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Platform(s): New Nintendo 3DS XL, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, WiiU
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Headup Games
Developer: 13AM Games
Release Date: July 3, 2018

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Runbow'

by Joseph Doyle on Feb. 8, 2019 @ 1:45 a.m. PST

Runbow is a fast paced, action party game with a never before seen color mechanic.

Buy Runbow

Side-scrolling platformers are a difficult game to tweak because they're completely emblematic of the gaming experience of yore, with heavy hitters coming out on the NES in the late '80s and early '90s, like Castlevania, Donkey Kong, Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. For 13AM studios to present this idea as something new and interesting is quite bold, with stiff competition from the likes of Celeste, Super Meat Boy, Thomas Was Alone and VVVVVV for new takes on platforming, puzzles and speed in the latest decade. While Runbow seeks to strike a chord with its audience with a fun gameplay premise, nostalgic art style, and music, the game feels a tad hollow with less-than-convincing gameplay and poor controls.

As early as the introductory menu, Runbow is busy and a tad confusing. After passing the title screen, you land at a colorful menu that's reminiscent of the Super Smash Bros. Brawl menu, with chunky buttons for the myriad game modes. Since Runbow is touted as a multiplayer game, four of the seven modes require at least two players. That leaves an adventure mode, deathless mode (labeled "Take on the BOWHEMOTH... if you dare"), and an online mode for single players. In the spirit of fairness, it should be noted that I only played the single-player modes of Runbow, so my conclusions may be different from players who are able to take advantage of the multiplayer modes. Adventure mode allows you to progress through levels in order to fight the femme fatale villain who's attacking innocent civilians. In deathless mode, you've been swallowed by an animal and must platform your way out. These arcs are all well and good, but they're not the reason you play the game.

In Runbow, you choose a character (there are many different designs from other games, such as Shantae and Shovel Knight) and must reach the end of the course or kill all of the enemies as quickly as you can. It's relatively simple, but — and this is where the title Runbow comes in — as you progress through a level, background colors change like the tide washing in, leaving platforms to either stick out from or disappear into the background based on their hue. For example, you could leap over a gap in the level, hoping to land on a blue platform, only for the background to become that same shade, causing the platform to blend in and you to fall to your death. This brings a new rhythmic flair to the platforming and a sense of urgency on levels. However, this also leads to stagnated gameplay at points, where you have to wait for the colors to change in order to progress, antithetical to the constantly ticking timer in the upper left-hand corner.

The level design is nothing to write home about because there's nothing egregious or impressive. Everything seems like normal fare for platforming games, including dodging projectiles, underwater levels, etc., which can feel banal at first (enemies do nothing but slightly bump you when you collide with them, leading one to question their existence), but the color-switching spices it up a little bit.

However, the gameplay and flighty controls take this experience from good to frustrating. Runbow doesn't have a lot of controls, so for them to be so touchy is quite disappointing. In this game, you can jump, punch, dash (an extension on the punch mechanic), and upward dash. The issue is that the punching combo (a 1-2 punch, sideways dash) and upward dash both use the same button (Square for the PS4), which leads to the controls being easily misread and causing quite a few unwarranted deaths. Too often, you can launch yourself off the side of a platform instead of hopping upward like you intended. Using the same button for all of these controls, coupled with the speed at which you're expected to finish these levels makes Runbow an infuriating experience at times. When the platforming, which is already specific and tough enough due to disappearing platforms and timing, is compounded by poor controls and hitboxes, it makes the experience significantly less fun and tough to recommend.

Most poignant in Runbow is the art style, with deep roots in 1960s aesthetics. Inspired by the cartoon stylings of Hanna-Barbera classics like "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons," "The Yogi Bear Show" and others, 13AM mixed these ideals with the more modern themes of minimalism to create the game aesthetics. This works well with the luau themes (popular with beach party movies of the time – you've got to love Elvis trying to act) and the colors streaming through the levels — a new capability of televisions around that time period. These colors of the backgrounds, characters and platforms are juxtaposed against the level's stark black terrain, and overall, it works well. Sometimes, the colors can be a little too bright and in your face, but the art is generally quite nice. The movement animations of the characters look a little slow and hokey at times (the running and punching, specifically), but this doesn't detract much from the game and visuals. Overall, the visuals in Runbow are a fun and refreshing blast from the past.

The music, on the other hand, is a mixed bag that ranges from nostalgic and intriguing to uninspired and clunky. Like the luau aesthetics mentioned above, the music is heavily inspired by the surf guitar and beach music of the '50s and '60s, mixed with other TV show tunes of the time, like Dick Dale meets "The Munsters" theme, with their guitar and big brass fighting for dominance in a playful way. These two genres are combined and infused with a faster tempo to drive the player to go faster as the game progresses, which works pretty well, both gameplay-wise and musically.

With that being said, these two genres of music have specific niches, like disco and country, that to the average listener are bearable in small bouts, but agonizing otherwise (Persona 5 somehow shirks this with the amazing "Last Surprise," but I digress). When these songs play over and over during different levels, the charm fades quickly and becomes tiring to hear. Music in games should be generic enough to float in the background while the player traverses the levels, but this music shoves itself to the forefront in its bombast and repetitive nature.

Runbow works against itself by creating needless tedium throughout the game. The controls, shaky and particular platforming, and waiting for the background colors to flip in order to progress are all damning in a platforming game, and the frustrating background music makes the title feel so much longer. This isn't the only takeaway because the game's aesthetics and premise are pretty good: racing to the end of the level with cool '60s aesthetics and deft maneuvering through visual gameplay cues! 13AM had a really cool idea that mostly works but unfortunately gets lost within a slew of issues. Runbow could be a great game for the dedicated speedster, but for most others, it comes off as pretty, but lackluster.

Score: 5.0/10

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