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August 20, 2022

How do you make an entire game about bags? Backpack Hero: "Hold my potion"

I've never really stopped to think about how you'd make an entire game about backpacks before, probably because they're always there, in every RPG, and they're already a kind of game in themselves as you try to fit everything in. But how do you take that idea and spin it out into something big enough to fill a game in its own right?

Backpack Hero has attempted an answer, and the answer here is 'make it a bit like a deck-building game', but there's some magic in there too. There's combat, which I didn't necessarily expect, and the way you engage with it is by putting things in your bag, or selecting things in your bag to use. Let's say you have a sword in there: if you click on it in battle, you'll use it. Let's say you have a shield in there: if you click it in battle, you'll add armour. This is how you attack and defend against enemies.

The more complicated bit, which it took me a while to work out, are carvings. They behave a lot like cards in a deck: a selection are drawn each round and you summon (play) them into your bag to be used. Let's say you summon a Daisy Blade sword: it does damage when summoned and then again when activated like a normal weapon. Then it disappears after the battle until summoned again. You can increase your pool of carvings by dragging over new ones when offered them as rewards after battles. You can also remove them at merchants, which again, underlines the deck-building idea.

A nice overview of what Backpack Hero is about. It's very charming - nice plucky music and friendly pixelated characters.

Where Backpack Hero steps into his own, though, is through the idea of ​​inventory management, and there's a couple of things going on here. Obviously, there's space management: you can't hold something if you don't have space for it, nor can you summon something if you don't have space for it. And you can increase the space in your bag when you level up, but the space you add is illusory: normal objects cannot occupy this space but summons can. Therefore, the default gray backpack space, the solid space, becomes very valuable.

Positioning within your bag is very important, too. Where you put something in the grid matters because it can add bonuses to the items around it. A large piece of chest armor I had increased the armor bonuses of the pieces around it, for instance. More excitingly, I looted a legendary-tier cleaver weapon (there are familiar tiers of loot) that, when used, activated any other cleavers placed diagonally from it. Naturally, then, I went on the hunt for more cleavers and found another special one that, in turn, activated any cleavers placed adjacent to it. Coincidentally, these cleavers are called the King and Queen Cleavers. So you see: there's the start of a beautiful combination there. All I need now are more cleavers and one activation will cause a chain reaction, as long as I position them right.


A small frog character stands underneath a huge open backpack that's filling half the screen, organized into tiles, and there are a variety of weapons and items filling those tiles.
This is the summon phase of a fight. I can chose to summon (play) my Daisy Blade (damage), my shield (armour) an acorn (armour) and a spiky thing (damage). The acorn will disappear when used, the spiky thing will gray out and become unusable, but the Daisy Blade and shield will be usable as long as I have Energy (the green blob) to use it.

A small frog character stands underneath a huge open backpack that's filling half the screen, organized into tiles, and there are a variety of weapons and items filling those tiles.


A small frog character stands underneath a large map showing the route through the dungeon and some of the merchants and forges you can encounter along the way.
Note the Warrior's Spellbook item here, which buffs weapons placed around it. On the right is the map you use. You click where you want to go and you automatically travel there.

Bag space is always at a premium, though - you can never quite fit everything you want. And the fun - the thinking - comes when the game starts tempting you with fancy items that have chainable potential of their own. Some trigger when you use consumables, some involve magic, that I haven't gotten to grips with yet, and so on. And it's a perfect fit - because a game about backpacks should absolutely revolve around the items you place in them.

I'm impressed, then. Backpack Hero is a bit awkward, or maybe different, to begin with, but once you wrap your head around the main ideas, there's what seems to be a lot of tactical opportunity here. What's more, there's currently a demo, so give it a go. It's time for backpacks to be visible again!

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