On first impressions Race the Sun seems like a minimalist, chilled-out version of WipEout – and that’s actually a fair description of it’s style, even if the main focus of the game is quite different. While WipEout was at its heart a standard racing game where you competed against other drivers/pilots, Race the Sun is actually a recent addition to the ‘Endless Runner’ genre and instead of competitors you’re racing against… well you can probably guess that part.
Yes that’s right, here you’re racing against the Sun – or to be more accurate the setting of the Sun as your solar-powered craft will slow and eventually stop completely when it’s not in direct sunlight. There is therefore no direct aim of the game beyond getting as high as score as possible before the Sun sets or you destroy your craft in a collision. Your score is based on the distance travelled and can be increased dramatically by collecting the frequent blue multiplier crystals that are spread throughout the world. Beyond a few power-ups that can be collected, and the escalating difficulty of the regions that you pass through, that’s essentially the entirety of the game and this simplicity sums up both the best and worst aspects of the game.
The controls are also suitably basic with only 3 buttons used; left, right and (occasionally when you collect the necessary power-up) jump. During the early regions you’ll often find yourself lazily drifting around the landscape but later on when the world becomes more cluttered you reflexes need to kick in as you have to urgently swerve around the numerous obstacles – which feels very intuitive with the left/right/spacebar combination of controls (even if the game regularly reminds you that gamepads are supported). The gameplay itself is very satisfying and really encourages you to try to improve on your last run and make it further into the game to see what the later regions look like.
As well as the blue multiplier crystals you’ll find yourself constantly on the lookout for yellow crystals which temporarily give your craft a speed boost which serves to reverse the setting of the Sun, while green crystals allow you to jump hundreds of feet into the air and collecting a purple crystal allow you to ‘portal’ to safety the next time you find yourself about to smash into a wall. In fact despite the title you’ll find that your race usually ends when you’ve made an error in judgement and smashed into an obstacle rather than running out of sunlight, to the extent that the few times you run out and serenely glide to a halt it almost feels like a victory.
The game actually looks great as the basic grey visuals give it a fairly unique style and means the various colourful power-ups and the Sun itself stand out even more against the stark backgrounds – which is pretty important when the game zips by as fast as this does. Similarly the sounds are limited to hums and wooshes as you collect power-ups or just avoid a collision, plus of course a painful crunch for when you don’t manage to dodge in time and your craft shatters into a hundred pieces. A special mention also needs to go to the music which matches the game perfectly, being suitably relaxed and haunting in the early regions before increasing the tempo as the regions get more difficult and then increasingly frantic as Sun starts to set and the shadows cast by mountains and towers stretch across the landscape.
However while the minimalistic approach works well aesthetically it does mean that longevity tends to suffer. Although there are plenty of options to upgrade and customise your craft as you complete numerous challenges, I found I’d completed everything and maxed out to level 25 after about 10 hours of gameplay. In my case that was spread out over a couple of weeks but there are many gamers out there who would have finished everything in a single day. While I appreciate Flippfly are only a small indie company I can’t see why they can’t have continued to support the game further after release with more challenges and higher levels to achieve, or even why there aren’t more ways to customise your craft (yes, we gamers like small gestures like that).
Admittedly there are numerous features that manage to maintain interest beyond completing all the challenges. The leaderboard resets each day (along with the randomly-generated landscape), which encourages daily play as you’ve always got a chance to immortalise yourself in the archived leaderboards. There’s a fairly comprehensive level editor for users to create and upload their own landscapes (although only a handful at present are any good) while the developers have added a rock-hard ‘Apocalypse’ landscape plus a moderately entertaining ‘Space’ landscape. There’s also a great innovation in the form of the Relay option, where you can form a team so when you die in a race a teammate can continue on from the point you crashed, but unfortunately this feature doesn’t seem to have been used a great deal.
It’s a shame there hasn’t been more support and features added as the core gameplay is extremely satisfying and matched perfectly with the visuals. I’d still happily recommend the game to gamers of all skill levels, but with a bit more work Race the Sun could have been a truly great game.
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