There has been a number of Serious Sam spin-offs over the years.
Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour was the last I played, and it was great. I Hate Running Backwards is nearly just as good. Nearly.
Developed by Binx Interactive in collaboration with Croteam Incubator, I Hate Running Backwards takes the scrolling shooter genre and turns it on its head. Basically, instead of your chosen character standing at the bottom of the screen and shooting upwards, they stand at the top and shoot downwards. They run backwards; a cute nod to the usual tactic we all employ in the mainline Serious Sam games.
Essentially then, I Hate Running Backwards is a game centred around a gimmick; whether you’re running backwards or forwards, the gameplay is still the same. When it’s this much fun though, who cares?
Initially only a few characters are available for use: Serious Sam and a couple of guests. As you play, however, new characters are unlocked, such as the awesome Lo Wang. Each character has their own characteristics, allowing you to choose one that best suits your playstyle. Serious Sam, for instance, has more health but moves slower, while Lo Wang has less health but his special attack meter fills up quicker. Characters aren’t the only thing you unlock by playing, either. New secondary weapons also become available, granting you new ways to dispose of your enemies.
While each character has a default trio of weapons that are switched between automatically depending on the availability of ammo, it’s the secondary weapons that are the most fun to use. They’re varied, highly destructive, and rather preposterous, and that’s what I like about them. They certainly add an element of strategy to the game, as you need to use them effectively to reap the most benefit. Land mines are best dropped at choke points, for instance, while the flame thrower is more useful when the screen is filled with a group of enemies ready for you to grill.
Weapons aren’t the only attacks in your arsenal, though. A spinning melee attack can be performed, taking care of smaller enemies that manage to get into range, and by dispatching enemies you steadily charge a special attack meter located at the side of the screen. When the bar is full, you can unleash a screen-clearing attack that is ever so satisfying to use. It’s just a shame how infrequently you get to use it as playing as most characters.
Different every time
The action in I Hate Running Backwards is level based, with you battling a boss at the end of each. The levels are procedurally generated though, meaning that each time you play they’re different. Each area has its own theme, sure, but enemy patterns change, the location and number of pick-ups and power ups are random, and you might not always witness the same scenery. It’s a good job though, as you’re likely to be playing each level an obscene number of times.
I Hate Running Backwards is hard. Very hard. Characters tend to only have two or three hearts, and while there’s the occasional heart pick-up or temporary shield, death comes quick if you don’t keep on your toes. There are no continues, either. Once you die, you have to retry the level you’re on from the beginning. Things are a little easier, and much more fun, if you drag a friend along for the ride. Only local co-op is supported though, and you have to make sure you cooperate to make the best use of pickups.
The high difficulty level will be the biggest deterrent for some players, but there are also a couple of other little issues. With you shooting down the screen while moving up it, sometimes you simply don’t have time to collect pick ups revealed by destroying objects in the environment. The level of destructibility is pretty awesome, by the way. Additionally, switching between your default weapons manually should feel strategic, but as you can rarely tell if you have any ammo for the one currently not in use because its ammo counter is obscured, it just feels messy.
The X factor
On Xbox One X, I Hate Running Backwards runs flawlessly. It’s blocky, Minecraft-styled visuals have charm, and being able to destroy pretty much everything is a hoot. When I took the action to an Xbox One S to play in co-op, however, screen tearing reared its ugly head. It’s not enough to really put you off playing the game, but it is noticeable.
Despite its issues, it’s easy to love I Hate Running Backwards. Playing it brings nothing but joy, even when you’re dying time and time again. It’s fast-paced, frantic and fun, just how a shooter should be. And it’s got the brilliant sense of humour that runs though all Serious Sam games. While it’s enjoyable when played alone, it’s best enjoyed in co-op. So, grab a friend, get them sat on the couch next to you, and run backwards like a maniac. You’ll both have a blast.