I have a soft spot for shoot ’em ups, they are a guilty pleasure of mine which I dive into when I’ve got a little spare time. What I’m always looking out for though are games that add something new to the genre or mix things up a little. I think I found a game that takes the genre and spins it around – literally!
I Hate Running Backwards is a procedurally generated roguelike shmup that has you running backwards throughout the whole game. Originally set as a Serious Sam game, Developer Digital and Binx Interactive have opted to make the game a mash-up of all of the publishers greatest characters.
The uniqueness of I Hate Running Backwards is the fact that you are, literally, running backwards towards the top of the screen. So, whereas a standard shmup may see you flying on the right-hand side heading left, or at the bottom of the screen whilst things come down at you, you’re actually having to both take out the approaching onslaught from the lower edge of the screen as well as avoiding obstacles at the top. The first thing this actually reminded me of was those annoying running missions in games like Crash Bandicoot where you’re running towards the screen, having to dodge oncoming obstacles with a split second notice. Thankfully, I Hate Running Backwards is much more forgiving due to its zoomed out nature and the speed at which the screen scrolls.
Does the twist on the gameplay make much difference to the game as a whole though? Not really. It’s still a standard shooter where you can only shoot in one direction (straight down) with the main difference being that you’re at the top of the screen moving up instead of being at the bottom of the screen moving up. The core mechanic in place which makes this a bloody hard game is that it’s a roguelike. When I say it’s hard, I’m not exaggerating. You’ll be stuck on the first level for quite a while as you experiment with the various characters in order to work out which one suits you best.
Speaking of the characters, the game’s roster is made up of beloved Devolver Digital franchises such as Serious Sam, Hotline Miami and Shadow Warrior. I thought this was a cool addition as each character has their own form of attack and statistics. The aesthetic of the characters and the game, in general, is unusual though as it’s kind of Minecraft-esque in its appearance with blocky heads and buildings which explode into tiny squares when you smash through them.
Some roguelike games are really forgiving in their combat and progression, such as Devious Dungeon. However, I Hate Running Backwards is about as brutal and inconsistent as they come with its procedurally generated playing field. It has the same issues I mentioned in my recent review for The Persistence, every now and again you’ll get a level that is super easy to get through and you’ll make it to the boss of the area with little issues and most likely stocked up with decent weaponry along the way. Unfortunately, once you encounter the boss, they may turn out to be super hard and the area may now have little to no health items or weapon pick-ups spawning to aid you in the battle.
Similarly, I’ve had times where I’ve started a run and I’ve been instantly overwhelmed by a load of enemies on the screen with hardly any pickups to help me out! What makes it worse is the fact that you can’t aim your gun and you can only shoot straight down, It means if enemies are coming from the side, you must manoeuvre around so that the enemy enters your line of sight directly below you. This can be a bit cumbersome and a pain when you’re trying to also dodge all the other enemies.
Pick up a friend?
Aside from the multitude of characters to choose from (which all but four of them must be unlocked) with their different skills and abilities, you also have access to various pick-ups within each level. The pick-ups can be found in crates, by killing enemies, or full-on Castlevania style by being hidden within the walls! However, it’s worth trying to look out for and grabbing these as you can be granted things such as unlimited ammo, a shield, more powerful weaponry and more. My biggest tip for the game is to pick up everything you find as not one of them is a useless item, they will all help you out in some form or another in this brutal game! Oh, the game also likes to mess with you by having random things such as bulls running across the screen with little notice as well.
There is also a local co-op mode for two players (or via Share-play on PS4). I tried this out a few times with a mate who remoted in with me and I found it quite enjoyable and entertaining but it had quite a big flaw to it. As there were now two of us, the game scaled up the enemies plus health and pick-ups isn’t shared. So if one of us got ammo or weapons first, the other one is stuck with nothing. This isn’t a massive issue and it’s probably to be expected, but it did make the game a lot harder than it is in single player. It reminded me of old-school games like Battletoads, where the multiplayer on those games were also much harder than playing it on your own.
Graphically, I Hate Running Backwards looks very appealing and cute with its blocky look and LEGO-like appearance. There are various environments like the desert, the jungle, medieval, Greek and even in the mines. However, fans of Serious Sam will certainly spot that this was once going to be a new spin-off in that franchise as a lot of the environments and enemies look like they’ve jumped straight out of a Serious Sam game and become pixelated. It’s very aesthetically pleasing and easy on the eyes, with its bright colours and looks great on a big screen TV – something a lot of these blocky games tend to have a problem with.
Sound wise, I Hate Running Backwards has great music. It’s very intense and really sets the mood. Serious Sam also comes equipped with a bunch of one-liners which will please any fans of the franchise. In general, all of the sound effects within the game sound spot on and of high quality – I can’t fault anything to do with the sound aspect.
So, what did I think? I Hate Running Backwards is an unusual game, it takes something I hate (running backwards into the unknown within games) and mixes it with something I like (shoot ’em ‘ups) and something I’m warming to recently (roguelikes). I had a lot of fun playing the game solo, not so much in co-op, but I did initially find the game a bit hard to progress with the random nature of the game and the inconsistency of the power-ups. However, since receiving the game, the developer has released a few patches which have both made the game more accessible with it’s ‘baby mode’ (which is still pretty hard tbh) and adjusted all the things the critics complained about upon release. We now get more weapon drops, the levels are shorter to increase the pace, and the overall balance of various characters have been adjusted to make the gameplay more fluid and appealing. After playing it post-patch, it feels like a large step in the right direction for this rather unique game.
A quick first go at the game:
I Hate Running Backwards is a fine example of a developer taking on board criticism and using that to make a better game. Day one, the game was really hard, very inconsistent, a bit too brutal, and very unforgiving. A few patches later and we have a great take on the shoot ’em up genre with roguelike elements thrown into the mix. Personally, I would say the single-player is a better experience than the co-op mode due to the way it works, but both modes are a lot of fun to play and very entertaining. The sheer amount of destruction, pickups, enemies and character unlocks are very welcome and really help make this game stand out in a market of ‘similar’ titles.
I Hate Running Backwards£11.99
- - Very addictive
- - Offers a real challenge to people of all skill levels
- - Lots of characters to unlock and perks to use
- - Provides many, many hours of gameplay
- - The developers are constantly listening to players and tweaking the game
- - Can be a bit hard for new players to the genre
- - The procedurally generated levels can be hit or miss in terms of the difficulty
- - Co-op is fun but per-user ammo and pickups can make it a bit one sided