Review: SpeedRunners

Review: SpeedRunners

Speed runs are all about learning a game so well that you can blow through levels while making it look easy. But what happens when you make speed running a competitive sport of its own? You get SpeedRunners, an insane, fast-paced competitive multiplayer title from DoubleDutch Games and tinyBuild. Run, swing, jump and dodge fast enough to make your opponents fall off the screen before they knock you off of it yourself! Bushnell’s Law (“easy to learn and difficult to master”) has rarely been more fitting of a game than in the case of SpeedRunners.

The game touts itself as “One of the most competitive games you’ll ever play,” and after a few days with the game I absolutely believe it. Are you up for the challenge?

 

 

Title: SpeedRunners
Developer: DoubleDutch Games
Publisher: tinyBuild
Platform: Xbox One
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Interface: Xbox One Controller
Available on Xbox One, Steam

In a city filled with superheroes, getting to crimes becomes a competition on its own. Fortunately there are enough rockets, bombs, grappling hooks, spikes, and other goodies lying around — to make the competition fun and fast. Welcome to SpeedRunners.

SpeedRunners is a 4 player competitive platformer with grappling hooks, item pickups, and interactive environments. Run, jump, swing around, fire rockets, grapple onto people to knock them off screen.

I’ve never been much of a speed runner in games. Yeah, there are times I manage to pull off some cool stuff and feel like the most smooth, epic gamer of all time, but platformer reaction speed has rarely been a friend of mine. I kicked off SpeedRunners with a solid (optional!) tutorial and was thrown into the Metro level with three bots on an easy difficulty setting. Along the level you’re told what different buttons do, and even for someone like me the game quickly felt natural thanks to the ability to customize your controller layout (seriously vital info!). What’s great about the tutorial – about the whole game, really – is that story mode, the tutorial, playing against friends or bots and online multiplayer all function the same. You have all of your abilities – boost, swinging, double-jump and pickups – but the competition is just a little easier. Leveling up and story do unlock additional maps to play on (16 total plus some user-made maps), skins, characters (8 are unlockable, the other 15 come from DLC), pickups and settings you can use for playing against bots, but it’s not like you’ll have to unlock the ability to throw your grappling hook or jump a second time.

 


The premise of SpeedRunners is incredibly easy to grasp. Four superheroes enter a map and race to be the last one standing. Whoever’s the last runner standing gets a point, and the first person to three points wins! Just like a standard platforming game the camera focuses on all of the remaining players, zooming in and out a bit as they get closer and further apart. HOWEVER, if one of the racers gets far enough ahead to force another racer off the screen they’re eliminated and sudden death begins. This is where the game gets truly hectic – once at least one player is out the music changes and the screen slowly gets smaller and smaller. Just like hearing that sped-up Super Mario Bros music gets your blood pumping, this change will too! As the screen gets smaller and smaller you’ll find it harder and harder to remember where obstacles are or when you should jump and dodging enemy pickups becomes nearly impossible. This system works very well as a catch-the-leader mechanic too – when you’re far in the lead you’re right at the edge of the screen, so you end up relying almost entirely on your memory of the map to keep you ahead.

 

Like any good platformer speed run there are numerous paths through each level and learning the best one(s) is key. Some may be riskier than others, some may only be open until a switch is hit on the other side, and some hold pickups and/or boost gates. Pickups work just like in Super Mario Kart – you grab a floating blue pickup thingy and you’re given a random pickup that you can use at will. You can only hold one at a time, and using them properly can be just as important as nailing your jumps. Boost gates fill your boost gauge and can be used at will as well. Your grappling hook not only helps swing you up into different places, it also makes you move faster than running or jumping. Swinging is risky too though as holding the grapple for too long will make you go more vertical than horizontal and actually lose speed.

 

While pickups in a game like Super Mario Kart can be incredibly unfair at times, the pickups in SpeedRunners are both fair and fun. Sure some of them are better than others, but even the banana peel crate drops can come in crazy handy. There are 8 unique pickups including the aforementioned crate (a box you drop behind you), homing missiles, a freeze ray and the golden hook. Some of these can be infuriating when they hit you – the golden hook, for example, auto-aims at an enemy in front of you if it hits them it’ll yank them backwards while propelling yourself forward. This sounds awful, but not only will any obstacles stop the hook, your opponent can slide under it (and gain an XP bonus for doing so!). The shockwave throws a big circle of stunning nearby that also nullifies most other pickups, but if you boost through it you won’t be affected. Each pickup has its ups and downs and, if played right, any pickup can be an epic one.

Once I played the tutorial, I decided to give Story Mode a try. Story Mode is broken into four chapters with four races apiece, and each chapter has a nemesis to race against. In the fourth race of each chapter you’ll go one-on-one against that hero, although this really isn’t any tougher since your nemesis always seems to be one difficulty higher than the other random players anyway. By the time I was done with Easy Story Mode I was able to start defeating some bots on normal difficulty, and now I can even beat some on Hard! There’s a fourth difficulty mode – Unfair – but it really seems to live up to its name. I laugh as hard at my defeat from Unfair-level bots as I do when I try Through the Fire and Flames on Guitar Hero 3

 

Aside from the couple runs through Story Mode, the majority of my time has been spent with bots since hardly anyone had the game before release. What amazed me was just how fun and addicting it was! Even as I write this review I want to grab my controller and play a few more rounds. Each match feels really varied and there’s such a rush in outracing and outsmarting opponents, even if they’re AI. The Practice section has loads of settings and it’s easy to select any map you want for each race (or have it pick random maps each time like I do). The awarded XP, leveling up and unlocking new stuff is awesome too! Not only do you gain XP for each point you get in a race, you’ll get bonus XP for all sorts of things you do – tackling someone, hitting multiple people with a fireball and ducking under a golden hook are only a few things you’ll get bonuses for. There were numerous times I got more XP from bonuses than from winning! XP can be gained in just about any mode including online multiplayer, Story Mode and Practice. There’s no difference where you play, either, so even if you only play against other people in real life and never go online you’re not missing out on anything aside from the Ranked Matches.

 

The idea of superheroes battling one another to save the city was one of the things that intrigued me the most about SpeedRunners. It’s a creative concept and DoubleDutch Games allows that idea to run through the entirety of the game. As you play the tutorial you’ll unlock short, digital in-game comics. While the runners don’t have their own special weapons, varying stats or perks, they’re all brimming with personality. My personal favorite, Gil, wears a shark suit and moves through the air like a dolphin instead of the standard jumping/falling animations. Each character also has their own unique taunt, winning animation and skins.

Once the game finally released today and people started getting online SpeedRunners became one of the most fun, exciting and wild multiplayer games I’ve played in a very long time. There’s something much more exciting about beating people instead of bots of course, but when you sync with a few random people who are all busting their butts, laughing and screaming NOOOO when you pull of an epic move it’s just magical. The conversation system is excellent as well – moving the right stick up, down, left or right opens up three related potential statements/exclamations. These are set up beautifully, and once I got used to it I was able to congratulate others on great moves or laugh when I accidentally rocketed in myself without missing a beat with the gameplay itself. SpeedRunners multiplayer is a beautiful thing and it’s something I absolutely won’t stop playing for a very long time!

 

Like the gameplay and concept the art and music are simple but effective and awesome. The runners, map backgrounds and menus remind me of early-to-mid 1900s superhero work and the music is energetic and upbeat. There aren’t many different songs but they few in the game are catchy and don’t get annoying. It’s not like you’ll notice much anyway since you’ll be so hyper-focused on jumping and flinging yourself through various maps and trash talking your friends.

With a game already rocking a “Very Positive” rating on Steam from over 10,000 reviews, it’s an incredible game made even more incredible by the fact that it’s free to Xbox Live Gold members thanks to the Games with Gold program on day one! It’s also less than 5GB, so even if your hard drive is nearly full you should have no reason not to snag SpeedRunners, get some practice and battle it out online.

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