It’s no secret that some of my favourite titles of the last few years haven’t been massive blockbusters. When Destiny 2 leaves you feeling limp, games like Rime, Hob, and Planet Alpha make for fantastic diversions from a litany of flashy yet mediocre titles. So when we were given an opportunity to preview upcoming puzzle platformer Backworlds, I was more than happy to take on the challenge.
Like many of the best platformers, Backworlds features a charming little creature that players can navigate the game with. While Backworlds protagonist isn’t the type of spikey blue garden dweller that made a recent comeback, it’s still undeniably cute. Developers Juha Kangas and Anders Ekermo’s twin-tailed feline is neither blue nor fast on its feet. It inhabits a much more laid back environment. In fact, this is a cat of two worlds. Prowling around opening moments of Backworlds quickly uncovers a lush landscape full of wildlife. Trees branch out of their surroundings, waterfalls surge through your adventure, and the verdant decoration that surrounds each level makes for a very relaxing experience. There’s nothing particularly overwhelming about the controls and the tutorial quickly introduces the game’s central mechanic. With a click and swipe, the sunlit foliage of the opening levels is erased and gives way to a dark cityscape. Rendered with a very definite use of color, the entire aesthetic switches between preschool color by numbers and charcoal sketchbook. The alternative monochromatic backdrop allows players to flit between realities, interacting with particular items, revealing new routes, and avoiding hazards.
In reality, Backworlds is not dangerous. While Goomba patrols, mechanized wildlife, and even unfavorable weather have all threatened our platforming progress in the past, there is no expectation of catastrophic failure in Backworlds. Much like games such as Solo and Rime, Backworlds is an effort in exploration. From the first few steps spent clambering over rocks, the maps in Backworlds branch out in several directions and challenge players to collect a series of iridescent objects in order to progress. There are no enemies or timers in play here, just a series of environmental puzzles. The two sides of Backworlds intertwine easily, allowing players to move rocks, unlock doors, and environment erased at the correct moment all to these glowing collectibles.
None of these obstacles proves to be particularly problematic. Every one-way platform, boulder, and utility that appears has a clear purpose. There is little room for hoodwinking players. This does, however, provide a pretty persistent sense of progression as collectibles are ticked off at a reasonable pace. Unfortunately, this does also highlight comparisons with more complete games. Rime and HoB are excellent examples of platformers that intertwine an exploratory experience, a massive world, and a narrative. Backworlds much smaller and incomplete development does account for this. It does still lack the sense of scale that these games bring to the table. It also as yet lacks the controller support that would make a relaxing Sunday afternoon much more enjoyable. Instead of kicking back on the couch I found myself hunched over my desktop, where I’d normally be found gunning for glory.
While these quality of life issues exist, Backworlds is far from a complete game yet. Our preview glimpsed the core mechanics and confirmed a few things. This is a genuinely inventive platformer with a charming aesthetic. It may very well be could be the next game I just kick back with one weekend if controller support is added. You can find out more about the game on the official website and await its arrival on PC during Q1 2019.