Ever felt like you were running away from your past? Do your actions, recent or distant, come back to haunt you? Have you recently been trapped in a room with ethereal visages of your immediate past tracking your heels like phantasmal clones threatening to drag you back from whence you came? Er... sorry, that last one probably isn't as common an experience, but it is the basic premise of One Step Back, the latest action platforming experience from CoolioNiato.
One Step Back slickly re-envisions the idea of "running from your past," putting it into a practical and fast-paced platforming context. Each level starts you at one point and tasks you with reaching the exit door by running, jumping, and (naturally) wall-jumping. (Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move.) Two twists stand in your way. For one, the exit door is locked, and won't open until you've moved a certain distance through the level. As you progress, the door will progressively turn blue, finally glowing to indicate your ability to exit. Secondly, ghosts of yourself will appear intermittently from the entrance point and track your exact path. The more you move, the more ghosts will appear.
But they won't run at you all willy-nilly on their own. As long as your character is still, the ghosts will freeze in place, whether they are on a platform, in the middle of a sprint, or in midair (Matrix-style, oh yeah). A small dotted line extends from each one, indicating their projected paths a little ways in front of them. However, they are only long enough to give you a small idea of where they will be for the next few steps, it's up to you to keep track of where they are headed. What seems like a frantic avoidance game actually becomes something of a puzzler, allowing you to pause and plan out your next move if you are so inclined. And if you play long enough, the game shifts in tone and adds a second dimension of gameplay that, for the sake of spoilers, I will not delve into. The game deepens as you go along, and the shift in gameplay brings with it a new level of difficulty and challenge.
Analysis: One Step Back will probably remind you immediately of Exit Path in style, but the substance is, well, substantially different. Yeah, there's a little backstory about "running from your past" and "time being the enemy" and a lot of superfluous narrative that feels like it was lifted out of a Denzel Washington movie (and not one that earned him an Oscar), but you can pretty much inject your own story into it without much trouble. Like, pretend you're trying to escape a cloning machine that has gone haywire, spurting out clones every few seconds, but giving you the power to stop time. It doesn't matter. As is typical with many platformers, it's all about how it plays.
And it plays well. The characters run smoothly, jump nicely, and hit detection is decent save for an extremely touchy wall-jump system. Maybe I'm just used to playing as Mario, who can stick to a wall as if his overalls are coated in superglue, but it it's just a little too tricky to make your character respond to a command to wall-jump. In a game revolving around avoidance and accuracy in jumping and landing, this can be a hindrance. Don't let it discourage you too much, though, as the action is otherwise polished. My favorite part of this game is how cluttered it starts to feel once a few ghosts start tailing you. It's frantic in a smooth and well-executed way: the more claustrophobic the level, the bigger the challenge. Stylistically, the game is mostly on point, all grayscale and blues with a gentle piano soundtrack that admittedly fits the narrative rather than the action. The game is a complete experience, and honestly, it just works.
One Step Back probably won't take you more than twenty to thirty minutes to beat, particularly once you learn a few of the tricks. Figuring them out is part of the experience, as are some of the innovations that, as I said before, I will not discuss here. Give it a shot (and play it to the end). Hopefully, it won't be an experience you'll feel like you have to run away from! Ba-dum-psh. Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week.
Thanks to James for sending this one in!