The Fire in My Heart Went Out

HIGH Petting the dog! Players must pet the dog.

LOW Spending too much time getting Chaz to the sax in “Crouching Bassline, Hidden Saxophone”.

WTF Why do these people take their instruments everywhere?

Music, like games, is an individual taste. Some people love metal, some love jazz. Backbeat,
a game about a woman who finds her muse in funk, comes with its own unique gameplay
concept. I wanted to join in on the jam, but for me this mashup of puzzler and stealth-strategy
struck a discordant note.

Having lived through the mid-’90s and experienced the mainstream ascendance of R&B and
rap during that time myself, I was somewhat nonplussed by the focus on funk, and even
moreso in the context here. Funk music is intricate, but it’s not a natural stylistic fit for a
cerebral puzzle (better suited to baroque, perhaps) and its in-your-face attitude seems poorly
suited to a stealth title.

The story of Backbeat – a “Battle of the Bands” tale that wouldn’t be out of place in a late-
century teen comedy – doesn’t seem to connect to anything it asks the player to do, either.
And, with few exceptions, the “stealth” requirements of the levels don’t even make sense in
the context of the immediate plot.

That’s typical story/game conflict, though, and easily forgiven if the gameplay offers
something compelling. Backbeat’s levels ask the player to route different characters (who
mostly have different stride lengths and special abilities) around ‘alert’ zones within a certain
number of moves. The characters travel different numbers of tiles per move and use up
different amounts of a timeline in doing so, producing a puzzle of geometry and time.

The player also has to manage resources, most of which go up or down based on when the
characters mark the timeline by changing directions or taking actions. There’s “stagger”,
which depletes when multiple characters mark the timeline simultaneously, and “align”, which
requires the characters to mark the timeline at certain points. Obviously these are in tension.
This is even more so with “solo”, which requires that only one character at a time use an interaction point in the level, and “assist”, which needs certain pairs of characters to use interaction points simultaneously.

Managing these meters along with the awkward movement of the characters and the alert
zones and the finite timeline provides Backbeat‘s challenge, which ramps up very fast and
stays high until to the end. The difficulty is amplified by the almost pathological resistance to
providing the explicit numbers behind what it’s asking the player to manage. Everything is
displayed as bars and radar graphs, leading to a lot of trial and error due to the lack of clarity.
It also seems like (though because of the above, I can’t be sure) the various resources max
out, so for example, one can’t stock up stagger at the start of the level to balance out
simultaneous marks at the end.

Unfortunately, the result is that each level is a grind. The player has to figure the routes right,
then adjust the timing so the resources don’t get depleted, then readjust the routes for the
timing of other characters. The reward is that one can then, finally exhausted, look at a
disappointing level score before entering an overlong dialogue scene. There’s no moment of
delight to reward a good solve, and almost never any moment of excitement in the course of

What I want out of a puzzler is the moment of revelation when a solution becomes clear. What
the characters are getting out of their adventure here is the joy of playing music together, but
the sloggy grind of actually playing Backbeat doesn’t provide the first and can’t mirror the
second. Although the game makes a respectable effort to connect the resources it’s asking
the player to manage to the mechanics of a successful funk session, it never finds the joy
inherent to the music. This is the right game for someone, surely, but not for me.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Ichigoichie.It is currently available on Linux, Mac, PC, PS4/5, Switch and XBO/X/S. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a home-built Windows X PC equipped with a AMD Ryzen 2700X processor, an ASRock X470 motherboard, 32 GB RAM , and a single GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card using driver 531.68. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. No content warnings are noted. There are references to violence and alcohol but otherwise I noticed nothing objectionable.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available. Interaction points are linked to their outputs by colored symbols (unfortunately, often green, red, and yellow) and some required interaction points are designated solely by colored symbols and outlines (and not mentioned in the level’s starting information). The timelines are color-coded as well.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue in the game is in the form of text, although the text cannot be resized. The background of the text can be altered but examples are not shown while choosing. Despite its theme, the game has no essential sound cues, although the level-ending musical overview cannot be skipped.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. On PC, movement and interaction in Backbeat are primarily controlled with the mouse, although sometimes the shift key must be pressed at the same time as a mouse click, and certain hotkeys (space, q, e, c) control actions in the levels. Sometimes button presses are mandatory in the menus as well.

Sparky Clarkson
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