The concept of a cooperative shoot 'em up roguelike is definitely a promising one. Throw in a bunch of familiar indie characters and you definitely have my attention. So, let's see if you should love or hate running backwards.
I Hate Running Backwards is played like an average vertically scrolling shoot 'em up except you're at the top of the screen and shoot down at charging enemies. One thing that took me by surprise is just how many controls and systems are in play. Instead of just shooting and dodging projectiles, you can also use a melee spin attack, swap to a secondary weapon, deploy an equipped special weapon, and unleash an ultimate ability whenever its meter is full. The melee attack is especially useful as you can use it to deflect incoming missiles back at enemies as well as destroy your environment in the hopes of uncovering additional power-ups, etc. Meanwhile, you'll automatically collect yellow voxels and whenever the experience gauge is full, you can select one extra perk that can turn the tides of battle. Overall, the gameplay is tight, impressively comprehensive, and a great deal of fun to play cooperatively with a friend.
Before heading to battle, you select a character and there are a lot of them such as Serious Sam and chums from Enter the Gungeon, Broforce, Shadow Warrior, Hotline Miami, and Nuclear Throne. I didn't expect I Hate Running Backwards to be a crossover game but I'm happy to see that it is, particularly considering how different each character plays. Anyway, the game world looks fantastic complete with colourful and unique voxel-filled destructible environments, goofy enemies, and characters that look like they're from Minecraft. The audio is less impressive with somewhat generic music and sound effects although some of the vocalisations are pretty funny.
Another aspect that impressed me about I Hate Running Backwards is just how much variety there is. There are tons of characters, weapons, and perks to discover so figuring out which ones best suit your play style is very rewarding. The stages are procedurally generated and you'll find yourself driving a jeep, dodging werebulls, and navigating through minefields and that's just in the first level. You'll also meet over a dozen different enemy types and six bosses that are satisfying to finally topple.
Major update: version 1.02
I played I Hate Running Backwards on PlayStation 4 and since version 1.02 that released a couple days ago, a lot of aspects have been improved. For starters, there are now useful explanation screens that describe what those darn levers do and even help with boss fights. There's also a baby mode difficulty setting which makes things a bit too easy. Finally, I noticed that you can enter certain doors to skip levels that you already beat. A stage select would have been better but this is still a welcome inclusion.
Tight and varied gameplay aside, I can't stress enough just how difficult I Hate Running Backwards is. I usually love challenging games but the difficulty here can be downright brutal. This is particularly true when playing cooperatively with a friend. The developers scaled the difficulty according to how many players are playing but they went overboard. I found the co-op mode to be nearly impossible which is how I played from the start. However, once I picked it up by myself, the challenge became a lot easier to deal with although it was still quite brutal. Why couldn't there be a difficulty select? How come they made it way harder with two players?
Finally, whenever you perish, you have to start the entire game over again from stage 1. After beating the first stage, I noticed that there was a new toggle in front of a boss statue. I thought this meant that you can toggle whether or not to play that stage again but as far as I know, all it does is make the level harder. Why does almost every indie game nowadays have to be a roguelike? Why can't you continue from the last stage that you left off at? If they allowed that here then I would have had a much better time with it.
I Hate Running Backwards features fun core gameplay but its high degree of difficulty and roguelike structure make it far less accessible than it should be. I think it's time indie developers start rethinking the whole roguelike gimmick.
- + Tight shoot 'em up gameplay that's even more enjoyable with a friend
- + Delightful voxel-filled visuals
- + Lots of variety and weapons
- - Brutal difficulty can be more frustrating than fun, especially in co-op
- - Should have included a mode where you can continue from each stage