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Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181686)
Written on  :  Aug 22, 2003
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars

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Limited musicality

The Good

Loom is a true oddity among adventure games. Developed by the same company which, just two years before, created a complex and very challenging globe-trotting adventure, it is a small experiment deliberately restraining itself to a single gameplay element.

Whoever first thought of making an adventure game consisting entirely of playing four-note melodies (called "drafts" in the game) on a magician's staff masquerading as a spinning tool deserves an award for one of the most original ideas ever conceived for this genre. Loom has no inventory, no puzzles in the common sense of the word, and generally no other actions but playing (or "weaving", as the game calls it) melodies on your distaff. Was there any chance for such a game to be accepted, let alone understood? Yes, but only thanks to the passion the designers managed to transmit through it, striking a chord with even the most puritan, hardcore adventurers.

The process of learning drafts is simple: you normally hear them when they appear as peculiar musical attributes of the few objects you can interact with, or when someone else uses them the same way as you do. You can then play the corresponding notes on your distaff. The expert difficulty obfuscates the names of the notes and also doesn't display them on your instrument; but even if you don't have a good musical hearing, trial-and-error will get you through most situations - especially early in the game, when you can only play four notes. Despite those limitations, the elegant simplicity of this system is magically captivating. To make things a bit less self-explanatory, you can also weave the notes in the reversed order, resulting in the exact opposite action. This leads to some interesting puzzles, such as casting green paint on clothes or, conversely, bleaching them, etc.

The story of Loom is somewhat of a philosophical fairy tale a bit reminiscent of those books children can enjoy, but only grown-ups can fully understand. It is very simple, yet also well-written and engaging in a way not unlike an archetypal myth told in a slightly different way. There is something strangely appealing in this seemingly bare-bones plot that steadily jumps between events with only sparse commentary. It is set in its own unique world of low-key medieval fantasy with a slight, yet noticeable apocalyptic tinge heralding darker times. I think this setting had quite a lot of potential that could have been used by other, bigger games, if somebody bothered to license it.

Loom comes in two versions on the PC. The original floppy release is among the best examples of EGA art. The CD version, however, boasts splendid 256-color vistas far surpassing the original, as well as snippets from a semi-orchestrated incarnation of Tchaikovsky's music, and excellent voice acting. However, it cuts out all character close-ups and even some dialogue, which is inexcusable for such a small game. Many fans - myself included - suggest the FM Towns version as a compromise: its visuals are almost on par with the PC VGA one, it doesn't cut out any content, and it has more of the high-quality music tracks. Its only downside is lack of voices.

The Bad

Like almost everyone else out there, I was charmed by Loom and for a long time didn't want to hear a single word of criticism directed at it. Only during the inevitable replay session I was able to form a more objective opinion. Thanks to its enigmatic beauty and intriguing idea, Loom got away with things that would have been never forgiven to any other adventure game.

No one tries to deny the fact that Loom is too easy and too short. That doesn't bother you the first time you play the game; you just make a mental note, still unable to liberate yourself from the spell it casts on you. That may change when you replay Loom and begin to realize just how limited it is. The challenge is, indeed, almost non-existing: there are only a few drafts you can play on your distaff, and that includes reversed ones and those given to you when there remains almost nothing to use them on. The entire adventure consists of the very small introductory island, a somewhat larger area with a few separate locations, and wherever the game takes you afterwards for a brief showdown. I did like the game's story, but it is really short. Just when you begin to figure out what's really going on, the game abruptly terminates the narrative.

While the concept of playing melodies to solve puzzles is undoubtedly brilliant, basing a whole game just on that one idea is a risky endeavor, to say the least. The persistence with which Loom refuses to welcome any other gameplay element is admirable, but they should have carried it further and made the system more complex and challenging. It's nice that casual players received a game where they were almost guaranteed to succeed, but the value of an adventure is chiefly measured by its gameplay-related content, and that's where Loom fails to deliver. Even some very linear adventure games can be revisited because people forget the solutions to their challenging puzzles - but Loom is very linear, very short, and very easy, which means it will be an identical experience no matter how many times you replay it.

The Bottom Line

Considering the fact that we are dealing with a woefully short, introductory-level adventure stripped of bare necessities, the success of Loom is nothing short of remarkable. Indeed, this is one of those cases where a game paves its way to stardom with little else but a single original gameplay element. And yet I find it hard to recommend it over LucasArts' better-crafted, more fulfilling titles.