By Michael Fontanini / April 15th, 2020
Editor’s Note: Due to the postponement of GDC, oprainfall has taken it upon themselves to help provide coverage to developers who were going to showcase their games there. This is one of those games.
Backworlds, developed by Logic Ember Limited, is a 2D puzzle-platformer with a colorful art style that brings its worlds to life. The game sees you exploring inside a painting, where you can use your brush to switch between two parallel worlds. The brush is your mouse, and you can simply paint or unpaint an area to switch which parallel world that part of the screen is currently occupied by. You can also change the brush size using the mouse scroll wheel. This often changes the properties of that area. In the image below, it toggles the gray stone between solid rock and air, allowing you to make a path through it. Other effects that you may see include things like inverting gravity in the painted area. It should be noted that the game does also have gamepad support.
The world design of Backworlds aims to be non-linear, allowing you to go where you want. If you get stuck on one puzzle, you can wander off to a different area and try a different one for a while. Each puzzle is in its own room or screen in the world. Periodically you will run into gauges that fill with paint as you solve puzzles in the area. Each time you solve a puzzle in order to collect a blob of paint, it fills the gauge a little more. When you fill a gauge, a door somewhere in the surrounding area will open. When one of these doors is unlocked, it reveals a path that leads to a boss fight involving harder puzzles.
Each area’s paint blobs look different in Backworlds. So you have collect the right types to fill a given gauge, too. The game has four different worlds to explore, each of which has its own mechanics and visual theme. There are also the boss battles, which themselves involve a bit of puzzling. For example, one is a bird where you have to figure out how to move objects, each of which triggers a projectile to be unleashed to hit the boss.
The game’s paint-themed art style is nice to look at, and employs vibrant colors. The paint mechanic has another artistic, but subtle effect that doesn’t affect gameplay much. In addition to switching which parallel world a space on the screen is occupied by, it also sometimes reveals extra cosmetic details that you couldn’t normally see there. They don’t usually have anything to do with nearby puzzles, though. It’s just a nice touch of extra detail. Backworlds also has a beautiful and relaxing soundtrack that goes great with puzzle solving. The sound effects are simple, but well done. They accentuate things happening in the game but don’t interrupt your focus.
Backworlds stumbles a bit when it comes to puzzle design, however. You see, early on the game teaches you the basic controls, and the most basic mechanics. After that, it starts adding new mechanics as you enter unfamiliar areas without properly introducing them. This means that in many cases you’ll run into a puzzle that you cannot solve yet, at least until you blindly stumble upon the game mechanic(s) needed for it. So your first attempt at such a puzzle is like trying to remove a screw with a hammer. Your toolbox lacks the right tools for the job. A good puzzle aims to create a rewarding “AH HA!” moment. Unfortunately, some puzzles in this game instead make you feel like “Ah, so that’s what the level designer expected me to do in that one puzzle.” You didn’t solve a puzzle, you just stumbled onto a mechanic the game didn’t teach you, and which happens to be the key to that puzzle. To be fair, not all of the game’s puzzles are like this, as many are indeed good, too.
BackworldsGDCLogic Ember Limitedoprainfall