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This roguelike is all about inventory Tetris

Play the Backpack Hero demo, it's great!

If you've ever enjoyed shuffling and rotating items to fit into an inventory grid, do have a play of the free demo for Backpack Hero. It's a roguelikelike dungeon crawler that's all about inventory Tetris, filling your knapsack with weapons, armour, and items that can gain powerful bonuses and synergies depending on their placement. It's an interesting and fluid bit of buildcrafting, and has me excited for the full game next year.

You can play the Backpack Hero demo in your browser on Itch.io.

It's a fairly standard fantasy dungeon crawler at first glance: pick a node on the dungeon map, walk to it, then battle the baddies, buy from the merchant, grab the treasure, or whatever. Combat is turn-based, with your weapons each costing a certain amount of energy (which replenishes each turn), magic wands using mana (which replenishes between fights), your armour giving a little bit of automatic block each turn, and your shield able to add extra block for an energy cost. But it's all about that inventory Tetris.

With no 'paper doll' to equip gear and no fixed character classes, you can use any item in your bag at any point. My last run trounced the demo's final boss with a mishmash of murder including a shiv, a poison dagger, a magic wand with a whole chain of mana batteries, a club, a belt of knives, angelic wings, and two hats, like a rogue attempting to dodge a stagecoach fee for checked luggage by wearing all their plunder at once. In most dungeon crawlers this build would be a mess. Here, it was a carefully curated murder machine that could pivot between a deadly offense of turn-one kills or extreme turtling.

Rummaging for loot in a Backpack Hero screenshot.
A huge damage buff, but I'll need to rearrange everything yet again? Oh for...

To get far in Backpack Hero, you need to build for bonuses and synergies. Many items buffs nearby items of a certain type, so you want those next to each other. Maybe try building a dense cluster of cleavers which buff and even activate each other, turning one low-damage attack into a deadly flurry of blades. But you might also want a magic wand, which occupies an inconvenient diagonal shape and needs to be connected to a mana source. And your hat would be strongest in the top-left corner, and your boots the bottom-left, so they need to be in those spots. Wait, but this gem will buff weapons it touches, so arrange them together. But then, this really powerful relic would offer huge buffs if you left empty spaces between weapons. Though your potion-brewing cauldron would fill those spots, so remember to chug. Though maybe a sword you want to use is 'heavy' and will always fall to the bottom row of your grid, or maybe you want that powerful item which actually moves around your grid each turn, or you're tempted to throw caution to the wind with a chaotic relic which makes every weapon hit hard then instantly break, or... Backup Hero is full of conditions and caveats to complicate your inventory.

While levelling up will let you pick new squares to expand your grid, you'll never have enough space for everything you want. So build, plan, compromise, and maybe pivot wildly when a powerful item presents the opportunity for a whole new build.

I've always enjoyed the act of inventory Tetris but using it to allow freeform de facto classes, skill trees, and builds is delightful. Backpack Hero really runs with the concept, tying everything into the grid—even some debuffs from enemies come as curse items you need to wedge into your inventory unless you want to take a big lump of damage. It's great to see an idea pushed to its extremes and become more fun because of it.

Backpack Hero is due to launch in April 2023. For now, you can follow it on Steam and play that demo on Itch.

The developer, Jaspel is running a Kickstater campaign right now for extra funding to help finish development and add extra features through stretch goals. That's already well past its initial target, so any extra cash now is just gravy (or mod support, pets, and extra characters).

In my ongoing mission to whittle every thing in video games down until we decide the single best thing, we pitted inventory Tetris against fishing minigames. Youse agreed with me that yes, inventory Tetris is better.

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