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- Developer - Distractionware
- Publisher - Kongregate
- Format - iOS, Android, PC
- Device tested - iPhone 4
- Price - Free
Don't Look Back
Don't Look Back is an interesting case. Developed by Terry Cavanagh of Super Hexagon fame, it's ostensibly a re-imagining of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. A lone man, you, begins the game mourning over the grave of his lover. Collecting a gun, he ventures into the underworld to release her spirit and bring her back to life.
It's incredibly difficult. Originally an online flash game, Don't Look Back's super tricky platform puzzles are made almost impossible by the iPhone's touch screen controls, which never respond quick enough to the frantic taps the game demands.
Combat is infuriating, too; enemies spill onto the screen from left, right, above and below, moving in random and erratic ways that your puny pistol can't track. There's a touch of Limbo to Don't Look Back; it takes multiple deaths before you can solve each screen.
But where Limbo feels accommodating, its madcap puzzles formed of a playful logic, Don't Like Back is just malicious, knocking your confidence about with unfair boss fights and dick moves. More favourable players might call this the point of the game, the vertical difficulty curve forcing you to work for Don't Look Back's thematic rewards.
Others won't take to it, understandably feeling that it's too much like hard work.
It doesn't reward, either. Where brainteasing staple Portal pays off its harder sections with a few minutes of amusing patter between characters, Don't Look Back is one crushingly difficult puzzle after another.
Don't Look Back is a game that hates you, punishing your mind and fingers for even trying to figure it out. And if you manage to get to the end, Don't Look Back still gets you down, taking a narrative twist that's not quite faithful to the Orpheus myth, but just as dispiriting.
Is it good? That's hard to say.
It's refreshing to see a game on the iPhone that asks so much from players - Don't Look Back is the anti-Angry Birds, demanding more than just a few cursory taps while you wait for your train.
But it's also kind of a pain. Intentionally difficult games can be rewarding, Dark Souls being a great example of how finally beating something tough can feel magnificent. And Don't Look Back is applaudable for its unwillingness to compromise, with Cavanagh relentlessly clinging to his original vision.
Although not all games have to be fun (it would be great to see more that intentionally aren't), Don't Look Back isn't clever or deep enough to ask so much of its players.
Its neatest mechanic plays on the Orpheus story, failing players if they accidentally turn to look at their companion while escorting her out of the underworld.
Other than that, it's a derivative fair, harkening back to the unforgiving, pre-multiplayer NES days, when a game's length was determined by how hard it was to complete. Most of the platform setups are akin to Mario, or Limbo, or Braid, the game's only real originality coming from its melancholic soundtrack and stark black and red aesthetic.
But Don't Look Back is still an admirable game, as stern and demanding as one of its many, many puzzles. Its suitability for smartphones is questionable; Don't Look Back's fiddly jumping responds badly to iOS - and Android - touch controls. And its narrative worth isn't so much to justify the unforgiving difficulty: Don't Look Back says nothing worth that much effort.
Nevertheless, when it comes to the rest of the App Store catalogue, Don't Look Back is an interesting oddity. In a market saturated by quick-fix novelty games, it's incredibly rare to find something so unafraid of putting players off - for somebody working in computer games, let alone mobile games, Cavanagh's integrity is remarkably impressive.
So if you think you've got what it takes to handle Don't Look Back's masochistic difficulty level, then by all means go and download it for free right now. Everybody else is probably best waiting for Angry Birds Star Wars.
Overall Score: 7/10