Floundering to entertain
Ocean Runner, the latest game from developer Teyon, swims onto Nintendo 3DS with a familiar formula used in the addictive endless runner genre. Unlike traditional endless runners, Ocean Runner introduces neat concepts — such as moving vertically and having the ability to attack — in hopes of shaking things up, but ultimately just lacks challenge. An in-game shop extends the game’s duration by offering upgrades and power-ups similar to other popular runners like Temple Run. However, finding the motivation to keep playing through the entire game is the biggest challenge.
It all begins with Gilbert, a lonely fish who wishes to find a mate and settle down. Unfortunately, winning over one’s heart requires gifts. In this case, shells. Gilbert encounters the fish of his dreams, Pearlina, and heads out to collect shells for his potential mate.
Using the stylus, circle pad, or gyro controls, the player traverses Gilbert through the ocean as he gathers shells. Each control scheme is unique in its own way, but the gyro and stylus options feel clunky and awkward, making the circle pad the definitive play style. During each run, Gilbert swims vertically, which provides unique gameplay in comparison to other endless runners where players typically move from left to right. Several obstacles such as electric eels, blowfish, and crabs attempt to put an end to Gilbert’s quest. Once taken by a predator, it’s game over. However, this rarely happens due to a clever mechanic Teyon introduced in Ocean Runner.
When faced against a nasty creature, an offensive attack can knock out the deadliest of beasts. The addition of this function is great and adds some variety to an otherwise nearly bland experience. The attack introduces potential to make Ocean Runner stand out above other games in its genre, but falls short due to its overpowered strength. Once the basics of the attack are learned, rarely will Gilbert ever be taken by predators. The attack recharges quickly and deals a one-hit kill on all sea enemies, causing the game to dwindle in difficulty. If challenge still exists for a player, more extras can be bought to simplify the game even more.
With his gathered shells, Gilbert can head to the store to upgrade abilities or purchase utilities and skins. Upgrades for abilities can increase the overall effectiveness of the power-up. When picking up an ability that’s maxed out, Gilbert turns into a near-invincible fish. Abilities consist of dashing ahead a certain amount of meters, growing a spear and popping enemies who are conveniently trapped inside bubbles, or extra continues. Skins merely provide a cosmetic touch, making their purchase feel like a waste of shells that could otherwise be used toward items or upgrades. Two types of utilities can be purchased: Headstarts and Lifebelts. Headstarts shoot Gilbert several meters past the starting line. Lifebelts, on the other hand, act as continues to keep your run alive when you accidentally collide with a hazard; these aren’t usually necessary, unless they’re being used for a challenge or achievement.
Ocean Runner includes 24 unlockable achievements and even more challenges. Challenges are simply used to progress the story. For example, after a run, the player will be prompted with three challenges that alternate whenever they’re achieved. Challenges consist of intentionally hitting an enemy, using an item, or retrieving power-ups a certain number of times. When completing the selected challenge, a pearl appears on the bottom screen to indicate its completion. Enough pearls will eventually progress the story. Sadly, the story isn’t entertaining enough to motivate the player to keep gathering pearls. Unlike challenges, achievements don’t reward the player with anything besides bragging rights, which doesn’t equate to much due to how simple and repetitive the game is.
Two aspects of the game remain strong despite its flaws: graphics and music. The graphics are colorful and vibrant and capture the feeling of being underwater. Smooth animations accompany pleasant visuals and show how much effort went into crafting them. And an edgy rock soundtrack fits the underwater setting nicely. The available tunes may become boring after some time, but should remain fresh throughout the short time frame you play; if it becomes obnoxious, players can disable both the music and sound effects from the settings menu. I never found myself too frustrated with it, however.
Ocean Runner doesn’t hit rock bottom — it just has minimal challenge and offers low replay value. It features polished, gorgeous graphics and some nice tunes, but that’s about it. There are many other games available for the same price that will deliver a more enjoyable experience.