Backbone Examination | New game network


When writing a story, there are certain guidelines that can be followed or ignored. A guideline is that the introduction is a promise of what to expect. It sets the tone, the characters, the pace, the goal, the challenges and many other subtleties. To see if a story has gone off the rails, just watch the intro and compare. Backbone is a game that completely ignores this directive to its great detriment. This dialogue / adventure game simulator loses its identity in the back third, and the ending is incomplete and unsatisfying. This story collapse is even more of a shame given the fantastic art style and interesting start.

Backbone begins like any good story, with a raccoon in a tub. Howard Lotor is that raccoon and he’s also a private investigator. After a quick wash, a client comes to Howard to ask him to find dirt on her cheating husband. In this introduction, the tone of film noir is set and delivered with impeccable precision. As Howard, you roam the streets, talking to characters about the husband and where he might be found. Eventually, it leads to a jazz bar and a plot that makes an unfaithful husband look like little potatoes. So far, so good; the angle of the plot is not as sharp as a personal story, but it fits into the background quite well.

Falling into the plot, Howard meets a vixen named Renee. She is an investigative journalist with grim views on the owner of the jazz bar who has a frightening ability to make problems go away. Despite the danger, Howard and Renee are both determined to find answers and see how far the plot has reached. They work well together and the dialogue between them is fun and intelligent.

Most of the information gathering process involves talking to the characters. Backbone is first and foremost a dialogue simulator with players being able to choose from around three responses each time. No dialogue is expressed, but the writing is good thanks to humor and conciseness. Howard can reveal he’s a private investigator or pretend he’s someone else. He may also gently ask questions about a character’s personal life or threaten them with violence. This seems true for the role of private investigator since most conversations are aimed at uncovering the facts. But the dialogue options have no impact on the result. This linear adventure will always find a way to deliver the right information (or give Howard access to somewhere), no matter how you approach it. While you might miss a few side conversations during the four hour trip, there’s no way to fail or change what’s going on.


When not speaking, Howard moves around the 2D world and interacts with things. Unfortunately, this is not a classic adventure game where items are collected, combined, used and puzzles are solved. Rather, it’s about interacting with everything on the screen until something moves forward. One of the most complex interactions involved accessing the personal computer of a missing person. But it all meant moving around a few rooms and hitting the interact button until there was nothing left. There is a stealth component to the game, where Howard crouches in front of the guards. This is misused three times and represents how the game often forgets to include enough gameplay.

As mentioned, the story takes about two-thirds of the way for no good reason. Okay, there is a good reason. Right after the terrible sci-fi twist that no one wanted, there’s a great nighttime procession scene with a spooky vibe and subliminal messages. But this is the only positive point of a narrative shift that destroys so much. The adventure becomes too linear. He also begins to push a particular philosophy with forced dialogue. And there are loose ends everywhere. The affair of the unfaithful husband ends, but not satisfactorily. The plot is not fully revealed and does not make sense. Renee and Howard’s interactions are abruptly interrupted just when they are getting good. No justice is served for any crime. It’s like a different story is added at the end and the result is a catastrophic implosion of the narrative.

To see the story fall so far away is such a shame, given the stellar presentation. Backbone uses pixel art so well with cool anthropomorphic animals and intricate details. It also mixes more traditional graphics by placing these pixelated characters on 3D surfaces. This allows highlights, lights and shadows to make the whole design so much more appealing. The music is also impressive. It fits extremely well in the noir genre with infrequent piano tinkles and cymbals. Brilliant vocals were also provided by Arooj Aftab in some melancholy tunes. Even as the story changes direction, the music follows darker and more desolate themes. The game definitely exudes style from start to finish.


If Backbone’s story had stayed as cohesive as its presentation, it would have been a good adventure game. What starts out as a pretty detective tale collapses into an unconvincing sci-fi mess at the end. While the dialogue in conversations is well written, optional replies have no impact on how everything goes. Of course, the gameplay needed improvement as well, with lackluster interaction and underused stealth. The one thing consistently outstanding about Backbone is the visual and musical design, but if they’re reason enough to play it depends on your own personal guidelines.



The pixel art design is awesome and combining it with subtle 3D effects makes it even more pop. Music is not overlooked and constantly helps set a great tone.



The choice of various dialogue options does not change the story, despite their diversity. The basic interaction and underused stealth mean this is not an involving adventure.

Single player


Over four hours, it contains two-thirds of a great story with smooth dialogue and interesting characters. A sharp turn in the final act is regrettable and damaging beyond comprehension.




(View PC specifications)

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600
GPU: XFX RX 480 GTR Black 8 GB
Operating system : Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

PC Specifications


With 2D pixel art and simple backgrounds, it performs as expected. A dialogue interaction, however, interrupted and froze the game. Savings are too rare when exploring the streets.



With amazing art and music, Backbone has a killer intro and a great vibe. Unfortunately, due to a terrible turn in storytelling and underdeveloped gameplay, this is a classic case of style rather than substance.

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