Changes, especially big ones, to an established formula are seldom exclusively positive or negative. Such is the case with the remixed roguelike I Hate Running Backwards, from developers Binx Interactive.
I Hate Running Backwards seeks to reestablish a tried and true formula by shaking up the core mechanic. After a successful launch across the other platforms, I Hate Running Backwards has made its way to the Nintendo Switch and proves once again why these smaller games feel right at home on the console.
The core concept is right there in the title; pick your dude, grab a gun and run your arse backwards as fast as possible. It’s the kind of change in design that is both small and monumental – a simple shift in direction flips the entire rhythm on its head.
Early runs will undoubtedly cause momentary frustration as players adapt to this shift away from the right or bottom of the screen but once the new formula clicks it begets some genuine moments of fast-paced fun.
I Hate Running Backwards Review Switch
I Hate Running Backwards gives players a choice of an eclectic cast of characters to play as, all of whom have been lifted from various Devolver Digital properties.
Each of these folks includes their own unique set of skills, some favouring damage output over health and speed so choosing the right one character for your playstyle is hugely important. It’s also the only time you truly get a chance to customise your character as everything else in the game is entirely disposable after a run-through.
Launching from a central hub location, with a gigantic Stargate-like device serving as your window to carnage, you’ll be flung through a series of consecutive levels and boss fights. Procedural generation is paired with a decent variety of level aesthetics to ensure that each run is at the very least fun to look at.
You’ll do battle across different locations and even time periods, each stage an almost completely destructible environment through which mayhem will ensue.
Backwards, not Forwards
IHRB gives players a bombastic arsenal of weapons and skills to tackle the challenge. The hub world is home to several weapons caches in which you can swap out your basic shotguns, machine guns etc but the real fun begins mid-level.
Littered throughout each run are crates in which some of the most creative weapons I’ve seen in a game can be found; like a lifesize disco ball.
Alongside the weapons, players have access to a plethora of abilities and buffs that are also found throughout the levels. Destruction of environments or enemies will yield small yellow cubes that after collecting enough, will unlock one of three random perks which will stay with you until you die.
Environments also hide temporary buffs like health recovery, shields, weapon enhancers and infinite ammo. Pairing these powers with the already bonkers weapons and sheer number of enemies on screen gives IHRB a wonderfully frantic pace that even the Switch hardware can run smoothly.
Upwards, not Forwards
The game can pull off this level of insanity because of two very silly, but very deliberate choices. The charm of the writing and the overall artistic style. IHRB is consistently funny, especially when introducing a new boss or a stray item description and it’s clear how much fun the developers had with the Serious Sam and other Devolver Digital licenses.
Paired with an aesthetic that feels like Minecraft finally found an identity, the game is never dull to look at and will often leave you with a smile on your face.
Granted, familiarity with these properties will mean that the jokes land a bit harder but as someone who never played a Serious Sam game before, I still found the overall vibe to be enjoyable.
Aesthetic and charm aren’t always enough to keep players hooked however and it’s in the core loop that IHRB fumbles the ball. Those early frustrations that arise from the shift in perspective become much more tolerable when compared to the unyielding difficulty and detrimentally ambiguous boss encounters.
These fights will begin simply enough but quickly these bosses will begin a second or third phase, during which the way in which you are meant to deal damage becomes unnecessarily obtuse and death comes far too quickly.
The procedurally generated levels don’t do much to alleviate this either as there is no means through which you can learn a stages patterns and luck of the digital draw may throw you up against a rather unfair layout.
And always Twirling, Twirling Twirling
Being a rogue-like, the nature of the beast means that death is a failure of the highest degree, resulting in a total loss of progress. For a game that revels in genre re-definition though it would have been nice to see this tweaked as having to start the run over again only serves to highlight the underlying tedium of the game.
Hold down the trigger, run backwards, try to hit the shiny things, repeat. The occasional change in movement (do these things on a boat) and weapon variety is a blast for a short while but after extended play the simplicity of run’n’gun gameplay weighs too heavily for a game so good at appearing to keep it light and breezy.
The real conflict here is that at first, and for a while at least, IHRB is a fun experience that feels perfect for the handheld console but eventually gives way to something less enjoyable.
Whether or not a short-lived adrenaline rush is enough for players to check this one out is a hard call to make, especially if you’re looking for something in this vein for the Switch.
There is a good time to be had here, just don’t expect to be going back to it again after you’re done.
I Hate Running Backwards was reviewed on Switch using a digital code provided by the developer.
Game Title: I Hate Running Backwards
Weapon and Skill Variety - 8.6/10
Great Aesthetic - 9.1/10
Charming Script - 7.5/10
Repetitive - 4/10
Boss Fights Suck - 2/10
Little Replayability - 5.5/10