Only Up! How The Worst Game On Steam Is The Best One To Watch

Only Up! is one of the worst games to hit the Steam store, but the skill required to overcome its obstacles makes is a spectacle.

only up title page

If you’ve recently spent any amount of time on Twitch or YouTube’s live-streaming section, you have more than likely seen these two words: Only Up. This isn’t a hip new “Just Chatting” section, but rather an indie title that is taking the internet by storm… but not because it’s any good.

From seemingly nowhere, indie dev studio SC-KR Games’ released Only Up! on Steam in May of this year. It would rise in popularity in China and France before veering its head in North America in mid-June. And like wildfire, Only Up! has found its way onto every streamer’s watchlist, from Ludwig to MoistCritikal, to the industry titans of Timthetatman and DrDisrespect.

But how? How has a game as simple yet so unrefined managed to captivate audiences across the streamer-verse?

Only Up! is a Steam-ing pile of garbage

Only Up tracks

Only Up! is an obvious rage-bait title – similar to Getting Over It – that is meant to generate a profit by frustrating streamers. They play on stream, fail over and over, and their audience buys the game to prove they can do what the streamer can’t. The streamer plays up reactions and falls for traps on purpose as their audience waits with bated breath for their next failure or eventual victory.

Normally, once the initial playthrough is over, the game is discarded and forgotten about in a month or two. Well-made games may stick around a bit longer, but “quality” is not usually a word associated with rage-bait titles. The cheaper they are to make, the less you can sell them for, which means more viewers are apt to buy into the phenomenon.

Only Up! is the pinnacle of cheap rage bait, as every inch of its biomes is drenched in flipped Unity assets. You’d be hard-pressed to find an original model in the game. And a game that is supposed to be about precise platforming is riddled with invisible hitboxes and janky physics.

The game is also the physical embodiment of “I’m 14, and this is deep.” The poorly written pseudo-philosophical quotes voiced by AI actors are sometimes humorous, but it often reveals how poor the game is. Only Up!’s description claims there’s some sort of story where the character finds themselves, but it comes off as a haphazard way of shoehorning meaning into an otherwise nonsensical game.

There’s plenty more that can be harped on. The controls are wonky. The character model often breaks, making their torse look like a Spore creation. There are obvious audio cue thresholds that are poorly coded. The game is an absolute mess… but I can’t stop watching it.

Only Up oranges

Only Up! is the best game to watch

Despite all of its shortcomings, I can’t stop watching people play Only Up! While it is fun to watch big man-children play the game and erupt into a screaming fit when they fall for the rainbow bridge troll, that’s not the most captivating content.

For me, its the speedrunning. Only Up! is a game that can take several hours or even days to beat on your first try. But over the course of the past two weeks, the run has evolved, with players now able to reach the end in less than 20 minutes. But getting to that point has been a fascinating journey.

Only Up!’s speed run has evolved as most runs do. A skip is discovered, players practice the skip, it shaves off a chunk of time, and repeat. But the amount of jank in Only Up! means a skip can be discovered almost anywhere. For instance, yesterday, June 29, I watched Distortion2 for nearly 10 hours, wedging himself between barrels and the back wall of the boat, attempting to generate enough force via slo-mo and abusing his space bar to launch himself across the lake to shave 30 seconds of his world record.

Mind you, the skip then has to be reviewed by an Only Up! council. If they deem it a fair skip – one that can be pulled off on low-grade hardware or that doesn’t involve “too much” RNG – then it can be used legally in a run. But if it’s banned, Dist’s 11 hours test stream was a waste of time.

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But the skips alone don’t make Only Up! a perfect speedrunning game to watch. It requires a staggering amount of precision for runners to navigate the maze-like structures, narrowly jump past hitboxes, execute frame-perfect inputs, and string together some of the most difficult skips in recent speedrunning history.

Each run is a 20-some minute mechanical showcase of all gas, no brakes gameplay. And with runners attempting to shave off seconds to nab the world record spot, we’re getting to the point where every jump needs to be perfect in the race to be the fastest.

But even casual running has been a thrill to watch. MoistCritikal and Ludwig are personal favorites. They don’t want to get world records and often admit that they know the limitations of their skills won’t allow them to. Yet, they continue to run Only Up! in an attempt to one-up each other.

They cherry-pick which skips they think they can master just to beat their own personal goals. Charlie just wants a sub-25. Ludwig just wants to beat Charlie. Other streamers just want to be the best in their friend group.

Only Up cat

So this rage-bait title becomes child’s play over time. What took days to complete can now be beaten multiple times in an hour. You’re watching this enchanting progression of a person who took baby steps around the favelas, now leaping from pipes with reckless abandon, climbing on the backs of dragons, breezing through once stressful and rage-inducing obstacles without breaking a sweat.

I think MoistCritikal put it best when he said that Only Up! is a bad game that lucked out with a great speed run. It’s not a fun, polished, or well-made game. But those cracks in its code – the wonk and jank -make Only Up! one of the most enthralling games to spectate in quite some time.