Review: I Hate Running Backwards

Light, breezy, fun... and punishing as all get out.

Review: I Hate Running Backwards
Developer: teractive, Croteam Incubator
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Available At: Steam

There’s a lot in I Hate Running Backwards that we’ve all seen before. The top scrolling screen, the numerous bullet-hell style powerups, the ‘roguelite’ appellation that basically means “We can’t be arsed designing the levels, so let’s let the code do it”, and even some of the characters – like Serious Sam and Lo Wang.

But you know what? It all hangs together very well, and there’s a surprising amount of depth to the game’s core mechanic, which sees you running backwards towards the top of the screen, as the level scrolls down, and enemies appear from below.

And holy heck do a lot of them appear. And there’s all kinds. And the weapons are insane. And… my heart rate is going up just thinking about the level I got killed no before writing this review!

There’s not much beyond that, really. You pick a character – three are available to start with, and more unlock as you progress – and then into the action. Each character has a couple of defining characteristics; Sam, for instance, has three health but is a bit slow, while Shadow Warriors’ Lo Wang is less healthy but more mobile. Once you’re playing a level, though, everything else is random. I played one level where it was ten seconds before a super tough mummy started crawling up the screen after me, and another where there was an instant horde of bomb-handed mutants crying for my scalp.

Level design is procedurally generated, but still manages some clever and challenging combinations to maneuver around. The more you back into the top of the screen, the hard it is to both push back down to give yourself some room to maneuver, or spot upcoming powerups and crates. This is where the game’s depth becomes apparent – it’s not just about shooting bad guys, but using the ever-scrolling terrain to channel them in ways that lets you conserve ammunition, or avoid enemies altogether – the bomb-handed mutants, for instance, run straight for you, but they also blow up on contact with terrain elements.

As each game progresses, so does its complexity, as you’re dodging more badguys, while also juggling two weapons quite often – one triggered by each mouse button. Combined with a spinning melee attack with a short cool-down, timing each attack becomes more and more challenging, and mis-keys more and more punishing. Weapons range from your basic starting pistol – no, not that kind of pistol – and pickups offering everything from machine guns to rocket launchers, off-hand laser weapons and flame-throwers, mini-guns, and more.

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Oh, and occasionally a giant bull will invade the level and run across the screen sideways, destroying everything in its path, including you – no matter how much health you have.

The game is really quite brutal, but individual runs quite short. It’s a perfect palate-cleaner game – quick to load, easy to switch to from other applications, and over pretty fast. Unless you’re good at it, which, you know… I’m pretty much not.

But it’s also just wonderfully silly fun. Bright, chaotic in the all the best ways, and always surprising.

8 10
I Hate Running Backwards, but I also really like I Hate Running Backwards.
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