I’ve been around the block and then some when it comes to roguelites and roguelikes. In such a flourishing and populated genre, it’s the unique titles, offering fun spins on the formula, that always catch my eye. Consider my delight then when learning about Backpack Hero, a game that combines Resident Evil-style inventory management with town building and roguelike mechanics. Predictably, it is incredibly my jam and the most fun I’ve had with the niche in quite a bit.
Backpack Hero takes place in a fantasy setting, with your home away from dungeon crawls being Haversack Hill. The world is magnificent, colourful and inviting with its anthropomorphic cast of characters. Initially, you begin your journey as a mouse by the name of Purse, but your options will later expand with a bigger set of playable characters each with their own playstyle. These include a Robin that’s known as Satchel who can use a flute to charm enemies onto their side or Tote who can spawn in environmental objects to bolster and protect them when in danger.
The real meat and potatoes of the game is, obviously, the classic turn-based roguelike combat and dungeon exploration. Like juggernauts in the genre such as Slay the Spire, the game takes place on a 2D plain. You navigate an overworld, planning out your route to either work through or avoid combat encounters, engage in random events and visit shops for better supplies. It too is all about using the right weapon and item at each time, managing action points, incoming damage, and limping your way through each floor of a given dungeon. Though none of these bones are unique, you’re always stimulated by the sprightly characters and lively environments (be it a thick forest found deep underground, an enchanted swamp or a magma core).
Where Backpack Hero gets really special is in its inventory management. Each time you level up you get to add a small handful of cells to flesh out your inventory. Not only is the placement of each important in maximising how much you can squeeze in, but it also creates creative but devastating combat effects. For instance, positioning armour and weapons near one another can bolster defence or damage, but also mitigate status effects cast upon you. These combinations can become game-breaking if you play your cards right, soaring you above and beyond what initially seemed possible.
The other half of the game is the city builder elements, a welcome reprieve from the many tough and challenging journeys you’ll embark on. The more houses, shops and the like that you develop, the more wanderers will come and set up camp at Haversack Hill. With these building tools, you can create some pleasant and luscious towns, complete with libraries, town halls, sawmills and more.
“…the most fun I’ve had with the niche in quite a bit.”
All of these buildings require resources that you gain from your runs, be it treasure, building supplies or food. Once a productivity building such as a farmhouse is created, this bolsters the amount of the relevant resource gained in a run. However, research buildings are where the progression is at. These are essentially menus where you can allocate some of the resources and items such as weapons and consumables to then further unlock even more items to be discovered to aid on your dungeon dives.
A crucial unlock is the job board which gives you quests to embark on, engaging with more bite-sized but risky runs that net big rewards but test you by asking you to clear x amount of floors while being restricted to set items or other parameters.
Roguelikes really live and die by their sense of progression and it’s with these mechanics that Backpack Hero is far from lacking. No run is wasted as even if you are unsuccessful in clearing it, you at least get to take one item instead of all with you. You’re always moving forward.
I’ve scarce complaints with Backpack Hero, largely because it is so damn approachable. Progress a little and you’ll unlock ‘Easy Mode’ modifiers for runs in-game, leaving foes with less health and damage output. However, it would’ve been nice for this to be a setting from the beginning. The very fact an Easy Mode is included in the game at all is rather delightful, as roguelikes are infamously cruel and brutal at the best of times. Letting more players in the door is always a good thing.
I’ve played about a dozen hours of Backpack Hero now and though I’ve yet to complete it and crack through its brilliant difficulty, I’ve had a wonderful time becoming my own little packrat. Something I’m most excited to get more involved with and finally wrap my head around is the magic one can craft, truly promising to be a way to break the game’s combat down to its absolute core and devastate all who stand in my way.
Backpack Hero is available now on practically everything, including Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5 and PC on storefronts such as Steam. Check it out.