NS Review – Runbow (Wii U)


There is already a plethora of fantastic multiplayer experiences available on the Wii U, including highly successful popular picks such as Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros Wii U. The latter broke considerable ground by supporting up to eight players on one console in a single game, adding a new layer to the chaotic action. Runbow, developed by 13AM Games, not only matches the high-profile titles in its fun factor, but also allows even more players to play simultaneously.

Specifically, that number is nine: one player can pick up the Gamepad alongside Wiimotes or Pro Controllers, and either a Nunchuk or classic controller can be attached to the Wiimote to act as its own controller. While the high capacity of players is impressive, it means little without being backed up by solid controls, a variety of modes, and plenty of moments that have people yelling at the TV. Thankfully, Runbow achieves in all of these areas. It is a platforming game where each mode carries a different objective. The D-pad moves the character, there’s a jump button, and an attack button. There is no ‘run faster’ command and all the characters run at the same speed. It’s that simple.

The challenge comes from Runbow’s colour-based mechanic. The background will change colour every few seconds, and if a platform’s colour matches the background’s then the platform will blend in and effectively disappear. It keeps the player on their toes and aware of their surroundings, and it adds an extra layer of challenge that becomes extremely difficult to monitor when there are several players on the screen at once. Several times, I got so preoccupied with avoiding and attacking the other players that I didn’t realise the platform beneath me disappearing shortly before I fell to my death.

Not pictured: my character, as I had already died.

Not pictured: my character. She was already dead.

There are several modes that have different objectives – all of which support nine players – but the main focus is of the racing variety; players scramble to reach the end of a course first and touch the trophy. Games are played through several rounds, with the final winner being the one who won the most rounds. There are no respawns, so if a player dies they can forget about winning the round. It’s very possible that only one player (or nobody) will even make it to the end of the course, and in this scenario they are free to take their time and taunt the rest of the players for failing the level before they touch the trophy. Yes, there is a taunt button.

Included among the other three ‘party’ modes is Arena Mode, where players fight to be the last one standing. Players can either try and attack each other, or take a more passive approach and just survive until everyone else is gone. In King of the Hill, players fight to take control of one single platform. The first player to have their countdown reach 0 is the winner. Both modes offer nice diversity from the racing and chasing, although it won’t be long before you see the same levels being played. This is understandable given each game can last a matter of seconds, but I feel a few more levels could have been created for these modes.

All three modes have quick-fire power-up items that are automatically used shortly after a player collects one. They really spice up the competitive rounds and have been designed in such a way that whoever is in first won’t have the advantage, since some power-ups will work against them. One of the more dastardly power-ups is one that switches the user with another random player. If the race leader collects this, they’ll trade places with someone further back. Someone who knows that they’re about to switch places can pull the evil trick of putting themselves in harm’s way, just in time to safely trade with another hapless player who will suffer the consequences.

Colour Master is an alternative mode that makes great use of the Gamepad, as the Colour Master tries to stop the runners from reaching the goal. The various tools include bombs, a button that inverts the runners’ controls, a doppelgänger that the Colour Master can control, and lightning. There’s a strong feeling of tension as the runners don’t know what the Colour Master will do next. The Colour Master can even put coloured splotches on the background to get rid of a platform of the same colour. Causing a runner to fail a course can be immensely satisfying for the Colour Master, while avoiding all of the Colour Master’s tricks to reach the end will do the same for the runners.

The art direction is charmingly reminiscent of classic movie posters, and the simple colour scheme works in its favour.

The art direction is charmingly reminiscent of classic movie posters, and the simple colour scheme works in Runbow’s favour.

Supporting the party modes are Adventure Mode and The Bowhemoth, which can both still be played with up to nine players. In Adventure Mode, players take on the Femme Fatale Satura across four worlds. It’s essentially a long sequence of platforming levels, each having three time-trial targets for the player to beat. The later levels can get surprisingly challenging as the background constantly changes colour, with more enemies and obstacles that the player has to deal with. It’s a nice variation from the other modes, and it’s where most of the items in the gallery can be unlocked.

The Bowhemoth is a long challenge with no breaks between levels. After entering the belly of the Bowhemoth, what stands before the players is one of the most gruelling platforming challenges ever created. The background changes at a much faster rate, platforms are smaller, and jumping requires more precision and better timing. It’s certainly not for the light-hearted and constantly failing a level will have you pulling your hair out, but these deaths are always due to the player’s mistake. Runbow’s controls are simple, but the gameplay is solid enough that it won’t be unfairly taking lives from you. If you beat the Bowhemoth, you won’t have to worry about anything else Runbow. Except players spamming the taunt button if they’re the only one left in a race.

If you’re struggling for numbers, you can play the three party modes online. Up to four people can play online on one console too, which is an appreciated feature for when you’re with a few friends but desire more participants. Most of the time I was able to join a game and have a lag-free time, but it was sometimes difficult to find a match. I was never able to play King Of The Hill because my game could never find other players, but this is only my own experience and others may have more success. Curiously, the game’s catchy music is absent in online modes. Unless the player puts on their own music for online games, they’ll just be hearing punches, grunts, and the sound of characters dying.

There is a pleasing amount of indie guest characters attending Runbow’s party. Shovel Knight, Gunvolt, The Fall’s A.R.I.D, Rusty from SteamWorld Dig, and curiously Unity-Chan are only a few of the names on the guest list. They all fit seamlessly into the game’s unique art style and are a great addition to the various costumes available in the game.

ONWARD, MY INDIE GAME HEROES!

ONWARD, INDIE GAME TROOPS!

Runbow is a simple concept done well. The games are fast and fun, the art direction has plenty of charm to it, the music is upbeat and quirky, and there’s a great sense of dry humour to it all. A skull and crossbones sarcastically delivers a message to the players when they fail a level, telling them to “win better” or “stop feeding,” the latter I can only assume is a reference to the constructive feedback given to teammates in MOBAs. There’s also a ‘fun’ setting in the options menu with some amusing choices. If you’re wondering how the fun setting actually changes the gameplay, 13AM Games’ creative director Alex Rushdy has the answer for you here.

Runbow is definitely a worthwhile purchase and plays perfectly in any party or group setting. Some fun can be had playing by yourself, but the longevity is going to come from the memorable mayhem that is multiplayer. Get ready to run!

Review code kindly supplied by 13AM Games

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