To say that this Backpack Hero review has been a long time coming is a bit of an understatement. It was one of my most anticipated games of the year, and I was excited to dive in. Unfortunately, reality had some other days.
I’ve spent most of the year dealing with a rehab process from major surgery, coupled with some significant hiccups along the way. Yet despite this, I would always try to make room to play Backpack Hero, which saw a full release on Steam and Nintendo Switch on November 14th.
Every time I’d play the game, something felt off. Not from the game itself but from how I played it on my desktop PC. Was it a personal issue? My surgery involved major repair to my knee and related ligaments; sometimes, sitting down was a little difficult. Or was it the game itself, and it was a bit of a disappointment? I was resigned to realize that maybe Backpack Hero wasn’t the game I hoped it was.
Then, I got my hands on a Steam Deck, and everything clicked.
Backpack Hero is the perfect game for the modern handheld gaming system. Its pick-up-and-play dive through dungeons is perfect for when you’re on the go, relaxing on the couch or in bed, or when you need some time to yourself in public spaces.
Backpack Hero Actually Makes Inventory Management Fun
Here’s a fun fact: inventory management is one of my least favorite gaming mechanics. So, how does Backpack Hero find a way to make it work? By making your inventory an extension of your character’s equipment.
Deciding whether or not to keep items goes far beyond the basic “it’s a good item” or “I like this sword more than that spear.” You keep the sword because it can buff attacks and can be placed in a way to add even more beneficial stats to your character. Managing your inventory is less of a hassle and more of a constantly evolving puzzle that needs to be solved. Best of all, there is no right answer. Sure, some builds will be better than others, but you can customize them to your heart’s desire.
This benefits what is already a replayable gameplay experience. There are several playable characters you can take through your dungeon-grinding experience that plays in a roguelite fashion. You’ll encounter items to obtain and enemies to defeat before completing each dungeon.
The game doesn’t stop there, as in story mode, you can bring items back to your town as you rebuild it. Unfortunately, this is where some of the game begins to fall apart.
Backpack Hero Arguably Tries To Do Too Much
If the game’s highlight is the roguelite dungeon experience, the Story Mode feels like the tacked-on padding to give the game more staying power. Every time I went back to town, I sped through the dialogue options as fast as I could to return to the dungeons.
Some people will enjoy the town building and character development that exists. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. For me, this is where the game comes to a screeching halt.
It’s a shame because more attention could have been given to expanding the roguelite experience. Backpack Hero’s issues arise as you’re experiencing extended play sessions. You’re still having fun with the game, but you can’t help but feel like there’s a lack of variety.
This brings me back to the opening of this review and the struggles I had with the game. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the game really clicked for me once I played it on handheld hardware. The Switch and Steam Deck naturally cater to a smaller play session. When I’m sitting at my desk, I’m buckled in for the long haul, and I’m not sure if Backpack Hero is capable of accompanying me on that long drive.
Ultimately, Backpack Hero is a perfect example of how to make inventory management fun. The game’s ability to take a despised mechanic and make it a selling point to an enjoyable experience is truly magical.
I just wish the rest of the game was capable of following suit. It’s a good time if you play it in short bursts, but don’t be surprised if you lose interest the more you play it. If you’re looking for a game for Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch to play in short spurts on the go, Backpack Hero is what you need.