Runbow Review (Wii U)
Competitive platforming has always been one of the weaker spots in my gaming repertoire. I'm a major spaz, and often my twitch reflexes guide me down the nearest endless shaft of doom or into a wall of spikes instead of keeping me out of harm's way. That doesn't mean I avoid games like Rayman Origins or New Super Mario Bros. all together, though. Quite the opposite in fact, as I just can't seem to keep myself away from these kinds of games. That's part of the reason I found myself awaiting the release of 13AM Games' Runbow. The other parts have to do with the frantic nine-player multiplayer action and that sweet visual aesthetic.
At its core, Runbow is a time trial-based platformer. The faster you complete a stage, the better you'll be scored, and the better you'll be rewarded. There are well over 100 different stages in the main mode (Adventure), with many of those levels making an appearance in the multiplayer races as well. Adventure mode has a thin plot wherein the characters of Runbow must take down the evil Satura because reasons. Someone has to be the bad guy, so it might as well be the black and white woman trapped in a world where everyone else comes in a variety of colors. Each of Adventure's four main areas has a boss stage which ramps up the difficulty ever so slightly. At the end of these levels, Satura awaits, but there are no tricky boss battles. She's got a glass jaw, and Runbow is more about the stages themselves than tricky fights.
Runbow is a colorful game, and it uses every single one of those hues to craft the challenges you'll face while running from start to finish. Most of the world has a stark black base, but the background changes colors frequently, revealing and removing platforms based on the colors that are being swapped. For example, green platforms would be invisible when the background is green, but as soon as the palette switches to red or blue, that green landing spot appears, while the like color platform disappears. It requires you to be even more observant of the immediate area, and if you're like me, can really test your patience when a landing zone disappears from beneath you mid-leap. It's all part of the charm and challenge, and gives Runbow personality.
There are plenty of levels to test your mettle in the Adventure mode, but it's the handful of multiplayer options that will give Runbow legs. Up to nine different players can join in on the action, which might seem impossible given the Wii U's ability to support just four controllers. However, Runbow merely requires the use of a directional stick and two buttons (one for jumping, one for attacking), so nunchucks become controllers of their own in a pinch. You can bring those friends with you into Adventure mode as well, but why let someone else steal all your glory when you can just prove you're the best in some straight-up races in Runbow's Run mode? With so many people playing (even if you have just a few friends over), Run's races are hectic, and with no respawns there often aren't even any actual winners on a given course. That's why you can set the limit of races, which run for about 30 seconds tops, and ensure that there will be a true winner and it's not just a fluke.
Arena and King of the Hill are also present and offer some decent variety, but it's Color Master that offers Runbow's own new creative take on coopetition. One player will use the Game Pad (he's the Color Master) to control the stage map, and all other players will be racers trying to finish. The Color Master has a handful of tools like bombs, AI enemies and lightning strikes to prevent players from finishing the race, as well as the ability to change the color of the stage or inject a colored block in the pathway. Think NSMB's helpful overwatch mode, but instead of aiding and abetting, you're doing your worst to ensure there is no victory. As someone who's not the best at actual platforming, but who really takes joy in making everyone else miserable, being the Color Master is a delight. While you may lose a few matches here or there to some clever runners, the advantage is heavily in the Color Master's favor, which is why it's probably the best mode in any game of all time.
There is also a hardcore map called the Bowhemoth that will put even the most devout platformers to the test. You can die as many times as necessary to complete it, but there are no restarts and the time you spend trying to beat the Bowhemoth continually runs until you're done. I died a whole lot here, and that was playing by myself. I can't imagine trying to complete this mode with friends, each with skills of varying degrees. What I mean to say is all my friends are better at platformers than I am, so I don't want to be the guy holding the team back.
It certainly helps that Runbow's style is immediately attractive, and that the soundtrack is definitely one that will get stuck in your head. The classic Saul Bass-inspired look makes Runbow unique among similar games in the genre, and the use of solid, vibrant colors really gives the visuals some pop on an HD display. If you're playing on the Game Pad, a little of that luster is lost, but you're probably already used to that from other Wii U games that suffer the same fate on the small screen. No matter how you're listening to the score though, there's nary a bad beat, and it's light and jazzy vibe make even the more frustrating deaths seem like they aren't such a big deal at all.
13AM Games has managed to carve itself a nice spot on a console that already has a wealth of similar games. Even for someone as inept at platformers as I am, Runbow is still a lot of fun. The bite-sized stages really help keep the game moving, even when I'm performing poorly, and the aesthetic is incredibly easy on the eyes. There's some zany good times to be had with the multiplayer as well, and I'm sure Runbow will soon find its way into the rotation as a go-to party game in my household.
This is review was completed with a download of Runbow provided by the publisher for Wii U.