Rock Runners is a welcome, if repetitive, addition to the one-touch runner genre
2012 was the year that one-touch running games really came into their element, with numerous developers really pushing the boat out, exploring new and fiendish elements that made previous runners look shallow and empty in comparison. The question is, what do running games need to do to take it just that little bit further and make 2013 the year of the mobile runner? Rock Runners definitely has a keen eye for what the genre requires, especially when it comes to controls and presentation, but it doesn’t particularly innovate or provide anything we haven’t already seen.
You are a rock runner, born for the sole purpose of dashing around vacant planets, stealing as many valuable gems as you can find, and making sure to steer clear of any nastiness along the way. As you explore each planet, you’ll find fuel cells that allow you to blast off for other rocks and explore those too.
Rock Runners is a one-touch game – that is, every action can be done simply by touching anywhere on the screen, and letting go. Press and hold, and your guy will jump into the air. Let go, and he’ll fall more quickly to earth. Every now and again you’ll also be able to hold down on the screen to swing from the ceiling, and skim over the top of deadly spikes and purple goo.
What Rock Runners gets so very right is the feel of the controls. Sure, one-touch controls sound simple enough, but you’d be surprised how often they feel completely off in mobile games like this. Rock Runners makes you feel like you’re always in control, with tight jumps and a perfect feel. Glorious.
This is a game that really looks the part too, with visual efforts that really show through. The action itself looks lovely in motion, with smooth animations and detailed backdrops, but it’s the effort that’s gone into the overworld maps that really pays off.
You aren’t just hitting “level 1”, “level 2” et al as per usual, but rather, there are grids to explore that need keys to unlock certain areas. Some grid spaces also let you know that the level you’re about to enter is more dangerous than usual, meaning you can dodge around them if you choose, or go for glory. It’s a great system that really makes you want to keep on at it.
This makes for some great replay value too, as you’ll no doubt want to go back through the game and finish off those levels you missed out on, while also grabbing three stars on every level. The stars, by the way, come from completing missions – these are always very simple and rarely meander, but I was grateful for them nevertheless.
But this latter point – the game’s unwillingness to venture outside its base comfort zone – is what puts a bit of a damper on the action.
After you’ve been playing for half an hour, it becomes apparent that with each “new” level you’re playing, it’s not really new at all. Rather, the same platforming sections are being regurgitated over and over again, just in different orders to keep you keen.
After a short while, every level begins to blur into one, and you simply learn that the best way to tackle the game is to learn how to beat each different setpiece. The game even uses the very same visuals and backdrops throughout play, for the most part, meaning that the action gets hugely repetitive very quickly.
Certain elements attempt to balance this out, such as the boost. Collect enough gems and you’ll start running at double speed, which will get you to the end faster, but make dodging obstacles a lot more difficult. Plus, there are online leaderboards for the various times you’ve set on runs, and achievements to bag.
But even with this, and the online gem store which allows you to buy extra characters and special boosts, it still feels like Rock Runners could have been just that little bit more special if there was more attention to detail as far as level design is concerned. As it is, I came away feeling like the experience was somewhat cheapened by the copy/paste nature of the worlds I ran through.
Rock Runners is a great addition to the one-button runner genre, and runner fans should definitely consider giving it a whirl. What we really need now is a sequel that isn’t so dependent on the same content being mashed together over and over again.