• Loopop Cube: Lup * Salad Review - Sony PSP

    Puzzle games usually lack a central protagonist. Mr. Straight and Mr. Square from Tetris didn’t have a back story (although Family Guy may have different feelings on that), the coloured blobs of Puyo Puyo are completely interchangeable and all the rest of the tiles, jewels and hexagons from various games exist only because they are part of a faceless puzzle the player is asked to solve. You know, ‘just because’. Loopop Cube is not like that. Loopop Cube comes from more of the ‘Bub and Bob’ school of thought, and the new PSP port of this insane little gem may just be the definitive version available.

    Like all great puzzle games the concept is simple. You play as a girl called Salad who is tasked with matching up blocks into corresponding colours of three or more which will then disappear. Each level is a distinct puzzle set in a room with differing terrain made of blocks that cannot be moved. You can jump over blocks and fall great distances but you die if a block falls on your head. All you need to do is match up all the coloured blocks in the room so that none remain. If you manage that – you win!

    But, as you'd expect with a great puzzle game, the concept becomes deep and complex after only a few hours of play. Initially there will be something like six blocks in a room: three red and three green. Put the red together and the green together and the level is complete. Progress through the game reveals two main obstacles to this simple central theme. The first is the ingenious way the level designers have been able to arrange the terrain to make you think about how you need to push blocks around. The second is special blocks.

    There are a wide variety of special blocks that seek to help or hinder your progress. Every ten levels a new kind of special block is introduced into the mix. Some are grey blocks that do not need to be removed, some are huge, some change the colour of blocks and some are anchored to specified points throughout the level. At this stage it is worth mentioning that the game isn’t totally import friendly in this respect. There are explanations given for each new block but, in the absence of a working knowledge of Japanese, a little trial and error will quickly reveal to the player what the new special block does.

    Trial and error is encouraged with the use of a button that performs an ‘undo’ on your last move. A welcome addition to the PSP port is that you can do this an unlimited number of times. In the DS version you could only ‘undo’ one move, this new addition is extremely welcome. The beautiful thing about Loopop though is that you don’t need to rely on trial and error. Once you have become accustomed to the game logic you can think your way to a solution for every stage and some stages have more than one solution to think about.

    There are some levels that will initially frustrate you to the point of smashing your PSP over your knee but, once the solution becomes clear, Loopop gives you such an immense feeling of achievement and satisfaction that it is almost impossible not to love it. It is one of those games that can only really come from Japan. The animated story sections are interesting and each set of ten levels has a particular theme that affects how Salad looks. One minute Salad is dressed in cooking gear, the next she is a penguin and she even makes an appearance as a ghost. The game takes its inspiration from a manga released in 1992 which is no doubt equal parts insanity and brilliance.

    The music is equally random, sweet and bizarre. Even though you may have absolutely no idea what the child like choir are singing about (with the notable exception of cake) you’ll find yourself humming along to the tunes, walking down the street thinking about pushing three bins of the same colour together to make them disappear - another sign of a great puzzle game.

    There are three difficulty modes featuring 120 levels per set and an unlockable hiking mode. It is initially a bewildering concept but it acts like a random level generator that players can input specific code sequences into to unlock additional bonus levels, a nice distraction from the main game. The first 120 levels allow you to auto-solve them by pressing the right trigger. Unlike other versions of the game this actually clears the puzzle allowing you to continue the campaign but players should probably try and exercise some self-restraint with its use, otherwise you’re only depriving yourself of the joy of figuring it out for yourself. The last 120 puzzles? They drain hours like water drains through a colander.

    The PSP version of the game also features the exciting new ‘Cat Mode’ called Matatabi (which is a vine used in Japan that has an effect similar to catnip). This focuses on the addition of the new block – the bubble. You play as a cat called Steak (not really) that runs around levels bursting bubbles, as cats occasionally like to do. It is a nice distraction but the meat of the game lies with Salad’s campaign.

    Of technical note, and important for any great puzzle game, there are hardly any load times. This is far more critical than you’d imagine because you will be restarting levels over and over. Load times would have crippled this port so it’s great to note that it isn’t a problem here. One technical disadvantage when compared to the DS version is that you have to manually save your progress. For the forgetful gamer this is something you will need to be aware of. Solving one of the incredibly complicated puzzles found in Loopop and then losing your progress is not a happy experience.

    The magic of Salad’s adventure really should be experienced by as many people as possible. Gamers should be grateful that games like this are still being made and the best way to show that gratitude is to vote with your wallet. With enough interest we might even see a localised port so we can all find out what the bizarre lyrics and crazy story behind this, the latest great puzzle game, supposedly mean.

    Score: 9/10

    Look for this at Play-Asia
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Kit's Avatar
      Kit -
      A puzzle game with a crazy story?

      Ok, I'm sold.
    1. Sketcz's Avatar
      Sketcz -
      Quick question: I take it no Loopop game has ever been localised? Would you guys say there's a demand?

      I might be interviewing the guy behind the series (maybe). Any well wishes you want made?
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      Apart from saying thanks for making such an amazing game?

      I think it could only get a local demand if the story was changed and the main character changed to power ranger. I'd love to play a local version though so I can figure out the story.
    1. Sketcz's Avatar
      Sketcz -
      Power Rangers? Ugh!

      The guy behind it (or the company) was responsible for quite a few interesting games.

      I'm glad there's a review on here, since I can point out that there is actually a following in the West. I only found out about the game through the forum - I'm sure someone started a topic on the DS version a few years back.
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      I was joking about Power rangers in case that wasn't obvious.

      Actualy there are two reviews (DS and PSP). Hit "Review search" at the top of the page and put "loopop" as the string. There's also a thread for it on neogaf.
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