopindex for £4.99 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S