Running towards retro glory
From deep within a subterranean military bunker, my CO debriefs me on the situation. A shadowy terrorist organization is taking over the globe and turning its denizens into zombies. I am planet earth’s last hope – the last line between a promising future and a terrifyingly bleak tomorrow. I am an adorable pixie, and I am pissed. Ravenous Games’ Random Runners may not be the most plausible or fleshed-out storyline to ever come down the zombie chute, but as the endless runner genre goes, it can sprint with the best of ‘em.
The main selling point here is in Ravenous’ love for both SNES-style graphics/music and a fairly obvious Mega Man obsession. In true 8-bit tradition, you’ll be leaping and sliding over and under obstacles whilst running and gunning the imposing zombie threat. These moves are accomplished through virtual buttons that, sadly, represent Random Runner‘s main weakness.
Extreme gaming challenge never hurt anyone (old-school controllers smashed through frustration notwithstanding), but when in-game deaths are doled out due to seemingly poor design choices, it leaves one wondering if micro-transactions are holding a game back. Is the difficulty tuned to a degree that makes spending real-world money mandatory, or has a generation of gamer grown spoiled through incessant virtual hand-holding?
In the old days of gaming, it was not uncommon to be faced with required memorization in order to complete games (Battletoads anyone?). Perhaps this came in the form of a pit that seemed impossible to jump or a relentless enemy pattern. In Random Runners, however, the bulk of the deaths you face come from either unresponsive controls or glitchy weirdness. More often than not, you will tap the jump button positive you have timed your move correctly, only to be thrown into that pesky pit of spikes.
Even borrowing the blue bomber’s slide maneuver won’t always help you from inexplicable low-hanging spike balls, even when you would swear that you had depressed that virtual button with precision timing. Even the wall jump, a move that is super cool in theory, doesn’t pan out the way you would like with any regularity. This isn’t even to mention that sometimes the game sort of stalls for a split-second, leaving you in peril once control is returned.
These problems sound bad, but it gets better. As you make your way through the 48 levels of the campaign or the three different Endless Mode areas collecting in-game currency and gems, you’ll be able to unlock one of over a dozen other characters. These guys are cute as all get-out and only made cuter once they’re wielding any number of weapons also available through the in-game store. Through a combination of well-chosen artillery and increasingly awesome jump and health capabilities assigned to the various characters, you’ll soon be endlessly running and most-of-the-time gunning with ease.
Granted, the need for gems on top of coins to unlock players and guns is a little ridiculous, but when a game is only 99 cents and a developer just gots to get paid, it’s only to be expected that micro-transactions would pop up. Luckily, patience is just about always rewarded, and you won’t lose collected coins or gems when you restart a level. For now, this seems an easily exploitable situation – especially since certain levels contain multiple gems – so stock up on in-game currency while you can before Ravenous Games patches Random Runners.
Music and sound effects are just as delightfully retro as you would expect from the subject matter, and the levels of each can be adjusted respectively from the front end. It’s a small touch but a cool one, especially for those who might take a serious interest in vintage video game music and want to hear the tunes over the sound effects or vice-versa. The sound design is pretty much everything you want it to be without ever proving invasive or annoying, and whether you’re a longtime gamer or a newer fan, you can’t deny the pleasing and dulcet tones at play.
There are achievements to earn, leaderboards to track, and a surprisingly deep system of weapons and character unlocks in Random Runners. More importantly, it’s extremely fun and addictive. If the siren call of the endless runner genre is that, “One more run!” battle-cry, then this game has it in spades. There was a time when crushing difficulty was the hallmark of a good game, and with a little bit of patience, you’ll be able to enjoy everything Random Runners has to offer.
Seemingly exploitive level design and hair-pulling hazard placement aside, this title contains many of the basic elements that draw us to gaming in the first place, and puts them all in a package that is both wonderfully retro and satisfyingly modern. Good luck putting this one down – especially you old-school fanatics.