Classic adventuring: “Loom” (PC)

Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts Games’ Loom remains a unique fantasy adventure gaming experience without an inventory and verb-object interface.

Loom (PC)
(USA 1990, developer: Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts (defunct), publishers: Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts (defunct)/Disney, platforms: PC-DOS, PC-Windows, FM Towns, Amiga, Atari ST, TurboGrafx-CD)

Bobbin Threadbare, a young boy shunned by the Weaver’s Guild that uses patterns in a loom to shape the destinies of people, witnesses how they’re turned into swans and how a shadow is approaching, threatening the world, so that together with Dame Hetchel who raised him and turned into a black duck he has to save the world with his magical staff.

A dream-like world and story
Story, characters, and setting all feel as if being taken straight out of a folk or fairy tale, but a new one people seem to have forgotten about. There’s actually a lot that has happened before the game starts, and even if it’s not mandatory, listening to the audio drama that is sadly not packaged in the digital version, adds to immersion and helps to better understand the world Bobbin traverses. Despite featuring a dragon, talking animals, and other fantasy tropes, it’s a world that is just as humane or inhumane as our own, only not as modern. Everything feels magical, but also melancholic, as it’s not a beautiful world due people having to each bear their social crosses or trying to be more powerful or gain more knowledge. This can be all a bit too much at first, and it doesn’t help that plot and characters can become convoluted and puzzling at times. With a rather short playtime of around 2 hours, there is simply a lot happening without too much explanation.

Unlike other Lucasfilm or LucasArts games, this isn’t a game one will remember for its various characters, but the journey one takes, the places one visits, and a simply touching and wonderful story one plays through. Just like a good and short fairy or folk tale, it’s the gaps one has to fill in that make it interestingly personal and unique. One has the sense of a wide world that is believable with its different kinds of people and caste-like social structure. The potential of learning more about this world might not be fully realized during the main storyline, but it’s still a great world to get lost in.

Puzzles without an inventory, but with notes
What makes Loom different from other point-and-click adventure games is that it completely dispenses with an inventory and verb/symbol system to solve puzzles. Everything is done by playing musical notes with a magic staff. Depending on the three difficulty levels, one either sees each new note with or without the appropriate letter or one has to listen carefully and play by hearing and remembering. There is even a book of patterns one can print out and use for filling in notes that work as spells. The idea is simple and works beautifully, as one also has to deduce what happens when one plays the notes in the reversed order. So if one pattern is played to open something, playing it backwards locks it. As one doesn’t carry around a notebook where it’s possible to choose from a list of spells, it’s very important to write them down. It’s often not immediately clear what a spell does, as one hears it during specific scenes or when clicking on an item or person, so experimenting with every spell is essential to progress.

Even if the list of spells grows and one unlocks one note after another, their applications are usually logical and in some cases quite inventive. While other adventure games require the player to combine all sorts of things, one simply points at something and casts a spell or interacts with it. Of course this means that the gameplay is very linear and there is only one right way to solve a puzzle, while dialogues with NPCs only serve a cinematic purpose. Still, despite the restrictions, one rarely feels doing the same thing, and one rarely gets stuck too long. As the locations and points of interaction aren’t too numerous, one is never overwhelmed and doesn’t succumb to trial and error. The only problem is that walking speed is pretty slow and exits to other screens aren’t clearly defined, so that going from one place to the other takes up more time than necessary, something that can also be said about a superfluous maze in the dark section.

Talkie or no talkie presentation
Graphically, the game has some beautiful pixel art with well-drawn backgrounds and characters. While the low resolution certainly can’t match later games and some screens only show the protagonist as a few pixels, the sense of place with some impressive vistas is still tangible. However, there are quite some differences between the talkie and text version of the game, the former of which is only available in digital form on GOG and Steam. The former has very good voice acting, while the latter obviously doesn’t. This has a downside, as some text has been cut to fit the voiced parts. It should also be noted that the talkie version misses character portraits and even some violence. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t some disturbing images and deaths to see, but it’s clearly not what the original developer intended. What is also sad is that music only plays during cut-scenes, resulting again in quite a drop of atmospheric quality. As the score is just beautiful to listen to, it’s a real shame that one can’t experience this sublime classical soundtrack on each screen.

Unique and wonderful obscurity
Loom is different in gameplay and presentation from other Lucasfilm titles. With its unique spell system and without any inventory, puzzle solving is still a joy, and with a storyline that is engaging and open to interpretation because of the world-building, it’s a journey one will take on more than once. However, if one decides to do this, one has to make a compromise, as the talkie version offers great voice acting, but is missing too much music and even narrative parts. Maybe someday the definitive FM Towns edition that combines both text and speech with everything intact and with enhanced graphics and sounds will be released, but as it is, the digital variant isn’t the best way to experience it.

Score: 8/10 (for the game)
Score: 7.5/10 (for the talkie version)

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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