The endless runner craze isn't about to end any time soon, and that's understandable. The genre offers an experience that is both suited to quick play sessions and unique every time you boot it up. The DSiWare service even received a rough equivalent in I Must Run!, and now the eShop has Rising Board 3D, an endless surfer.
The basic framework is the same: forced movement to the right, randomised obstacles, and bonus items to snag along the way. The only noticeable difference in the way the game is played is that the swell of the waves affects your movement somewhat, and you earn bonus points for style. All in all, it sounds great.
What's more, it looks great. Rising Board 3D has some absolutely stunning water effects. As we find ourselves saying so often when it comes to great 3DS visuals, screenshots simply don't do it justice. It has to be seen to be believed, and even then you're likely to remain in a state of permanent awe. The fact that the game maintains a sturdy framerate throughout is just icing on the cake. Rising Board 3D is gorgeous.
Sadly, it has some issues. For starters, the most obvious feature of the game — its randomised environment — is also its biggest liability. Levels can generate in such a way that avoiding obstacles is literally unavoidable, and in a game that features one-hit kills, that's a serious problem.
Surviving Rising Board 3D isn't a matter of skill; it's a matter of luck. That does not make for rewarding gameplay, and it can be quite frustrating when an otherwise great run is ended immediately by a landmass that spawned too large to be jumped over.
The developer seems to have been aware of this, because it gave our little penguin surfer the ability to flap his wings in order to slow descent. However it's still possible for land to spawn in such vast sprawls that no amount of flapping will carry you over. It gets very irritating very quickly, and that irritation is only compounded by the fact that you can steer north or south, but can never see what's there in advance. You might be hovering toward the safety of the open water, or you might be flying directly into a mountain. There's no way to tell, and that's both unfair and unnecessary; the touch screen is totally unused and could easily have displayed a map in abstract to help guide you to safety.
As you surf, you collect sun points. These can later be used to unlock additional boards from the shop, and while they do sometimes put a different spin on the game — such as making you faster or lighter — it doesn't offer much in the way of replay value. Additionally, the sun points are so plentiful and easy to grind for that it doesn't take any real skill to unlock things; it feels more like a chore.
In fact, instead of unlocking the boards it's best to upgrade what you already have, as doing so will allow you to survive up to three hits. That softens the blow of the randomised landscapes, certainly, but it just means your runs fail due to three impossible obstacles, as opposed to only one.
You're also able to perform tricks as you surf to earn style points. Flips are handled by the Circle Pad and the B button, while you rotate with Circle Pad and A. It's a nice way to increase your score, but the game only ever remembers the best score, and doesn't offer local leaderboards, or an ability to enter initials. This can make it difficult to keep scores straight when playing with friends, and it's also quite annoying that — much like SpeedX 3D — the game doesn't display the high score until after you've completed a level. For a score-attack game, it sure doesn't seem to care how well you do.
Touching certain power-ups allows you to take the form of another of your animal friends, such as a fish or a shark, but grabbing these is difficult, as they often appear near hazards and the game moves too quickly to give you much time to grab them. Doing so provides an interesting — and all too brief — diversion from the main game, which quickly becomes tedious but — to the credit of the presentation — never really loses its visual charm.
Make no mistake, Rising Board 3D can be fun, but unfortunately that fun is as randomised as its stages. Runs end far too easily, unavoidable obstacles or hazards clipping you from off-screen, and the lack of even local leaderboards means there's little incentive to better your score. Unlockable boards vary the gameplay a bit, but it's so easy to grind for sun points that earning them doesn't feel like much of an achievement. There are some great visuals and sound here, but Rising Board 3D features tropics best experienced by postcard.