Listen to jazz and play as a raccoon as you find out a disturbing truth in this engrossing noir.
I love a good mystery and Backbone is driving to deliver just that with a unique, fictitious world where animals talk, walk on two feet, and humans seemingly do not exist. As I was dropped into this world I was enamored by several characteristics. I was brought in with a smooth and jazzy music arrangement, a beautiful pixel art style, and detailed dialogue choices. It has grasped me to know as much as I can about the social standards that these animals coincide in. The world of Backbone that developer EggNut has created has so much room to expand and because of that, it is one of my most anticipated indie titles.
Throughout my time with the game, I played as Howard Lotor, a raccoon who is a private investigator that is tasked in finding dirt on an otter’s husband, Jeremy Green, after she assumes that he is cheating on her. In this animal dystopian world, apes rule. They are the top of the chain and all other species are equally below them, but that doesn’t mean each are respected in the same manner. Backbone is presented in a 2-D sidescrolling perspective. Strolling through the damp crime-infested streets I passed by buildings like a movie theater showing films that had alternative names of ones in real life such as Citizen Mane instead of Citizen Kane. I spoke to every character I could trying to get as much information out of them.
Eventually, I was lead to a club known as “The Bite,” a social gathering that is meant for cats and dogs, and no raccoons are allowed. I tried to deceive my way in with the bouncer, a tough-looking bear with a nice black suit. Unfortunately, he denied me of entry and called Howard a “striper,” setting in the tone of this already dark title with derogatory language.
When speaking to the animals on the street I learned a lot about The Bite and the rumors of the business’s true motive: drugs. Through my conversations, I learned of substances like hype, shatterfang, and of course, monkeybutt. The club is run by a polar bear named Clarissa Bloodworth of the Bloodworth crime family. Rumor has it is that she murdered her own family to get power as well as having sexual relations with an ape.
The detail and backstory to each prominent character are compelling and the conversations that are had feel organic. During the dialogue the number of responses available vary. What I strongly appreciate is that there isn’t a morality system when trying to pry information out of civilians. There is no bad or good answer, it is just up to the player on what Howard will say based on their personal moral compass. Outside of interrogating, I interacted with stealth segments as well as puzzles. The one I solved took me way longer to complete than I care to admit. Stealth is very simple and straightforward where Howard hides behind furniture and other objects to avoid being detected by threats.
Backbone has everything that I want in a mystery game. It sets a breathtaking atmosphere with its musical and artistic direction while containing interesting characters and meaningful dialogue. Expecting to be a six to eight-hour experience, there is so much more to discover. The social norms, politics, and roles that these animals have while apes live life of luxury is highly intriguing. In the Backbone demo’s final moments, it presents a shocking revelation bringing me to an unexpected conclusion with even more questions and suspicions.
The team at EggNut has the potential to make a truly special and original indie. Bittersweetly, I learned from the team that the noir title will not be coming out anytime soon with a release planned for sometime in 2021. Regardless of that, I cannot wait to see more and I want the developers to take as much time as they need to make it the gripping tale that I think they are aiming to create.
If you want to play the prologue of Backbone it is available to download for free right now on Steam. At launch, it will release on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, and Linux.