REVIEW: Unwind with ToastieLabs' cozy new release WooLoop
Embrace the tangles, trust the process. The picture will become clear eventually.
What I love about "cozy gaming" is that it broadens the canvas of gaming experiences available to us. There's nothing wrong with games where complexity, challenge, and speed are the goals — and in fact, for some people, that's what a therapeutic escape looks like. BUT... those gamers... are not me.
When I've had a hard day at work or have a head and heart full of anxiety (so, you know, most days), my cure is finding an activity that allows me to zero in on the details and turn off the remaining parts of my brain for a while. That's what draws me to dabble in fiber crafts like macramé and embroidery — and it's what draws me to ToastieLabs' upcoming release, WooLoop.
Just the Facts
Release Date: Jan. 13, 2023
Review code provided by ToastieLabs.
WooLoop is a relaxing game where you create pictures by dragging and looping your yarn around pegs in a canvas. The peg design is laid out for you, the yarn colors are preset, and the path is guided with arrows telling you your next move. There are safeguards in place to help you reset when you make a mistake or your yarn gets tangled somewhere it shouldn't.
It's by no means challenging, but it is satisfying.
Sometimes, it's easy to understand the design before you've even laid any string — who among us wouldn't recognize the general outline of a cat? — but other times, what starts as a mysterious and overwhelming jumble of pegs begins to take solid form before your eyes as you wrap, and you get to feel like a true artiste, turning nothing into something.
Besides that, the game is accompanied by a gorgeous flowing piano soundtrack that A) reminds me of some of my personal favorite piano tracks, B) solidifies the soothing nature of the game, and C) boasts cute track names like "Yarn Riot," "Windy Wind," "Midnight Ooloo," and "I Said Oop."
As you'll often be zoomed in to work on the details, the game has an auto-panning feature that will steadily guide you toward the next step, or you can right-click and drag or use WASD for manual movement across the canvas. The auto-pan feature seems to have been nicely polished since WooLoop's demo, making it much more comfortable and functional. An added bonus to the improvement is that the pairing of the music and scrolling can give you an experience almost like a rhythm game as you wrap your yarn.
The experience is really what you make of it — you can loop to the rhythm, take things slow and use it as a mindfulness practice, or even challenge yourself to complete a level as quickly as possible, turning on the timer in the settings.
We last checked in on this cozy crafting game in October during the Steam Next Fest, sharing some thoughts about its demo. Since then, the UK-based developers, ToastieLabs, have taken in all kinds of player feedback and made improvements to the game, plus laid out pricing a long-term plan for adding new DLC content.
One important new revelation, and your No. 1 reason to clinch WooLoop right away — it's free.
While the cost of materials is one of the biggest hurdles to IRL crafting (ahem, macramé cord, I am LOOKING AT YOU), ToastieLabs makes digital art methods affordable through WooLoop and their other games. And having played WooLoop, I genuinely think that someone could learn the basics of string art from the game and apply it to physical materials if they wanted to, ultimately saving on the cost of materials by engaging with these digital practice runs.
At launch, WooLoop has around 100 levels to play, varying from canvases with just a few dozen pegs to hundreds, with more complex designs depicting the Eiffel Tower and the entire continental U.S., for example. Throughout the year, ToastieLabs will continue to add new content for the game at $0.99 per DLC pack (the lowest price Steam allows them to set). Each pack, or "gallery," will deliver about 20 new levels and a new "gallery" will become available every month of 2023.
Oh yeah, it's all coming together...
Here's a look at some game features we're loving (including some that we oh-so-gently pleaded for in our earlier WooLoop preview).
New game plus: Do a level again and you're awarded a new frame color for your finished piece AND the freedom to change your yarn colors. In an otherwise guided experience, this is a great addition that gives you some amount of creative expression. These unlocks allow you to recomplete a level up to 5 times, unlocking an additional frame and color palette each time.
Alternate controls: You can now click to toggle the yarn rather than holding down left click, easing some wrist and hand strain as you guide your yarn around.
Save files: You're now able to exit a design partway through and come back to finish it. Plus, hold tab at any time to see your progress percentage and how long you've been working on a design.
Mystery mode: In settings, you can hide the names of uncompleted levels for a refreshing, randomized experience. Go into a level with no idea what your work will result in and just trust the creative process!
There are a few things I'm still yearning for in this game, including a true dark mode (thankfully, the devs are working on this and for now have implemented a dimming feature); a way to download the end-of-level animation that replays your yarn-looping progress; and the possibility to choose from the frame colors you unlock with new game plus, rather than tie them to the number of times you've replayed, as this would allow you to better customize the aesthetic to your liking.
I've occasionally run into minor yarn glitches and had moments when the instructions didn't progress, even as I completed the indicated steps, but there's been nothing that couldn't be fixed by exiting the level and reentering. In all, and especially considering the price point, I have very few complaints to make about the WooLoop experience.
Diligence and passion make the game
Something that seems special to me about this three-person dev team is the care they put into their games. For example, seeing that WooLoop's amazing piano soundtrack was original for the game was kind of a surprise to me — in part because it would have been easy and unsurprising for a small team like this to simply source from royalty-free music for their project, as many others do. But the attention to detail extends to the soundtrack, which is so carefully tailored to the WooLoop vibe and goes a long way in establishing a peaceful environment for your yarn weaving.
You can also see the care and passion they have by the longevity in support they give to their games. For example, their 2018 paint-by-numbers game Coloring Pixels is alive and well today with DLC still coming out regularly (currently boasting more than 50 packs!). It's reasonable to guess that WooLoop could follow the same path, and I for one would be happy to follow the journey if it does. It'd be an immensely tranquil road to walk.
I absolutely love to see the level of interest and accountability from a development team that ToastieLabs has shown. Let's say they tend to keep people... in the Loop. *finger guns* They frequently livestream their development progress and have been very attentive to those playing, streaming, and writing about their game, as well as those in their Discord community, in order to make this a game that people want to play.
I hope to see the team continue taking pride in what they make and pushing the progress bar for interesting, approachable, and affordable games.
Like a five-minute guided meditation that lives in an app on your phone, like a brisk stroll around the block, or like an episode of your comfort show, WooLoop's succinct and separate levels offer a bite-sized bit of relaxation when you need to unwind. With no overarching story to follow or even a real puzzle to solve, thanks to its well-built directions, it's a different kind of escape than some gamers might expect to enjoy, but not an unwelcome one.
WooLoop, the simple but creative brainchild of ToastieLabs, puts inexpensive creative tools into more people's hands so they can feel the satisfaction of piecing something together strand by strand. And that can only be good.
Video Games Are Good and WooLoop is . . . GREAT. (8/10)
+ cozy, process-oriented gameplay and a soothing piano soundtrack; well-designed instructions make it approachable for many age groups; free to play with a lot of content
- occasional minor glitches with yarn and instructions; more of a creative tool than a puzzle, which may not be what you're looking for in a game
Watch our WooLoop gameplay impressions on YouTube!
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