Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4
Leaping, dashing and body slamming across a screen full of platforms is something of a gaming mainstay. It's a struggle to find someone who hasn't had at least a few minutes with the first level of Super Mario Bros, so what better format for a fast paced party game than platforming? If "There is no better format, Eden. Tell me more." was your answer then 13AM Games have a treat in store for you. Long after it's initial release on Wii U and PC, Runbow is finally out on PS4.
Runbow's ideas are simple ones - race to the finish line , knock everyone else into oblivion or hold a position while other players fight you for it. It's an easy game to control, featuring a nice clear splash screen so those who want to rope friends and family in for a few games can point newcomers at the combination of controller instructions paired with pictures of what that input does. After picking your avatar's colour and looks, including cameo characters from other indie games such as Shantae, Jaun of Guacamelee fame or the seemingly ever present Shovel Knight, you're off to a fast start as the game begins throwing levels at you in short order.
Level design and the game's unique concept are where Runbow pulls ahead of the competition. Each zone has colour coded scenery. Every area also features either a regularly switching background colour or variation on the concept. For example, on one level a waterfall descends in the background as different shades of blue scroll downward. On other levels the entire background is one colour and occasionally a warning will appear at the side of the screen before a fresh, new wave of bright hue overtakes the old.
The sweeping colour does more than appeal to the eye though, as any platform or scenery that's coloured the same as the background will effectively disappear until the background changes again. The result is a challenge wherein you'll be moving as fast as possible while trying to keep an eye on the background colour so you can plan a route. Leaping just as you spot an incoming colour change, trying to avoid being trapping behind a wall that's soon to return or timing a tricky jump as a fast moving carousel of colours turns are all moments when Runbow shines brightly. When you throw in other players as well as the ability to hit and dizzy them, things get frantic fast and in the best possible way. Having played this with fellow DigitalFix writer Jason Coles and a few of our mutual friends, I'm not just spouting hyperbole either, this game is fantastic fun with company, even those who aren't regular gamers.
For those lacking three local friends to compete against, Runbow's online mode makes things all the more unpredictable by allowing up to nine players per level. I must admit, I struggled to find anyone to play against during the hours I tried the game, but I'm a nocturnal cat and suspect that my 9am on Sunday morning test wasn't quite typical, so I've not had a chance to try the online play properly. As is the way with smaller games like this with fleeting online communities soon after release, it might well be that the best fun to be had with online play will be in arranging games with far flung people via the internet and message boards. Ultimately, online play isn't likely to be the reason many buy this game, but it's lovely to have it available.
For those taken with the core gameplay itself and looking for more challenges, Runbow offers up a surprisingly comprehensive single player offering, with a campaign and supremely difficult mode in which you enter the belly of a beast called The Bowhemoth. The campaign, as one might expect, is a series of levels with increasingly difficulty tied together by a loose, humorous story. Levels are colours coded so you'll know if you're struggling against an intentionally tough challenge or, like me, you'll find yourself taunted by the fact that the level you've failed to beat six times is considered easy. The Bowhemoth is one long level designed to test those crazy people who can finish the likes of Super Meat Boy or N++ and as such made me want to bang my head on the wall a bit, but it's there for the punishment gluttons. Finishing this content, alongside simply playing the multiplayer, unlocks a steady stream of concept art and extra characters for you to play as, so those looking for a little reward to go with their completionist runs will get a steady supply of pats on the back and reminders that they're winning.
The visuals, as you might well gather from the screen shots on this very page, are bright, clean and sharp. During the manic moments, the action on screen remains clear and readable, which sounds like a given but could so easily have been messed up with excessive particle effects or graphical flourish. It's functional design, polished very nicely indeed with a layer of 60's styling. Similarly, the music is a jazzy, kooky mix, inspired by the music of the late 50's and early 60's. It's a perfect accompaniment to the gameplay, as the bouncy tunes match the pace of play and get the heart pumping.
DLC is available on day one for the digital download of Runbow, featuring an expansion to the single player content, extra multiplayer levels, six new pieces of music and a variety of cosmetic changes for your avatars. This content comes packaged with the Deluxe boxed version of Runbow, which retails for just a little more than the download, so it might be worth picking up a physical copy of the game if getting the complete package sounds good to you.