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Hands-On Preview: ‘Back to Square One’ and ‘Loop Mania’ are Punishing High-Score Games from ‘Down the Mountain’ Developer Umbrella

When it comes to high score chasers on mobile, there’s a few studios that crank out reliably good stuff. Happymagenta is a consistently good creator, but Umbrella deserves a ton of credit too. Boom Dots (Free) and Down the Mountain (Free) are both quite solid, entertaining games. And while I’m glad to see them tackling something a bit bigger with Magic Mountain, I still would love to see some high score chasers from them. Thankfully, they still are cranking out a couple of really interesting high score chasers that I’ve gotten to go hands on with recently: Loop Mania and Back to Square One. Both are one-touch games, but have a surprising amount of depth to them, and have started to take up a lot of my time in pre-release versions.

Back to Square One seems simple enough: you tap to move your square protagonist forward, avoiding various hazards. But what’s really fascinating about Back to Square One is that it does something that the best games do well: it’s a simple game about combining multiple simple rules. The individual platform and enemy rules are simple enough in isolation, even if the timing windows are tight. But moving from platform to collapsing platform while making sure you don’t hit the enemies that get in your way? That’s the persistent challenge as you play.

It’s a surprisingly complex game for a one-touch high score chaser because you’re constantly thinking. Timing and fast reactions are involved, but so is thought. I’m interested to see how this does, because it is a bit of a trickier game than some other titles in the genre. It’s an uber-challenging platformer for the one-touch high score chaser generation. I know there’s a balance between accessibility and challenge that the great high score chasers have, and maybe I’m discounting people’s skills when I say I have concerns about how well this game will do. But expect a real challenge from this game. Your scores won’t be Flappy Bird low, but every point will feel like you earned it.

Loop Mania is still pretty difficult but a bit more accessible. It reminds me a bit of Worp in that you’re spinning around the inside of a circle, trying to dodge spheroids that want to kill you. But here, you can do some ballbusting, as you can fly across the screen to hit your pursuers. Now, you want direct hits, because if you miss one of the balls, they can kill you. Even if you hit a couple and wind up in the path of another one, too bad.

Loop Mania winds up really rewarding risk. If you keep spinning without jumping across, eventually you pick up bonus multipliers, and these will rapidly increase your score. But the obstacle balls move at different paces than you, and again, one graze or screwup and it’s game over. And the game does get a bit chaotic if you’re not busting your enemies in short order. Managing the chaos is key, but so is realizing where you are, and where the exact opposite of you is, so that you can properly hit your enemies.

Much like Back to Square One, Loop Mania feels like it’s really far along at this point, and it’s already finding ways to sucker me in. It’s perfect for one-handed play, and its sessions are so short, much like Boom Dots, that I keep coming back again and again, in part because the game is perfect for micro-sessions, and because doing well at it feels so good.

Both of these games are well worth checking out in the coming weeks and months when they release: they’re both a ton of fun, and should lay the groundwork for more great games from the duo of Mikael and Sven, who are actually meeting in person for the first time after several years of working together. It’s the fascinating thing about this era – we joke about TouchArcade Towers here, but only a few of us here have ever met. The folks at Rocketcat Games all worked remotely for several years, and I’m still not sure if anyone has ever physically met anyone else at that studio. It’s kind of a weird future, where people can make cool games together without ever meeting each other face to face, but an interesting one for sure.