As a proud owner of all current generation consoles, I often find myself surprised at how the trio of ‘new’ consoles has brought about a few resurgences of different genres. Most recently, it’s clear that remakes, remasters, and retro-style games are as popular as ever, though you could link that to the fact that the ‘first and second’ generation of gamers have all grown up, and nostalgia is a powerful force, especially in the market.
Personally, I’m in love with party games, and their revival has been met with open arms. The Wii U has seen success with its unique brand of asymmetric multiplayer (I still find myself popping in Nintendo Land every so often). #IDARB, a criminally underrated ‘sports/party’ game of sorts saw an exclusive release on the Xbox One earlier this year, and the PlayStation 4 is home to Towerfall Ascension and Sportsfriends.
Still, it’s hard for some to get into party games, and I myself have had to play the role of salesman before, in an attempt to convince my friends to play alongside me. I for one, attribute this apprehension to the advent of online games. I mean, let’s be honest, online multiplayer has turned us into horrible people. Not only are we able to rage-quit at the touch of a button (rage-quitting or being a sore loser in the same room as your friends isn’t as appealing), but the luxury of physical separation between you and every other player makes it harder to convince people to get together on the same couch. And above all else, some just enjoy playing solo, without the worry of having to deal with other people, whether that be online or off.
Enter Runbow, the debut title from Toronto-based developer 13AM Games. While it’s still a party game through and through, it’s a noticeably different one, complete with modes that can be enjoyed solo or with friends, and plenty of modes to play both offline and online.
When I booted up Runbow for the first time, I was a little bit overwhelmed, mostly at the amount of modes and options available from the get-go. Fortunately, all of Runbow’s modes use the same basic mechanics, which lends the game that ‘pick-up-and-play’ feel that so many titles strive to cultivate. As its name suggests, Runbow is all about running, usually to the right of the screen. You see, levels make use of a varied color palette, with platforms and other objects each having different colors. Every couple of seconds, a rush of color will take over the screen, removing platforms of the same color. This ‘rush’ repeats throughout the entire level, requiring you to not only platform with precision, but to pay attention to the oncoming color.
It’s a novel twist on traditional platforming mechanics, and it can get hectic as you try to balance jumping with the constantly shifting level layout. Of course, if you happen to be playing with others, you’ll also have to take advantage of your character’s attacks. While 13AM Games has borrowed characters from a wide range of indie titles (including the titular Shovel Knight, and CommanderVideo from the BIT.TRIP), each one has the same basic attacks. Sure, while the characters themselves are nothing more palette swaps, the lack of varied movesets means that no one will feel alienated, and it makes it that much easier for new players to learn the ropes. There’s a few basic attacks that are all tied to a single button (with a second button in charge of all the jumping), but some of these attacks lend themselves well to platforming. The uppercut in particular can provide a last minute boost in height, which is bound to save more than a few lives.
Once you master the basics, it’s time to dive into the many, many modes Runbow has to offer. If you’re the type who enjoys a challenge, and likes to brave things solo (or with a lone friend), the game’s ‘Adventure’ mode tasks you with completing well over 100 levels, in an effort to put an end to a black-and-white boss, who feels just a tad out of place in the colorful world of Runbow. The Bowhemoth is another solo/co-op mode that acts as a remixed Adventure mode, offering up a brutal gauntlet of levels that have to be completed in one sitting, with the goal being to make it to the end with as few deaths as possible. This mode doesn’t mess around, and my first run took me close to an hour to complete.
If you’re the type who enjoys some good multiplayer action, there’s plenty of modes to tinker around with. The most basic comes in the form of ‘Run’ mode, which pits you against your friends to see who can reach the end of a stage the fastest. For me, ‘Run’ was the go-to mode when it came to introducing new players to the game, and you can even play it solo for some good practice. The King of the Hill and Arena modes are more akin to something like Super Smash Bros. or PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, where the focus is on hand-to-hand fisticuffs, either in an attempt to eliminate your opponents or to control a ‘hot zone’. Lastly, there’s the “Color Master” mode, where one player takes advantage of the Wii U gamepad to eliminate a team of runners, by laying down traps and messing with everyone else’s controls.
Speaking of which, I have to commend 13AM Games for their commitment to making it easier than ever to play Runbow with others. Aside from the fact that you can play ‘Run’, Arena and King of the Hill both online, Runbow allows a staggering nine players to play on the same system, thanks in part to the clever use of the Wiimote’s controller port. Aside from the Wii U GamePad and Pro Controller, you can plug Classic Controllers and Nunchuks into Wiimotes, turning one controller set into two controllers.
To some, it might seem like 13AM Games tried to cram as much into one package in an attempt to make up for some design shortcomings. However, it only takes a few rounds of playing to realize that Runbow is meticulously designed, well-crafted, and anything but half-baked. All the modes and accessibility options are just its way of making sure that as many people as possible can get in on the action, as they rightfully should.
This review is based on the Wii U exclusive version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
With a bevy of different modes and ways to play, Runbow strikes the perfect balance between accessibility and appeal; you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to turn down a game that’s this fun.