Epic Loon (Xbox One Review)
Party games were once the centre of geeky social gatherings. A crowd of friends flocking around a singular television, tormenting each other until friendships fall apart. While Epic Loon doesn’t classify itself as a party game, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the friendly, competitive vibe when playing with other people. But does Epic Loon fill that void where Mario Kart and Fuzion Frenzy once reigned?
To start, Epic Loon takes place in the early 90’s, VHS has beaten its rival competitor Betamax and the product of which birthed the home cinephile. Avid film goers can now enjoy the action packed, romance fuelled, and scare filled blockbusters from the comfort of their homes. At least until one ill-fated couch potato named Joe seeks to repair his broken VCR with a cursed video cassette cleaner. Now, bite sized aliens infest his VCR and are now destroying his favourite movies. Players control these aliens and must traverse Joe’s favourite movie flicks in his attempts to thwart them from existence while altering his favourite flicks.
Epic Loon spreads its unique sense of platformer across 4 parodies of blockbuster flims: Nosteracula, Jurassik Land, Grojira, and Alien The Hitchhiker. Each movie is divided into 3 ‘Akts’, in which players utilise their little alien’s ability to launch their amorphous bodies across the stages by measuring their trajectory and weight. It’s not too dissimilar to how players fire rockets or grenades in the Worms franchise. Players can hunker down on the spot to solidify their placement and wait for the correct timing to propel from ledge to ledge, avoiding sharp implements, electrical wires and other hazards. The particularity of Epic Loon’s form of movement is what really stuck with me, separating from nearly every platformer out there. Being unable to manipulate your own character’s movement other than the trajectory they are fired and simply having to wait until your shot is lined up perfectly, while dealing with your peers in ever-changing levels and erratic environments.
The sole objective of each stage is to reach its exit — a bright shining light leading to the next stage. In a multiplayer game, when the first player crosses the finish line, modifiers come in to play that allow you to help or hinder those still trying to reach the end. The game will automaitically go into rewind, forcing objects to go in reverse, or pause time, stopping the other players’ momentum. When enough time has lapsed the tape will also fast forward, giving those pesky slowpokes a much needed push over the finish line. Like many party games, these game changing (and often unfair) mechanics will lead to a lot of name calling, anguished yelps, and tears of laughter from everyone involved.
At first Epic Loon can be quite hard to interpret. It’s eccentric, madcap visuals are perplexing and the limited use of colour takes getting used to. When you do settle in, the black and white vignette is perfectly accentuated with a splash of colour on prominent objects, most notably red, to draw the players’ gaze. The backdrop and architecture scream Nosferatu and Alien in the same breath. Accompanying the visual style are a great set of references to a litany of popular favourites, my favourite being a very obvious nod to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series in which Joe’s VCR manual reflects the animated Necronomicon.
Once you’ve run amok through Joe’s favourite films, you’ll want to test our Epic Loon’s Battle Mode. Here the rules are much the same as the story, but there’s now a score attached to every player and success is measured in rounds. There’s also an additional hidden tape unlocked after completion that’s a straight up throwback to those questionable videos you used to hide under your bed. This aptly named Forbidden Tape is a mix of Forbidden Planet sci-fi and avant-garde pornography. There’s something about jumping through flying saucer rays to land in the midst of a raunchy shoot that is undeniably hilarious.
If you were to explain Epic Loon on paper, it wouldn’t work. The mechanics seem jumbled and almost deliberately set to clash, yet its execution verges on genius. The platforming can feeling challenging, even infuriating at times, but the weird settings and loving parodies more than account for a steep difficulty curve. There is no doubt there are better platformers and there are better party games too, but there’s nothing quite like Epic Loon. Epic Loon is different. Epic Loon is worth your time.