Time Loop Games Have Taken Over (And We Love That)
– every studio seems to be making a time loop game these days. There have been no less than three new additions to this previously niche genre in the last year. Since Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye came out earlier this week, we thought we'd take a look back over some of our favorites. We're not including games like Undertale, which make their new game plus modes a time loop, only games for which the time loop is an inextricable part of the gameplay …
Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
The grandfather of time loop games still holds up even while other games of its era have fallen by the wayside. Majora's Mask tells the story of Link coming across a strange land beset by a horrifying problem- the moon is going to crash into the earth and kill everyone. Caught in a 3-day time loop, Link must navigate the world physically and socially using the powers he gets from Masks (which loop with him). In the course of saving the world from apocalypse, Link will set right countless minor wrongs and miscommunications, helping the lovable characters around him achieve their goals, if only for 3 days. But in the final loop of the game, there's no time to make anyone's life better, making Majora's Mask a story about saving everyone's lives without improving them much at all. Although it's old hat by now, at the time, what Majora's Mask did was very new.
The last time I played Braid was over a decade ago, but Jonathan Blow games leave an impression on the player, and why should we expect anything less of his first game? Braid is a game about Tim, a man who wants to use time powers to win back the affections of a princess he's slighted. Over the course of the game, which deals with forgiveness, deception, and loss, we learn that Tim may not be everything he's pretending to be, and his princess has good reason to stay away. And since Jonathan Blow loves to tell pretentious stories, right at the end, he slips a bit of a nuclear bomb metaphor in.
The Sexy Brutale
Something about time loops lends itself to sexy parties, and The Sexy Brutale leans into that. Playing as a guest at a never-ending masquerade ball, you're tasked with preventing the staff working the party from killing the 10 other partygoers. Filled with wit, easter eggs, and awesome art, The Sexy Brutale earns its place in the time loop puzzle genre. Interestingly, you don't have to save every other party guest to complete the story, and you won't get different endings from each.
Word to the word lovers and lit majors- check out Elsinore. Bookish types adore this indie game in which you control Ophelia from Hamlet throughout a four-day time loop. Ophelia has a difficult task before her- she has to prevent the tragic deaths of those in her castle. If you've read the play, you know that's the kind of challenge that would drive anyone for a loop.
Elsinore is a labor of love, and while it may not be everybody's cup of tea, it will delight those for whom it is.
Of all the loops on this list, 12 minutes is definitely the shortest. 12 Minutes is a mystery time loop game set in an apartment. You play as a husband who has arrived home to the wonderful news that your wife is pregnant. This happy occasion is interrupted by a cop who claims that your wife murdered her father. During many loops, you uncover the mysteries of each person's life, sad secret by sad secret. Hideo Kojima absolutely adores this game, which means it's guaranteed to leave you saying, "... what??"
Although this game wasn't particularly popular, the writing, design, and tight loop all create a unique experience. Fans of time loop should keep their eyes out for the next game developer Luís António makes.
A lot of time loop games veer towards the pretentious, focusing on character development or exploration rather than thrilling moments or exciting gameplay. But the developers of the Dishonored franchise changed all of that just a month or so ago when they released Deathloop. Guns? Magic powers? Multiplayer assassin craziness? Deathloop absolutely delivers all of these.
Deathloop stars Colt, an assassin trapped on an island going through a 24-hour time loop. Every other guest on the island is masked, armed, and fully aware that they're looping- and they're all hell-bent on stopping Colt. As Colt works to break the loop and return to his life, he's thwarted by his counterpart, an assassin named Julianna. Julianna protects the loop by killing Colt- and mocks him mercilessly every step of the way. Fun guns, great powers, and excellent voice acting all add up to make Deathloop one of the year's most popular games.
Paragraph after paragraph, I've been waiting to let myself write about Outer Wilds. Oh man, Outer Wilds. This open-world jaunt starts as a cute and devilish puzzle game, complete with extremely realistic physics, a handful of adorable NPCs, and a duct-taped-up old spaceship. By the end, Outer Wilds is one of the most emotionally impactful games you'll ever play. It's amazing how wrapped up in the solar system you get when you're trying to understand what makes it tick.
Outer Wilds is a pure time loop game- nothing comes with you through the loops besides what you, the player, learned along the way. What's amazing about Outer Wilds is that it never changes, but your understanding of it does. In every loop of Outer Wilds, you come to understand a little more of the history of the solar system you're trapped in and the lives of the long-dead aliens that built the ruins you're exploring. This amazing game is rapidly moving from "beloved indie darling" into the realm of modern classic as word of it gets around the gaming community. There's already a documentary about it, and basically, every person who plays it ends up sharing it with others. For game designers, Outer Wilds showed a new way to make time loop games fresh again. Which is why --
Top Image: Annapurna Interactive