Mo’ Mining, Mo’ Problems
Players don’t have to settle when it comes to endless runners. With the App Store already overflowing with options in this part-platformer, part-coffee break genre, new additions that lack substance will be washed out with the next inevitable rising tide of releases. One of those new hopefuls, Miner Problem, is a playable runner with responsive controls and a charming, pixelated art style. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer much beyond that. Although it can be played without spending a dime, there are too many other, better options available to warrant investing time in this one.
Our protagonist in Miner Problem is a lone, bomber-jacketed pickaxe jockey who has the misfortune of working in a vast mine prone to cave-ins. Each run begins with his work being interrupted by the shudder of a soon-to-be-deadly rockslide, sending him sprinting for his life and any pieces of gold and diamonds he can snag along the way. In standard endless runner fashion, the nameless blonde miner runs ever-onward automatically, leaving players with the task of jumping over obstacles by tapping the left side of the screen and tapping the right to utilize special abilities.
Those abilities come from special pick-ups that our miner will randomly encounter during his sprint, deemed “events” in Miner Problem. Each event is a suit or power that transforms our gold-digger into a teched-out version of himself. For instance, the Skate event equips him with a Back to the Future-esque hoverboard that makes covering large chasms easier, Power puts him in a football player helmet that can ram through enemies and blockages, while Laser provides a jump-boosting laser gun and pair of sleek shades. If these sound like the vehicle upgrades in Jetpack Joyride, it’s because they are. Miner Problem makes little secret of this, borrowing three events directly from Halfbrick’s title—Jetpack, Gravity, and Robot—and even referencing its inspiration in multiple areas, from the game’s icon to coins spelling out developer Cookiebit’s initials à la the “HB” often encountered by Barry Steakfries.
Unlike its popular predecessor’s vehicles, events in Miner Problem function on an energy system; each time you use your laser gun, skateboard, or other ability, part of its energy is drained. You can replenish this energy with pick-ups found along the level, but these are doled out randomly and may appear in useless clusters or not at all. Events are also required for getting past most areas, as both the energy source provided and the upcoming obstacles change to reflect the last event offered. This means if the Gravity event appears, the world’s platforms will flip upside down, even if you chose not to pick up Gravity and jumped over it.
Instead of optional bonuses, then, Miner Problem‘s events are a necessary part of each run. Unfortunately, they’re not especially fun to play and feel mostly uninspired. The Robot suit, which should be a crazy-powerful, rampaging mech, makes our miner twice as large and yet just as vulnerable to insta-death by a tiny bat. The Gunner, which feels like it’s shooting cotton balls, misses enemies from any useful distance. Even the appropriately retro Skateboard is tedious to control and just a lesser Jetpack. On top of their generally disappointing enhancements, the events are largely out of place and nonsensical in Miner Problem‘s setting. In Jetpack Joyride, you’re escaping from a scientific research facility with a bullet-spewing jetpack strapped to your back, so it makes sense that hi-tech upgrades, like the hilarious Profit Bird, are lying around. Where is this miner finding laser guns and robot suits? He could at least be using miner-related abilities, like a jackhammer pogo-stick or a shovel-launcher or something original and befitting this setting.
The seven different events do provide some variety in gameplay, but otherwise, Miner Problem is extremely repetitive. There is only one background and area you’ll run through—the mine—and four different enemies or obstacles that you’ll come across over and over: flying bats, stationary mines, boulders, and spikes. Every run feels exactly the same, no matter how far you manage to travel. And much of those runs consist of straight, empty platforms with no challenges to face or reason to even use your special abilities. There are missions to complete for extra coins, but even these are as dull and standard as they come: run X meters, collect X coins, kill X enemies. Of course, there’s no real need to complete missions as they award insignificant prizes, like 20 coins when a short run will easily net you at least 100.
That is one of Miner Problem‘s strengths: it’s not greedy when it comes to doling out dough in-game, and upgrades are reasonably priced. Players are able to upgrade events to reduce their fuel consumption or pay to enhance the power-ups that are available for purchase at the beginning of each level. These are typical runner fare, like a coin magnet or head start boost, although there’s no explanation as to what upgrading these actually accomplishes. The helpful double-jump doesn’t become a triple-jump, so why spend money on its enigmatic upgrade?
This lack of information on upgrades is symptomatic of a larger issue in Miner Problem: it’s generally incomplete and unpolished. Missions are poorly explained and sometimes use the wrong name for power-ups, the pause button was removed in the last update, and the pricey Shield power-up doesn’t even work. The most interesting feature of the game—the ability to record your run and upload it to Everplay’s site—is broken on the iPhone 5s and causes a complete crash when used. While it functions on the iPad 4, you can only view your recorded run once, with no way to return to the video menu after you exit the post-play wrap-up.
Even once the technical issues are resolved, there’s little fix for Miner Problem‘s repetitive and bland gameplay. Its tight controls and occasionally exciting moments—the Laser event rarely disappoints—are diluted amidst features we’ve seen and played many times before, in more polished packages. In the sea of endless runners, and in the pool of Everplay games, Miner Problem sinks.