Back Again is a simple platformer in which we will have to jump from platform to platform to go from point A to point B. Undoubtedly it is a simple presentation, that it does not take into account the artistic atmosphere that permeates this titlebut at the same time there is also another factor that distinguishes Back Again from the mass of platformers: we will have to do everything in first person and without visual references.
Let’s take a step back and see because I decided to review Back Again. A reason that’s actually quite simple to guess if you’ve read some of my work here on iCrewPlay: I love first person games with a dreamlike, mysterious and philosophical atmosphere. A passion that has led me to play many low-quality titles, but also to discover some pearls like Ever Forward or that absurd masterpiece of Recursive Ruin.
However Back Again is very reminiscent in the premises of the two games I just mentioned, starting from who is behind the realization. I haven’t found much information on Manning Games, but all that little I have read makes me think that it is only one boy to have taken care of everything. An idea that goes well with the simplicity of the final product. Originally released for Steam in 2021Back Again is now also being released on consoles by Eastasiasoft.
In short, this game hits me on a nervebut how many times have we been attracted to a shiny package, only to open it and find something stinky inside? It is a lure as irresistible as it is risky. Sometimes you find the jewels, other times the stones. That’s how it works, true, but Back Again What Is It? A stone, a jewel or simply an empty package?
Who we are?
Back Again has no real story. At the start it is as if we open our eyes for the first time while a voice in our head informs us that he has esteem for us and that a series of tests await us.. For what end goal, it is absolutely unclearwe just know we have to reach that column of light in the background and that many others have already failed.
However we can see most of those who have given up clearlyoften lifeless mannequins that will accompany us throughout our journey. Most of them, the voice informs us, have given up in the face of the difficulty of the challenge. After yet another failure, they simply stopped, the maximum allegory of the videogame, but we are different… or at least we repeat this to ourselves and the voice repeats to us.
Own the voice, in its philosophical delusions, will be the only companion we will have on our journey. We will hear it at every checkpoint that thinks about abstract themes, as well as every time we fall into the void or we are caught by an obstacle. His “back again” will accompany each of our respawns, each of our attempts, without ever getting tired. The whole affair obviously has a final twist, but to be honest, the narrative sector of this game is a simple tinsel which soon passes in the background.
What instead it is perceived massively, from the beginning to the end of our run in Back Again, it is the atmosphere. A world of black, white and red where platforms float motionless and the only thing that moves are obstacles and mannequins. The whole environment reflects a dreamlike sense of the unknown, occult, mysterious and at the same time creates anxiety and pressure in the gamer. What are we doing and why?
Why are you advancing?
The gameplay of Back Again is a disarming banality. The very foundation of the platform genre. In addition to the various directions to move and to move the camera, we will have only one key to use: the one to jump. In this sense Back Again is a minimal video game. We will simply have to jump from one checkpoint to another (20 in all) trying not to fall into the void or hit the bright red obstacles. S.and it will happen, we will go back to the last checkpoint and we will have to repeat everything.
The real difficulty of Back Again, however, is not inherent in its being a platformalthough some platforming sections would be complex even under normal conditions, as much as in his first person view. In fact, there is no shadow or other reference that helps us to understand where we will fall. We will literally have to jump into the voidbased on the movement we believe we have made and the position of the other objects around the platform we want to reach. An infinite series of leaps of faith.
The whole challenge rig is therefore this and Back Again knows it wellplays with its level design in order to make visual references increasingly elusive and difficult to notice. Vision remains our main resource and the game enjoys altering it through optical illusions, uncomfortable points of view and much, much more. If in some titles the awkward camera is a mistake, here is a sought-after game element to increase the level of challenge. Even the sections where we will have the supershot and the supersalto leverage precisely on this.
The result is, of course, that Back Again is a very frustrating platformer. Just a slight mistake is enough to slip into the void and have to start from the beginning, perhaps just when you were a leap away from the next checkpoint. The game only stores the sections where we have to press of the platformsbut, in any other case, everything will be canceled with each death. It does not help that it is enough to touch an obstacle to be destroyed or that sometimes we will tend to “slip” even if we have reached the platform we wanted.
Where we are?
In Back Again what certainly leaves the gamer speechless and fascinates is the artistic sector. Graphically the game scenario is voluntarily bare, but exploits this emptiness to generate a shiny and dreamlike graphics which fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the title. In itself it wouldn’t be such a stunning graphics, were it not that, associated with the rest, it manages to achieve a spectacular overall result.
What I really loved is the level design and the way white, black, gray and shiny red mixor in this to give each section of the game (those that go from checkpoint to checkpoint) its own identity. The shape of the platforms and the way they are arranged is brilliant and reveal that there has been a deep study of the perspectives and mechanics of game physics. Back Again’s architecture is in itself a small work of art.
There are two elements to complete the final result. The first of these are the mannequins, the only actual decoration of the game environment if we exclude platforms and obstacles. These are always arranged differently, some move, some are immobile, but all contribute to generate an alien and disturbing scenario. The fact that some of these are placed in poses that mock the gamer, is a touch of class.
Finally, the second element also deserves praise: music. This will accompany us throughout our journey and will be an integral part of it. It will be this incessant soundtrack to dictate the pace of the gameplayalternating between calm and relaxed symphonies near checkpoints to move on to more pressing pieces in the platforming stages. The more pressing the music becomes, the more we will have to expect a difficult challenge in front of us. In itself, Back Again’s artwork borders on perfection.
Concluding our Back Again review and pulling the strings of everything we have written, we can draw the strokes of a difficult, frustrating and partly bare and simple game in its formbut which nevertheless manages to donate to the gamer a rewarding experience, especially if you love dreamlike atmospheres and difficult platformers. The idea of entrusting everything to the first person view is a great gimmick.
But we haven’t talked yet of the main Back Again problem, a problem that is suggested by its simplicity, but is not really inherent within the game itself. No, I am not referring to the fact that it is only in English but that it takes two / three hours to complete everything. It also has no real replay value. There is only one extra mode that invites you to face the game without ever dying, but this is more a reason for additional frustration than curiosity.
Let it be clear that Back Again doesn’t come with a high cost eitheron the contrary … for what it offers I consider it a more than fair price. On Steamwhere I remember it came out in 2021, it is less than 1 euro, 0.79 cents to be exact. It costs a little more in its latest version for Nintendo Switch And PlayStation 4 and 5. I still believe that a cost of just under 3 euros is more than acceptable for such a refined game, but which concludes its duty in an evening.
On balance, therefore, underneath the glittering card of Back Again there is a jewel, but a much smaller one than it would be reasonable to expect. You were expecting a diamond as big as a fist and instead you find yourself a crystal clear swarovski less than a fingernail. It is beautiful, it is sparkling, it is satisfying, but it is little. This is Back Again: little. An excellent experiment that makes you regret there is more behind it. As it is, it is nothing more than a kind of artistic demolike those that were so common on the first two PlayStation.