Platformers are a dime a dozen on the Wii U eShop. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, because some of the best eShop games are just that: platformers. And they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, differentiating themselves from one another so they are not all cookie-cutters of the same game. We’ve got the Metroidvania platformer Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition (one of my personal favorites), Adventures of Pip with its character-changing gameplay, the tough-as-nails precision platforming of 1001 Spikes and, of course, there’s Shovel Knight. These eShop gems are all good and dandy, but indie studio 13AM Games is bringing their own twist to the league of eShop platformers with the bright and colorful Runbow.
In Runbow, color is the name of the game. Well, not literally, but this is what makes Runbow different from all other platformers on the eShop. The objective is simple: run and jump your way through obstacles to reach the trophy at the end. The uniqueness and challenge of Runbow comes to a head when you factor in the color-changing background. Why is that a big deal? Well, platforms come in a variety of colors, and if the background shifts to the same color as one of those platforms you’re standing on, you’ll fall into the abyss. Because of this mechanic, the game keeps you constantly on the tips of your toes — making split-second jumps as you try to memorize color patterns while watching out for the quick ques giving you a heads up on the color shifts.
While Runbow can definitely be enjoyed as a single-player experience, it’s mostly being promoted as a multiplayer party game. And that’s very true for what this game is bringing to the table. Interestingly enough, it’s the only Wii U game that supports up to nine players in local multiplayer. Seriously, you and eight of your friends play on one Wii U system. If you don’t have eight friends at the ready, have no fear because 13AM Games was kind enough to include online multiplayer as an alternative.
Multiplayer is separated into four different modes: Run, Arena, King of the Hill, and the local-only mode ColorMaster. Run has you simply racing to be the first one to reach the trophy at the end of each level. Arena tasks you with being the last man standing by pushing others off stages or into hazards. King of the Hill is just what you would expect out of a mode with such a name; stand in a specific zone long enough until time runs out to be crowned victor. Finally, ColorMaster offers asymmetric gameplay courtesy of the Wii U GamePad. Up to eight players will race against the mischievous ninth player wielding the GamePad who can control obstacles and the colors.
During my time with online multiplayer, I had a joyous time. I haven’t laughed continuously while playing a game in a long while outside of playing Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, but Runbow was able to do it for me. That laughter and joy was heightened due to the fact that I was playing online with a friend. Regardless, it does give a testament to how much enjoyment you will have playing it. Each round ends quickly, but so much happens within that time span — punching the lights out of each other to gain the lead, platforms quickly phasing in and out, and random power-ups changing the tide of battle. I was only playing two-player matches and it was already insane, so with a full roster of nine players going at it, it’s going to be balls-to-the-wall crazy. The online multiplayer will probably get old after a few hours though, as I didn’t feel there was much incentive playing it outside of a few achievements to unlock. You’ll probably not be coming back to it again and again unless you’re playing with people you know. There is an issue with online lag, too. Again, I was only playing two-player matches, but even then I experienced latency issues, especially when picking up certain power-ups. I can only imagine how much of a potential nightmare it could be if nine players (all with different Internet connections) start up a match.
All six modes in Runbow can be played with friends, although only three can actually be played online: Run, King of the Hill, and Arena. Two of the six modes, Adventure and Bowhemoth, are single-player friendly. Both Adventure and Bowhemoth are a total blast, and this was where the bulk of my playtime was spent. There’s quite a bit of content to be found here. Adventure mode comes with its own story line and offers over 100 challenging stages to complete. Objectives consist of reaching the trophy at the end of a stage, defeating a certain number of enemies, or collecting coins as fast as possible. At times, they throw in a few interesting ideas to mix things up like playing upside-down, running super fast, or playing underwater which makes jumping more floaty. These are really great ideas and they are executed well; unfortunately, these types of scenarios are few and far between. With the huge assortment of levels offered here, I would have loved to see more stages with unique twists to the gameplay to keep the player invested. Sure, the color-changing gameplay is the big draw here, but you will want to see more concepts brought to the table as time goes on. Plus, the variety of enemies is seriously lacking; only a handful of different creatures impede your progress, and their designs are not exactly the greatest.
Adventure mode also comes packed with a handful of boss fights, but this is probably one of the weakest aspects of the game. The bosses do not feel like bosses. In fact, they are essentially just normal stages with a person standing at the end that requires a single punch. Boom. That’s it. The developer really could have done more to flesh out these boss levels to make them feel more intense. If anything, they could have made the courses drastically longer than the myriads of other stages in the game, but that just didn’t happen. The only time I saw them step their game up was with the final boss. Even that was definitely a low point for Runbow.
Bowhemoth mode is for those really seeking to test their skill as it pushes the player to race through over 30 minutes of platforming challenges without taking a single break. No, you can’t save and return at a later time to finish it. It’s either go big or go home, and Bowhemoth will have the color-changing mechanic in full force as it throws some devilish obstacles at you. It will test your patience, but oh man is Bowhemoth delightfully painful. As a gamer who loves brutal platforming, Bowhemoth certainly scratched that itch for me.
The one thing you’ll notice when you see Runbow for the first time is that it’s not shy in its use of color. With the background constantly changing, it keeps the visual appeal very much alive while playing. 13AM Games also went with a more simplistic approach to the art style that still makes it look beautiful and unique compared to other offerings on the eShop. It’s not all hunky dory, however, as Runbow most definitely suffers from a stuttering frame rate that can be detrimental when trying to nail jumps; I fell to my death due to the frame rate. I’m not exactly sure what causes it, but bouncing off enemies seems to be one thing that triggers the lag spike. Hopefully 13AM Games can issue a patch to address this dilemma as it can be downright annoying when you’re having a great run and mess up because of a hiccup in the frame rate.
The soundtrack on the other hand is sublime. It’s insanely good at mixing together a variety of different musical genres from jazz, bossa nova, and even surf rock. The upbeat nature of the music meshes perfectly with the style of gameplay, and I found myself really becoming attached to the soundtrack. I also found it quite humorous; when you pause the game, the music makes a complete 180 and turns into glorious elevator music. It’s delightfully soothing.
In terms of replay value, Runbow certainly offers enough to keep you busy for a dozen hours or so. First and for most, three-starring each and every stage in Adventure mode will probably take up the bulk of your playtime. Beyond that there are dozens of achievements to complete, concept art to unlock and, best of all, new costumes and other well-known indie characters to discover. Shovel Knight, Max from Mutant Mudds, Gunvolt from Azure Striker Gunvolt, and many more make a guest appearance here with signature sound effects to go along with them — making it a nice little treat.
Runbow is a Wii U eShop game that is worth taking a closer look at. It might not be the greatest game on the system to introduce many ideas outside of the unique color-changing mechanic, but I can’t say that I didn’t have fun playing it. Messing around with friends in the handful of multiplayer modes will no doubt bring a smile to your face, but I can’t see myself dwelling for too long online as there isn’t much incentive for doing so. Those itching for a more single-player experience will have a grand time playing through the plethora of challenges in Adventure mode or the fiendish obstacles in Bowhemoth mode as those were definitely the highlight of the game for me. Runbow is not a perfect game with its poor excuse for boss fights, stuttering frame rate, and lack of unique ideas to mix things up in Adventure mode, but that won’t stop you from having an enjoyable time.
Runbow is developed and published by 13AM Games. It will launch in the North American Wii U eShop on August 27, 2015 for $14.99.
Review copy provided by 13AM Games
You can watch my video review of Runbow below: