Developed by DoubleDutch Games and published by tinyBuild Games, SpeedRunners is an aptly-named hack-‘n’-dash race to the death that pits players’ skill, flexibility and even memory against one another. Endless levels draw the camera toward the pole position, eliminating any players that fall too far behind, as battle rages between every player – and the level itself – until only one remains. A tug of war that mixes a journey of personal skill and constant give and take between opponents, this fast-paced runner-meets-brawler is not one to miss.
Firstly, and arguably most importantly, SpeedRunners has been properly developed. Its design interweaves several ambitious elements – from a snappy platforming controller with wall jumping and a grappling hook to several unique power-ups, to the all-important camera that ultimately determines victory and defeat for players. Were any of these parts of the game left technically flawed or unbalanced, lost matches could very easily stack against entry-level players, forcing them to put SpeedRunners down for good. And while I wouldn’t personally recommend jumping into online play before becoming comfortable with the mechanics, I can proudly say that an hour of sparring with strangers is all it took for me to feel competent enough to hold my own – a level of comfort I haven’t reached with many competitive games – due to the game’s consistent, well-built gameplay systems.
It’s easy to learn and hard to master. A short tutorial explains that running into boxes without jumping or sliding where appropriate slows the player down, and that certain patterned surfaces are for wall jumping while others are for grappling. Beyond this knowledge, and getting to know the behavior of power-ups, the player’s only means of winning consistently is studying the game’s intricacies: when to use which power-ups, when to let go the grappling hook to achieve maximum forward velocity, when to take certain routes when levels split up, and so forth. A match between skilled players is as much an in-the-moment challenge to avoid making too many mistakes as it is a test of memory, as levels bring players around a big loop through which they can run faster and faster with each lap. The game’s shining moments happen when players have survived long enough for the screen’s edges to begin shrinking, along with the margin for error, and the smallest slip-up can spell death for a runner.
Beyond its mechanical strengths, everything about SpeedRunners evokes a sense of polish. Its artistic components are a cohesive combination of bold character design, fluid animations, smooth high-contrast level backgrounds, and sound effects that augment and accentuate nearly every in-game event. When a runner dies, a beautifully detailed explosion puffs from the edge of the screen. When someone gains a point or wins, their character appears in higher detail to make a victorious gesture. When a player successfully uses an ability to sabotage an opponent, a short descriptive note pops above their character, making for dozens of “Yes!” moments in the course of a race.
While its cartoon-like visual style and retro sound design are reminiscent of the early days of action comic books, SpeedRunners is outfitted with several strong features that make it more than a boxed-up arcade experience. Playing online is surprisingly smooth – almost indistinguishable from local multiplayer – and a wealth of user-created maps (the store page boasts “over 10k user created levels”) make possible a long-term attention to the game’s ever-changing content. Several well-built official levels help guide the player in their first laps, unlocking subsequently in a way that feels well-paced and satisfying. A global experience counter allows the player to gain ranks, with the ability to play in ranked matches online unlocking after a few hours of gameplay; personally I found this to be a helpful feature because it caused me to jump into quick matches instead of ranked ones after learning to compete with AI opponents. Finding human opponents to be generally much better than I was, I felt the need for more experience to play in ranked matches saved me some heartache.
It may pose a steep learning curve for new players – or those unready to keep up with an intense high-speed platformer – but for anyone with a taste for bright-colored battles of speed and wit, SpeedRunners is a must-have.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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