Steam Christmas sales are a wonderful thing for me. Not just because of the massive discounts (although obviously those are pretty great – thanks Gabe), but also because they generally cause me to buy and play games that I otherwise never would have picked up.
Case in point: SpeedRunners went up for the nominal fee of €2.37 recently, and the low price tempted me into buying what essentially looked like a flash game. Too often, I’ve purchased something on Steam, installed it, played it for 5 minutes and then un-installed it – never to be played again. So when I first loaded up SpeedRunners, I had convinced myself that it would take up about 20 minutes of my time. 4 hours later I alt-tabbed to my desktop and stared at the clock, blinking in the manner that only someone who’s just been basking in the glow of a monitor can do. “It’s 3am?” I asked myself. “Fuck.”
The same thing happened recently when I was asked to review Pix The Cat: I went in with extremely low expectations, and came out with what is probably best described as an addiction.
I’m trying to think of a short, catchy phrase to sum up SpeedRunners, and I ended up landing on this: SpeedRunners is the 2D platforming equivalent of Mario Kart. Now, I appreciate that this is a pretty bold statement to make, but bear with me and hear me out. I’m not quite as insane as I (all too often) sound.
SpeedRunner‘s appeal lies in its utter simplicity. It’s a racing game (duh), it’s most fun when played with friends (matches consist of 4 players), it has tons of cool power-ups (missiles, mines, grappling hooks, ice rays, big rolling boulders, etc), it has quite a few maps of varying difficulty (as well as a level editor and a bunch of community made maps) and it has a roster of interesting and unique characters.
Does the comparison make a bit more sense now?
It’s not a straight-up clone, however. Hell, it’s not even a Kart game, and you can see for yourself in the screenshots that even on the most basic level, SpeedRunners has plenty of its own ideas packed in that make it unique and enjoyable. There’s the fundamental platformer mechanics, which feel effortlessly simple but oh-so-satisfying. There’s the interesting way it determines the winner of each match. Each game plays out simply enough – you run around the map using the left and right arrow keys, jump with Z, make use of your nifty grappling hook (which you can only use on certain areas of a map highlighted in white) with X, use the power-ups you pick up with C, slide under obsticles with the down arrow and make use of any boost charge you may have picked up with space. A controller can also be used if you prefer, though the keyboard controls really aren’t all that bad, to be honest.
The winner is decided only when he or she has won 3 rounds. A round is won when a player is so far ahead of the other players that they leave the screen – there is no finish line. All the players share the same screen which moves at the speed of the player in the front. When you fall behind and leave the screen your character is eliminated for the round and you spectate the other racers who keep going round and round the map until there is only one player remaining. To make matters worse as soon as the first player is eliminated, in order to speed rounds up, a red border forms around the screen which slowly grows bigger and bigger making the playable space smaller and smaller which makes it harder and harder because of the tight space you end up racing in – the result is usually a nail-biting finish.
I have quite a few hours of SpeedRunners under my belt now and I’m still having a great time. The maps and their multiple routes and traps, as well as the various power-ups, ensure that each game is unique, exciting and that no position is ever really solidified – you can go from first to last in a matter of seconds, and the positions of the various players will be constantly shifting. I have a very fond memory of running with one other player in a small space (the red border had been growing for some time at this point and things were real close) and falling behind, but just before he was about to run out of the border and eliminate me I threw a grappling hook and pulled him behind me, propelling me to victory. I laughed like an excited little girl, the same way I always do when landing a spiny blue shell in Mario Kart.
In terms of presentation, don’t expect to be blown away by the graphics in SpeedRunner. They’re okay, but nothing to write home about – they do the job and that’s about it. SpeedRunners is a game with looks that only a mother could love, but with enough hidden talent that it manages to make up for that deficit – and then some. The music is probably the only real problem I have with the game at this point. There’s only have one track at the moment (the one that plays in the trailer above) and it’s starting to drive me pretty crazy, to the point where I found myself muting it very early on. I hope that the developers show us some degree of mercy and, at the very least, throw in a few more tracks. Preferably ones that don’t make you want to stick forks in your eardrums.
SpeedRunners is currently in Early Access on Steam, and it’s shaping up to be a really fun game and an indie contender to watch for next year. It’s currently on sale for just a few bob, and it’s worth every penny – I swear. DoubleDutch Games has stumbled upon a goldmine of a formula here, and even though the game is currently in ongoing development, what’s playable is so much fun that I can’t wait to see the finished product.