Rogue-like/lite shooters are pretty common these days. Frequently hectic, these games are often randomly generated and send you right back to the start when you die, just like in the good old days. Tesla vs. Lovecraft, Airheart and Immortal Redneck all take the idea in different directions, but there’s a slew of other entries in the genre. Thankfully, I love playing games like this, so having all these options is pretty great as far as I’m concerned. My latest foray into this lunacy is I Hate Running Backwards — and lunacy is the right word for this game!
I Hate Running Backwards is set in the Serious Sam universe, and is a top-down scrolling shooter with rogue-lite elements. In a jab at the horde shooter genre, rather than running up the screen killing enemies as you go, you are at the top of the screen running backwards, shooting all the enemies chasing you. Hence the name. Once you’ve backpedaled far enough, a boss starts chasing you and they only leave you alone once you’ve shot them enough.
You start by picking a character. Although there are only a few to start with, you’ll unlock more as you progress, all with their own differences (some of which are very significant). Whilst this is based in the Serious Sam universe, many of the characters are from other games, including Lo Wang from Shadow Warrior and the bullet from Enter The Gungeon. From there you can select a couple of randomly generated weapons before heading into the first stage.
After a brief tutorial, you are inundated with headless kamikazes and beheaded rocketeers. There’s a lot going on, but your basic equipment is enough to hold them off for the most part. You tend to start with two weapons — from a range of pistol, machine gun or shotgun — as well as a melee attack, a special weapon, and a super attack. You can only fire down the screen, but your melee attack hits in a circle around you and is pretty much the only way to attack enemies that get behind you. You can pick up other weapons as you go, but you’ll need to keep stocked up on ammunition from the (thankfully plentiful) pick-ups on each stage.
Your melee attack is crucial, as it not only kills enemies at close range but also reflects many projectiles back at your assailants. Even more important, it’s a great way to destroy the environment around you. Almost everything can be destroyed, be they trees, buildings, or debris. This not only clears you a path and helps you avoid getting stuck, but most things that can be destroyed are filled with ‘mojo’, which you use to level up and unlock perks. The downside is that this attack is on a cooldown and you can’t fire whilst using it. Using it at the right time is often key to your survival.
Whilst the main weapons aren’t too out of the ordinary (with a couple of exceptions), the special weapons are quite varied. These have very limited ammo and can normally only be found in crates around the stages, but they are worth collecting due to their significant power. Powerful lasers, air strikes, and freeze rays can turn the tide when you’re being overwhelmed, and are a huge help when taking down bosses. Beyond those, the super moves are screen-clearing attacks unique to each character that needs to be charged over time.
The aforementioned perks allow you to change how you play somewhat — and you’re offered three when you level up. Some increase your survivability through extra health, whilst others alter your attacks by increasing fire rate or speeding up your melee cooldown. Few of them are game-breaking, but some are significantly more useful than others, meaning that if you get a bad selection to choose from, you’re a bit stuck. You tend to level up once or twice during a stage, meaning you’ll have a good variety of perks by the end of the game.
The stages in I Hate Running Backwards are quite varied in terms of design and layout. Some have bottomless pits that can immediately end your run or tough vehicle sections where careful navigation is key. The enemies also have a decent variety, being lifted from Serious Sam games. A big mix of different opponents at once can be difficult, as you need to prioritise targets quickly. The bosses themselves appear quite different but have very few attacks and mostly operate in the same way, making working out a pattern to defeat them fairly simple. The challenge is far greater in the stages themselves rather than the bosses, which is a little disappointing.
The visuals are excellent, with lots of bright colours to help things stand out. Whilst things may appear crowded, everything appears quite distinct, so spotting things in the environment comes down to you paying close attention. I felt that there wasn’t as much visual feedback for being hit as I would like. A heart with a ‘-1’ logo appears, but I think a clear red flash on the screen might have helped me notice it faster. The sound is reasonable, but nothing to write home about. Likewise, the music is fitting, but not special, and the sound effects are serviceable, although the weapons don’t sound terribly powerful apart from a couple of the special weapons.
That said, I had a lot of fun playing I Hate Running Backwards. The controls were sharp and responsive and there was a lot of variety in what is, at its heart, a very simple game. The additional ‘curses’ you can unlock add extra challenge (good luck!) if you’re interested, and you unlock new weapons and characters with each run. The short play time is perfect for a quick blast, and the inclusion of level skips once you’ve cleared an area lets you get back to where you were quickly, although you’ll be somewhat underpowered. On top of all of that, there’s even local co-op.
If you’re into top-down shooters and are looking for a fresh challenge, you could do much worse than trying I Hate Running Backwards. It’s polished and plays very well, with a level of challenge that’s just high enough to make you say ‘Just one more run’ more than a few times. I may be running backwards, but I’m looking forwards to another game.