Posted by Mike Mason
Aside offerings such as I Must Run!, there haven't been a huge number of endless runner-style games on DSiWare. CIRCLE Entertainment's latest title, Goony, aims to fill that gap a little, while also proving that you don't necessarily need legs or a baffling amount of stamina to star in the genre – if you're a creature made of jelly, you can simply hurl yourself down a hill to similar effect.
Unlike the dozens of endless runners that trail left to right or into the screen, in Goony you cascade towards the bottom of the screen, tumbling down an isometric Q*bert-like pyramid of blocks that goes on forever and ever. You switch direction with left and right on the D-Pad to avoid enemies, prevent yourself from falling off the edge of the hill and to snatch up alluring golden coins. Your aim is to survive for as long as possible, with one point added to your score for every step you take down the board.
Perhaps "runner" isn't the most accurate term here, since you're actually a gelatinous creature that slopes about like a Slinky, flopping and stretching down to the next block. If Goony hits an enemy it devolves into a bouncy ball, while a further tap reduces it to a none-too-attractive pile of goop that hops in slightly less convincing fashion. One more smack and it's back to the top of the tower for another go. A sojourn off the side of the stage instantly sends you straight back to the start.
Helpful green balls reside on some blocks, however, that can prevent a premature end to your efforts. Grasping one bumps you back up an evolutionary stage, and if you're already in full-powered Slinky form you temporarily transform into a much more impressive toy plane or UFO, rising above the play field for a quick soar and some easy points.
The diagonally-placed blocks force you to think slightly ahead; if you want to get to a certain place, you need to have moved into an appropriate position a step or two ahead of time, as you can't hop sideways on the same level of the structure. It's a clever set up, and it soon becomes second nature. Once you get more confident, you can also move Goony faster by holding down a directional button for longer.
The scrolling speed increases gradually the more you play, so survival becomes more difficult with each passing moment. The ground becomes more irregular too, the wide paths narrowing into tiny bridges of blocks that have to be navigated carefully. Combined with ever-more enemies, Goony can get tough after those first few hundred points; because attempts usually only last a short while, it's extremely easy to have half a dozen more goes than you originally intended. It's challenging but doesn't feel particularly unbalanced; it's simple to pick up and swift to encourage you to play again.
In fact, more than anything it sometimes feels as if you're being given a slightly unfair advantage. By collecting the coins that litter the field, you earn the chance to get a boost at the beginning of a new go. We've not figured out the exact science of this, as the number of coins you've collected is never displayed, but from what we can gather, if you grab ten or more shiny discs before perishing you get a jump start that chucks you partway down the hill in a golden boulder. This kickstarts your scoring, and it seems that you're flung forward much further if you've collected loads of coins in your previous turn. We've seen ourselves lobbed hundreds of points into the fray after a successful prior attempt.
It's a mechanic that at once feels slightly cheap but also rather satisfying. You're essentially rewarded for doing well in the immediate past, and to be awarded a few hundred points immediately also helps soften the blow when you've just slumped off the edge of the map at the frantic 900 point mark. It's a smart tactic that sneakily pokes at you to play more, but we wish it was a bit more transparent or could be disabled to ensure a consistent challenge – there's clearly some logic behind it somewhere, but it comes across as random.
Your current score is displayed in the top left corner of the screen, while the overall high score is shown in the top right. There are no leaderboards, so there's only a single score ever saved; it's disappointing, but sufficient for a game that's all about quick, short play sessions. To further that goal, there's not even a traditional title screen; there's an ever-present static image with the title, artwork and company information on the top screen, but as soon as the game is loaded you can press the D-Pad and get started right away. Such a straightforward approach is a pleasant surprise.
Developer Moragami goes above and beyond what we'd expect of a budget endless runner in its implementation of a couple of lesser-used DSiWare features. You can take an in-game screenshot at any time with a click of the Select button, which is then saved to the SD card as a .bmp file and can thus be transferred to your computer and shared with the whole wide world.
Then there's a block customisation tool that lets you paint the ground however you see fit; it's an entirely aesthetic feature that adds nothing to the gameplay, but it's nice to see all the same. You can paint all three visible sides of the cubes individually, or wipe out the boundaries of the blocks altogether to make the play area appear more flat, though this doesn't affect play at all; you still move in the same way. It's possible to pause and adjust the ground mid-game, and with 24 save spaces for blocks there's plenty of room for experimentation.
Impressively, each creation generates a QR code that can be saved to the SD card as a .bmp and .avi file. Send it out onto the internet at large and others can scan the code and receive your brick design in their game. We suspect there may be some unfortunate region locking at play, however, as we tried scanning some from our forums and received errors in return. We were able to successfully make our own, copy to PC and re-scan back into our game, though.
There's also a splitscreen multiplayer race mode that's a heap of fun. Two players use a single console, one taking command of the D-Pad and the left side of the bottom screen, the other controlling their own Goony on the right side of the screen with the Y and A face buttons. The aim is simple: charge to the finish line as quickly as possible.
There are no enemies or coins, but as you play more the courses do randomise, becoming tighter and more difficult. If you fall off the edges, you respawn where you fell and carry on, the race only ending when one person has reached the bottom. It boils down to whoever can keep up a fast pace consistently, and we enjoyed the frantic pace quite a lot. The game tracks number of wins per player on each side of the screen, but there's no centralised record screen, much like the solo mode, nor different rules to play with.
Arcade games are clearly a big inspiration for Goony: the visuals, down to big-eyed characters, resemble coin-op titles, albeit through an Amiga filter. The backgrounds are bland and enemy animation is poor, but Goony's movement is smooth. Where the presentation really shines is the music – it's a single brilliant track, a jazzy, old-school arcade-style ditty that loops endlessly and bores into your mind.
Goony borrows level layout ideas from Q*bert and combines them with the addictive nature of endless runners, resulting in a somewhat unique entry in the genre. The inclusion of block editing, screenshot and QR code functions is welcome, while the multiplayer mode is a great way to pass a few minutes. It's perhaps slightly too simple to keep you involved for more than twenty minutes at a time, its score saving is limited and there's little to no explanation of some of its mechanics, but as an easy to access pick up and play title, Goony is a success.
Update: A patch has been released for Goony since release. This has changed the game in the following ways:
- If you have installed the game before the update, you will need to delete and re-download it to use the multiplayer mode.
- QR codes are no longer region locked.
- The coin system has been made more transparent; numbers count down every ten coins that you collect.
- Life is now restored whenever you collect ten coins; the green balls have been removed.
- Small obstacles, such as oil spills that slow you down, have been added.
- Minor presentation changes; the music and some animations have been updated.