One Step Back


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Rating: 4.1/5 (128 votes)
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AdamCadamc_onestepback_mainscreen.pngEver 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.

adamc_onestepback_screen2.pngAnalysis: 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.

Play One Step Back

Thanks to James for sending this one in!

40 Comments

Game designers:

INCLUDE. LEVEL. SELECT. SCREENS.

Some people may want to do other things in the middle of your game, and they may not want to lose all their progress just because they closed the tab window. Even if your game is short!

If you don't want to include a level selector, the absolute minimum you must do is include an easily accessible mute button, so if we have to leave the tab open we don't have to hear the music tinkling away in the background if we don't mute the computer.

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I saw this yesterday, and did end up giving up. When, without seeing it before, you're expected to make the wall-jump three times in a row, and then you need to do that again without any mistakes almost immediately after, I couldn't stick with it. Not to mention that the instructions were a little vague - I tried for some time before I even knew what was necessary, and it's a difficult maneuver.

If that gets fixed maybe I'll give it a shot, because I think it's a good concept, and the presentation is elegant.

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little_geoff Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 10:53 AM

maybe there could be a sub catagory under the 'avoidance' tag, as 'self avoidance'? A great game. But many levels seem to relie on luck more than judgement..or is that just my style of playing?

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Can anyone tell me how it's possible to get up to the exit in the level shaped like a leaning 'O'?

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Nevermind, this S-shaped level where I have to do a round trip is hard now.

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little_geoff Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 12:06 PM

Annoyingly there is no autosave feature(or cookie)if you exit to give your hands a rest you restart from the beginning...

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I had serious trouble with the wall jump :(

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Interesting game mechanic. The wall jump was a bit difficult to get the hang of, but not really any worse than most. Decent game in my book.

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Anonymous August 4, 2010 1:16 PM

Decent game idea but the wall jump mechanic is really horrible and quickly gave up after seeing how ubiquitous it was. I never really mastered it in N either fwiw. The addition of different powers/settings would make this more interesting and fun.

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Excellent game. Makes me think of the shadow marios in Super Mario Galaxy 2... though they're a bit tougher to avoid without a fully 3d environment. The twist mid-way through mixes things up quite a bit, and still maintains more challenge than I would have expected.

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There's a very annoying tic of the game, that if you're jumping from a platform and you're apparently just a little too close to the edge, you jump *backwards*. On one level with a lot of platforms, I kept running into myself because, in spite of pressing "up-and-right", I found myself jumping to the left.

The game's also not always very good about letting you control your fall.

On the other hand, having gotten to the end, I'm glad I did. It was a challenge, but a fun one, and the twist mentioned in the review is definitely worth seeing. (You'll know it when you get to it. It's orange.)

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Great game, but the learning curve is pretty steep in the beginning. The reviewer is right in that there are "tricks" that you need to learn to space out the ghosts, slow them down, or use the terrain in such a way that it lets you backtrack your route later on to get to the exit.

The wall jump mechanic is a little /loose wonky in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, it's okay... almost natural but not quite.

The twist mid-way was cool, but it is not as hard as the first half of the game.

To the comments about luck/strategy, the game is about 90% strategy and 10% technique (mostly the wall jump). You have to stand there and study the level and plan how you are going to run a route that (1) opens the exit and (2) doesn't get you killed by the ghosts (e.g., leaves room for backtracking, etc.). There is really no element of luck since there isn't an element of randomness as you know exactly where the ghosts will be -- they will be where you were a few moments ago! A bad jump here and there is due to technique (not luck) and can be mastered with repeated play.

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SonicLover Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 5:52 PM

Just played it from beginning to end... to beginning. Not sure I'd do it again.

Can someone give a complete transcription of the "poem" given throughout the game? I think I noticed something about it.

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Cheddarius Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 5:55 PM

One really useful trick to unlock the door is to

jump in place a few times, move a bit to the side once your shadow appears, jump a few more times, move a bit more to the side, etc. In this way you can maximize the amount that the doors opened; I found it very useful, myself.

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Will someone please put the "twist" in spoiler tags so I can see what it is? I saw this game posted on Indie Games Blog a few days ago and everyone in the comments kept talking about the big twist, but I've tried the game a few times and the find the controls too frustrating to get that far.

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Cheddarius Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 6:26 PM

The poem does have something unique about it:

The first run through, it's about running away from your past. On the reverse run, the words have changed slightly to be about embracing your past and how it's part of who you are.

... if that's what you mean. I'll try to transcribe it, too.

When people say you can't escape your past, I beg to differ.
I see the goal before me
And turning back now will not solve anything
Running away from myself keeps leading me in circles
Avoiding mistakes I remember all too well
Time is the enemy
I know now that fame and fortune are part of who I am
These fractions of my past have already passed me by
Why is it that regrets/are the only things on my mind/and dreams/I never have anymore
Bad memories/cloud my judgement/success or failure/is all important
Self reflection/avoidable
Though inevitably, turning back at this point was unavoidable

REVERSING TIME

Self reflection/is all important
Success or failure/cloud my judgement
Bad memories/I never have anymore/and dreams/are the only things on my mind
Why is it that regrets/have already passed me by
These fractions of the past/are part of who I am
I know now that fame and fortune/is the enemy
Time/I remember all too well
Avoiding mistakes/keeps leading me in circles
Running away from myself/will not solve anything
And turning back now/I see the goal before me
I beg to differ/when people say you can't escape your past/You can/I just won't

S-shaped level (doors right next to each other):

Jump twice. Jump a third time and move slightly to the left.
Jump twice more. Jump a third time and move as far as you can to the left, hitting the overhanging wall and dropping to the very edge of the platform.
Jump again as far left as you can, bumping your head on the ceiling.
Jump twice.
Jump again as far left as you can.
Jump twice.
Inch right very, very carefully. Make sure not to hit your shadow that is now jumping at you!
Repeat the last two steps.
When you get near to the halfway point back to the platform, you may have difficulty sneaking under the jumping shadow. Get near to where it is. Inch left and right until it is jumping up and at the point where you can run under it. Do so.
Inch left and right a bit more until the door is open. Wait for an opportunity, and jump up and into the door.

A good strategy to finish levels after the... orange thing... happens, especially the difficult ones with walljumping:

On the levels where you have to go back, dropping down a long tube, and it's difficult to grab your shadows: Jump down and ignore the shadow jumping up the tube. Grab two or three nearby shadows. Then get up to the exit and ambush your walljumping shadow when he gets there, or on the way if you get lucky. Go back down, and continue.

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Cheddarius Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 6:28 PM

Sorry for double posting, but Neddo, the twist is:

After you get to the end, you go to an orange star, and turn orange. Now you have to go through the levels in reverse; you start at the exit and have to get to the door, grabbing all your past selves as you do so.

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Thanks, Cheddarius!

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Cheddarius Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 6:53 PM

No problem.

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SonicLover Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 6:59 PM

Here's what I noticed about the poem:

The lines of the second half of the poem are the same as the lines of the first half, only in reverse order.

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24653187 Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 7:13 PM

I expected that this game would be as popular as loved, but it ended up like this. People are complaining about the controls instead of its meaning. I'm sad. :-(

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Cheddarius Author Profile Page August 4, 2010 7:54 PM

About the poem:

Yes, that's what I meant by the words changing slightly. They're rearranged to change the meaning. It's not an exact reversal though; for example, the phrase "time is the enemy" is changed slightly to "time" in the second part, "You can; I just won't" is added, "are part of who I am" is omitted, etc.

I also am mystified by the complaints of controls. I am usually very bad at games, but I found this one fairly easy, if you know the tricks... I outlined two of the tricks in my post above.

Wall-jumping controls are a bit slippery, but as long as you press the corresponding arrow key against the wall, and only then press up to jump off, it should be fairly easy...

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Just finished, and I have to say

That poem is brilliant. Just brilliant. At first, I thought the verses were adapted a bit to match the new goal of the game in the second part, but only by reading it here I noticed it's still exactly the same, only backwards. I find it amazing that not only it can still be read, it then has a completely different meaning.

For everyone getting annoyed by the controls: don't give up. It's well worth the trouble.

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I considered giving up on the

"final" S-shaped level - thankfully, I didn't, because I found out it was the last level before the twist... and after that, all the "reversed" levels were really easy.

I'd say 4 shrooms out of 5 for this one. Good, but not great.

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@Tahnan
Yeah, I've noticed that too, and it's really annoying. However, the same hit detection that makes platforms annoying is probably the same mechanism that makes wall jumps a bit easier

by the power of brute force! (ie button mashing)

@Fatts
I beg to differ slightly. I've played enough platformers that my hand eye coordination (to speak nothing of my crappy keyboard) is not improving much in this lifetime. As a result, getting those jumps right is mostly luck. However, as you said, this game does require a lot of strategy (especially correcting for those bad jumps).

@Cheddarius
Thanks for transcribing the poem. :)

This is a great game, though rather tedious if played cautiously (my fingers wont' listen ;_;). The twist in particular made this an awesome game. However,

given the 2nd half of the game, a level select might be necessary for some people. A particularly bad jump in the first half of the game could in principle render the 2nd half unbeatable. Having to play the whole 1st half of the game on account of that error seems rather harsh. At the same time, warning about it ahead of time would completely spoil the game. Thus, the importance of the level select

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Cheddarius Author Profile Page August 5, 2010 3:16 AM

4tran, the "trick" I wrote about earlier should deal very effectively with any problems of that sort. There are some levels that are quite tricky, but with the trick they get a lot easier.

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This immediately reminded me of Braid. Nice idea, overly romantic music (maybe the point?), could have been longer, but I imagine then the integrity of the 'poem' would have been lost.

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kdausman August 6, 2010 1:12 AM

FREAKING BRILLIANT!

Perhaps not as spectacularly moving as The Company of Myself, but it is close.

Yes, the mechanic is difficult in the first half (recoding do be more like N would help). Yes, the second half is easier than the first. But that doesn't change the amazingness of the concept.

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The trick I used that made the entire thing pretty easy:

Somewhat like a previous poster's trick, really you can just walk back and forth in a small area, move a little over, and do that same. It makes all the shadows say pretty much in place, and gives you room to maneuver without having to worry about things jumping around.

For the "hardest" level, I modified the technique doing the following:

- Walk back and for in front of the first door
- walk up to the 2nd door and jump over it to the platform below
- From that point, you can do a few walks back and forth, then one long arch jump.
- Take that to the end of the platform (but don't jump down).
- Then proceed to walk back to the right (using the back/forth motion). Walking under the jumping arcs, and moving back/forth between the spaces

By the time I got to the door, it was just a few more switchbacks and I was in.

As an added bonus, it makes it a lot easier to collect your shadows later.

Though to be honest, this method feels kind of cheap and not very challenging.

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Anonymous August 6, 2010 6:16 PM

It was hard

Catching your ghosts was hard at the hour glass level because I originally fell through the hour glass and couldn't go back up, but I had to go faster than my ghosts. (and they were fast in the first place O_O)

I also have a tip:

run back and forth right before your time clone gets you

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Leetskillz Author Profile Page August 9, 2010 8:16 PM

Amazing game, but mainly wanted to post this:
I replayed the game, and have the whole poem here. Every single part of the last line, and very middle is simply a repeat, not modified in any way. I used tabs to signify multiple lines, simply so you can see how it is.

When people say you can't escape your past
I beg to differ
I see the goal before me
and turning back now
will not solve anything
running away from myself
keeps leading me in circles
avoiding mistakes
I remember all too well
time
is the enemy
I know now that fame and fortune
are part of who I am
these fractions of my past
have already passed me by
why is it that regrets
are the only thing on my mind
and dreams
I never have anymore
bad memories
cloud my judgement
success or failure
is all important
self-reflection avoidable
though inevitably, turning back at this point was not avoidable

self-reflection
is all important
success or failure
cloud my judgement
bad memories
I never have anymore
and dreams
are the only thing on my mind
why is it that regrets
have already passed me by
these fractions of my past
are part of who I am
I know now that fame and fortune
is the enemy
time
I remember all too well
avoiding mistakes
keeps leading me in circles
running away from myself
will not solve anything
and turning back now
I see the goal before me
I beg to differ
When people say you can't escape your past

You can
I just won't

[Tabs (and strings of white space characters) appear as a single space in HTML, sorry. :( -Jay]

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Feature request: hold "down" (or some other key) to stand still. It's too easy to fall off a platform while waiting.

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I was about to rage-quit the game midway due to some levels being really tedious, but decided to keep going to see the twist. Really glad that I did! Such a cool little game. Also, don't know if you noticed, but it seems that in the second part,

the music is also backwards.

And about the S-shaped level where the doors are next to each other,

you don't have to leave the top platform at all! Run a bit in front of the first door, then do two jumps between the doors, then run all the way to the left edge of the top platform. Jum here until your first shadow catches up on you, jump over it just to its right, jump here a few times until your second shadow catches up, and jump over it just to its right. Keep doing this until you reach the door, it should be open by now.

Hope that makes sense!

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wall-jumping is impossible. this game is completely crippled by a bad gameplay mechanic, and it's proven because "The Other Side" is not afflicted with this problem.

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pastfinder September 4, 2010 8:25 AM

what is the theme song of this game?

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This is the worst game I've played in my life. This is the time line of my experience with this game, recording my changing categorization:
Lvs 1-3: Cute Little Platform/Time/Whatever Game
Lvs 4-7: Nice But A Little Demanding Game
Lvs 8-(i'm not sure): I am going to have a nervous breakdown....
Following Levels Until I Quit: Why does the creator WANT me to post something negative?!?!

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REVISION OF GAME:
AWESOME!!!!

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I'm playing the game a 3rd time and ended up in a "limbo" state (no shadows, but no active door either so I can't get out!). Anyone know about this?

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I was actually surprised how easy the first half was, but then when I got to the second half I started getting the rage. On one of the levels I just jumped down a particular way and now it's essentially impossible for me to catch them all because there's no quick way to get from the entrance to the exit before another clone appears. Extremely frustrating and ruined what was an otherwise fun and interesting game

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