It should come as no surprise a game called “Backpack Hero” revolves around a ton of inventory management. Despite being incredibly simple in practice, it’s a mechanic that reveals an impressive amount of depth the longer you play, and it makes Backpack Hero’s 2D turn-based rogue-like framework far more accessible than its action-oriented peers. Unfortunately, how much you enjoy it will depend on your tolerance for grind-heavy progression systems and an overreliance on RNG.
Backpack Hero takes place in a cute but troubled anthropomorphic kingdom, presented using simple but expressive pixel art and limited animations; most similar to 16-bit SNES JRPGs with a somewhat repetitive but catchy chiptune soundtrack to match. The overarching narrative follows “Purse” the Packrat, who stumbles upon a magical backpack and her mother’s pendant while exploring the ever-changing dungeons beneath Haversack Hill. This sets up her quest to restore the town, free it from the grip of the tyrannical Badger King, and discover the fate of her mother. Admittedly, story beats are slowly drip-fed as you unlock new locations, complete quests, and reconstruct more of the town, but they provide some welcome narrative context to the endless dungeon delving.
Now while dungeon delving will dominate your time, it’s worth discussing the town-building mechanics first. Haversack Hill is an evolving base of operations, where you’ll receive character-build “quests” or item requests from NPCs; construct buildings to research new items that can appear during a run; and unlock new dungeon regions by crafting the keys needed to access them. Naturally, this requires a constant supply of food, construction material, treasure, and quest rewards – much of which is obtained by selling recovered loot or amassing enough resource-producing buildings that benefit from careful placement and a road network. Other backpack-wielding heroes Purse encounters, battles, and eventually recruits also move into the town to become playable characters with novel gameplay variations.
Before heading out on any dungeon run, it’s optimal to select a quest – think class-based loudouts that provide a limited starting inventory and, should you survive the run, a reward that allows you to progress the story. There are typically several tiers to complete for better starting gear, including melee-focussed builds with weapons and armour that bolster adjacent pieces; ranged builds that require free space or arrow-stacking for optimal damage output; and mage builds that revolve around linking “conductive” items, like mana-stones, between gear that generates mana and gear that consumes it. There are plenty of niche loadouts too, with gear that blocks and reflects damage, relics that create or duplicate consumables each combat round; relics that retain energy between rounds to deal with tougher targets quickly; and, my personal favourite, a fish sword that does more damage based on the fish you place around it.
With your backpack stocked up, you move through a procedurally-generated 2D dungeon room-to-room, battling foes, gaining experience and levelling up to expand inventory space, filling that space with new gear, interacting with NPCs that provide a myriad of services, and tackling a boss every third level – down to a maximum of three regions and 9 floors per short run. The turn-based battles play out round-by-round, with each combatant using up a limited energy pool to activate offensive or defensive items in their inventory, and using any hoarded consumables freely.
It’s an incredibly simple battle flow, so the complexity comes from managing a limited inventory when you find far, far more items than you could ever carry. It doesn’t help that many quests force you to stick with starting gear, but you mix it up from there. Positioning each item based on its characteristics is vitally important for maximum benefit – like helmets on the top row, boots on the bottom, and relics adjacent to the gear they enhance – while the most powerful items often have negative effects, erratic behaviours in your inventory, complex arrangement conditions, or could even be cursed and keep replacing rewarded loot until you claim them.
The problem is Backpack Hero doesn’t have the most intuitive progression systems and they often feel too grindy and RNG-dependent – factors that impact both narrative and gameplay pacing. Higher loadout tiers provide more efficient starting gear, and enough resource-producing structures – which cost more with each placed – can eventually cover your research needs, but all the town upgrades and the NPCs or items they unlock only impact individual runs. Even items retained in your inventory at the end of a run – aside from the plot-specific one – are only good for selling. Every run feels like a fresh start, with your success dependent on loot drops; the frequency of NPCs providing healing and gear upgrades; and, most significantly, what type of enemies or boss you encounter.
As a result, I found Backpack Hero alternated between satisfyingly more-ish and frustrating. Some runs felt lengthy and epic, with a fascinating selection of gear, powerful relics, and frequent NPC encounters allowing me to create an overpowered build that brought back plenty of loot to sell in town. On the other hand, some runs ended either in just a few encounters or, more annoyingly, during a boss fight, where a loadout that worked fine up to that point was suddenly rendered ineffective. A great being when my devastating crowd-control mage ran into the “Ultraknight”, a trio who buffed themselves with so much temporary armour each turn that I could never inflict HP damage.
So overall, my feelings are mixed. Backpack Hero has some fantastic, accessible mechanics for those in the mood for a cute, turn-based rogue-like perfect for shorter sessions on the go – you just have to be willing to take bad RNG in its stride.
Backpack Hero was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One/Series S|X, and PS4/PS5.
Backpack Hero (Nintendo Switch) ReviewBackpack Hero (Nintendo Switch) Review
- Simple and accessible rogue-like mechanics with surprising depth
- A sizeable story mode with up to 5 playable characters
- Charming pixel art visuals with a complementary chiptune soundtrack
- Grindy progression and an overreliance on RNG for successful runs
- Story progression requirements can feel unclear at times