Released back in February of 2020 on PC, Backworlds made its Nintendo Switch debut last week (May 20th). As a fan of puzzle games, I am honestly a little surprised that I never really noticed the game when it released on PC as I am generally a pretty big fan of these type of games. The premise of a puzzle game with a painting mechanic that allows you to manipulate the physics of an area actually sounded really interesting. With the Nintendo Switch release I was finally able to give the game a chance. Backworlds has some interesting new mechanics for the puzzle game genre leading to a game that fans of the genre should really enjoy.
In Backworlds you play as a creature that has the ability to manipulate the world to move between two parallel worlds. This is accomplished through what is best described as a painting mechanic. Basically you have a circle that you can move around with your mouse, analog sticker, or through the touch screen. You can increase or decrease the size of this circle at anytime. When you press a button you will start painting where the circle currently resides which alters the world. Where you paint will change the physics in some way depending on what part of the world that you are currently in. If you make a mistake or need to turn off the special ability in an area, you can press another button which erases anything that you painted in the area of the circle.
While it has its own unique little twists, for the most part Backworlds is similar to your typical puzzle platformer. The platforming is pretty basic as you mostly move through the environment and use your jump to reach higher platforms or make it across gaps. You can’t really die in the game, so the only punishment for missing a jump involves having to redo everything that got you into position for the jump that you missed. The game also has some enemies, but they don’t hurt you. Instead they mostly just block your path or push you back when you run into them. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about the platforming mechanics as they are pretty typical of this genre. The platforming is fun enough, but there is nothing highly original about the mechanics.
The puzzle mechanics are what drive most of the gameplay in Backworlds. The game is divided into quite a few different puzzles. Instead of just choosing the next puzzle from a list, the game has created an interconnected world kind of like a Metroidvania. You move around the world to reach the next room that features a puzzle. Most of the rooms in the game world feature a colored circle with the object of the puzzle being to reach it. There are four different of colors in the game which correlate to the different abilities that your painting can unlock. Each of these have a different impact on the world’s physics. The first mechanic you will encounter is that painting will either add or remove physical barriers from the world where you paint. This will be used to eliminate obstacles that you can’t get past, or give you new platforms to jump on. Other mechanics include turning surfaces that you paint into magnets which your character is attracted to. The painting also acts like bodies of water that you can swim through allowing you to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. The puzzles in the game mostly revolve around using these abilities along with any objects found in the room to figure out a way to reach the colored circle that you need to collect. When you acquire enough circles of a certain color, you will unlock the boss for that color which tests all of the skills you have learned about manipulating that color’s ability.
As a big fan of the puzzle game genre, for the most part I really enjoyed playing Backworlds. The game is pretty straight to the point as it doesn’t really have a story. Instead it is mostly just a set of puzzles connected to one another. I found this interconnection of puzzles to be really interesting as it really helps with the laid back feeling that the game is trying to present. The game is trying to avoid creating a stressful game with extremely difficult puzzles or puzzles that require quick reaction times/precise timing. Instead the game is one where you can take your time to analyze a situation and figure out how to use the painting abilities to reach the destination. If you get stumped by a puzzle you can just walk past it and move onto another one. To unlock the bosses you don’t need to solve all of the puzzles. Thus you don’t have to bang your head against a wall to find a solution to a puzzle that you are stumped by. Then if you want to come back to an earlier puzzle once you figure out the mechanic better, you can come back to clean up the puzzles that you weren’t able to solve.
I think one of the reasons why the puzzle mechanics work so well is that I thought the painting mechanic was pretty clever. With this mechanic you have full control over how you manipulate the game world. The puzzles have definite solutions, but there is some flexibility in how you paint the world to achieve them. I was a little skeptical of the mechanic at first, but I thought it worked really well. For some of the puzzles it feels like you can cut corners to save some time once you have a good grasp of the mechanics. This adds enough creativity to the puzzle solving mechanic adding a unique element to the game. This does a good job distinguishing Backworlds from a lot of other puzzle games with somewhat similar mechanics.
Probably the main reason why Backworlds succeeds though is simply because the puzzle design is quite good. I would say that some of the puzzles are better than others, but a lot of the puzzles do a good job giving you a good sense of accomplishment when you solve them. The game does a good job adding in new little tweaks as you advance through the game so you aren’t stuck doing the same things with a mechanic over and over again. The game actually does a good job coming up with quite a few unique ways of using each of the mechanics. I don’t know exactly how many puzzles there are of each type, but I would guess at least fifteen or more. I think the game does a good job keeping the mechanics fresh where things don’t start becoming repetitive.
I would say that the biggest issue that I had with Backworlds is that you will occasionally encounter puzzles where you are unsure of what you are supposed to do. I think this can be partially attributed to the fact that the game doesn’t always do a great job teaching you new things that you can do with each ability. Sometimes the game will give you a simple puzzle basically teaching you how to use the ability in a new way. Other times it basically just assumes that you can figure out a new way to use it without actually showing you. Some of these mechanics are easy enough to figure out on your own. Some aren’t that straightforward though so it leads to frustrating moments where you just luck into figuring out the mechanic. After you stumble upon the solution it is actually pretty obvious, but it can sometimes be kind of frustrating as you try to get to that point.
The only other issue with the game is that it is a puzzle game that won’t be for everyone. While the game has some platforming elements, the platforming is not prevalent or unique enough to really interest fans of the genre. Thus your enjoyment of the game is going to rely entirely on how much you are interested in the puzzle mechanics. If you aren’t a big fan of puzzle games in general, or don’t really care for the game’s premise I don’t think the game will be able to overcome your initial feelings towards it. I thought Backworlds was a good puzzle game that fans of the genre should enjoy quite a bit, but it simply won’t be for everyone.
Backworlds basically accomplishes what it was attempting to do, create a satisfying laid back puzzle solving experience. The game is broken up into puzzles where you need to figure out how to reach a certain section of the room. You do this by using your ability to paint onto the game world thus changing that area’s physics. I thought this was an interesting mechanic that works well for the game. There appears to be only one solution for most of the puzzles, but this gives the puzzles some leniency as how you paint will somewhat change how a puzzle is solved. I thought the mechanic was clever and it works well most of the time. On top of this the puzzle design is usually quite good. There are times in the game though where new ideas could have been explained better. There are times where the game just assumes you can figure out the new way of utilizing a mechanic. When you can’t figure it out on your own though it can be a little frustrating until you stumble into the solution. Otherwise the game is a puzzle game that won’t appeal to everyone.
My recommendation for Backworlds is actually quite simple. If you don’t generally care for puzzle games or the main puzzle mechanic doesn’t sound all that interesting, the game likely won’t be for you. If you read the premise of the game and thought it sounded interesting though, I think you should seriously consider picking up Backworlds.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Logic Ember Limited for the review copy of Backworlds used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.