SpeedRunners review (Early Access)

Emanuel Maiberg at

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SpeedRunners takes the fast, challenging 2D platforming from games like N and Super Meat Boy, throws in three other players via local multiplayer or online matchmaking, and lets them race one another. That idea on its own is lighting in a bottle, but there are a few other subtle things that SpeedRunners does to make every match exciting, funny, and always worth playing for just one more round.

Even when playing online, all racers share the same screen space, the speed of which is dictated by the lead runner. If you can’t keep up and fall off the edge of the screen, you die. There isn’t a finish line. Instead, players keep going around the level until only one runner remains standing.

Once the first player dies, a red frame appears around the screen and starts growing, making the play space smaller and smaller. It’s a little stroke of genius that makes every round a nail-biting sudden death mode, where the distance between the lead and the other runners gets tighter as the match goes on.

Frantic wall jumping to stay out of the red.

Of course, none of it would be worth a damn if the platforming fundamentals weren’t fun. With the exception of a grappling hook you can use on certain surfaces to swing forward for extra speed or to reach shortcuts, the speed, acceleration, and floaty jumps are more or less identical to the physics in N. The ability to use momentum to slide up walls and laser and rocket traps are also lifted directly from that game. This particular aspect of SpeedRunners might not be original, but I loved the feel of N, and I love it here too.

Double-time

SpeedRunners solves a problem that plagues many racing games, where taking a corner the wrong way can set you back so far that playing the rest of the race feels futile. In SpeedRunners, it’s completely common for the last place player to overtake the pack in a blink of an eye, and it never feels unfair. Each level is filled with high risk, high reward opportunities that can put you back in the game if you’re desperate and skilled enough.

If I’m far behind, for instance, I could follow the rest of the pack through a lower tunnel and hope that one of them makes a mistake, or I could take the upper tunnels, try to make an extremely difficult jump and slide through a stack of boxes. If I crash into them, I’m out for sure. If I thread the needle, I skip an entire jumping section and I’m back in the lead.

A well-timed swing can change everything.

There are also power-ups to collect along the way à la Mario Kart: boxes you can drop and trip other players with, rockets, and speed boosts. The most interesting of these is a special grappling hook you can use to pull yourself past another runner. They’re especially helpful and intense when it’s down to the final two players. With the screen shrinking to the size of a postage stamp, half a millimeter away from death, an emergency grappling hook shot can really ruin someone’s day, though that player can make yours even worse if he immediately counters with a grappling hook of his own.

As to be expected from an Early Access game, SpeedRunners has a few bugs—crashes to desktop, players falling through the level—but nothing devastating. It also has a bunch of single player levels to go through, and they’re pretty fun, but nothing like the finely tuned levels in Super Meat Boy or N. They are three options down from the first item on the game’s main menu, the multiplayer mode, which is pretty much all you need to know about SpeedRunners’ priorities. Steam Workshop integration also offers a bottomless supply of user-created levels, but these are hit and miss.

SpeedRunners has great characters, like this lucky cat.

Besides ironing out some bugs, the only thing I’d really like to see SpeedRunners improve before its official release is its presentation. Conceptually, its angular, outline-less comic book aesthetic works, but levels tend to be a little too plain, with what few details there are bleeding into each other. I don’t want too many unnecessary decorations, but a splash of color here and there and higher quality assets for critical elements like pickups and traps will really make it pop. For music, it needs more than just the one track, which is starting to drive me crazy.

Verdict

With the exception of the occasional bug and some rough art assets, SpeedRunners is a fully realized idea, a great platformer, and a terrific party game that’s fun online as well.

Outlook

Good. SpeedRunners is already a great game, well worth $10. It’s only a question of how much content and polish DoubleDutch can cram into it before its official release.

Details
Version reviewed: r30, July 11, 2014.
Reviewed on: AMD FX 4200, GTX 660 Ti, 16gb RAM
Recommended: You can almost definitely run it.
Price: $10/£7
Publisher: tinyBuild
Developer: DoubleDutch Games
Multiplayer: four player online and local.
Link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/207140/