Runbow turned out to be something of a cult classic when it launched on Wii U back in 2015. Mixing a whole lot of colour, chaos, party-style fun, a generous amount of solo player content, and even a selection of favourite Nindie characters, the game was adored by those who played it and for good reason – it was brilliant. So is it still worth buying now that it’s made the jump to Switch? Of course, it is.
The premise of the game is simple, but it’s also one that’ll have you shouting out a whole manner of profanities that you never knew even existed. Your goal is to simply run across floors and platforms, safely making your way to an endpoint or goal of some sort, but this is made devilishly tricky by the game’s colour system. The background regularly cycles through different colours, and all platforms that match this colour will disappear until it changes again. It’s hard enough landing on every platform as it is, but now you have to keep an eye on the ever-changing scenery and plan your route ahead of time.
There are several different modes and ways to play Runbow, including crazy multiplayer options that support up to nine players, but let’s start off with the single-player stuff. For a game that, on the surface at least, looks like it’s clearly aimed at the multiplayer party audience, the single-player modes are full of content and are really good fun to boot.
The adventure mode is perhaps the best place to start, with a selection of levels available that task you with reaching the goal, defeating a certain number of enemies using basic combat controls, or collecting a number of objects. You’re assessed on your completion times and unlock more levels as you go, aiming to earn the maximum three medals for each stage you attempt. Some levels are tricky, but you should be able to reach the end with persistence and it’s a really enjoyable experience while it lasts.
There’s also a Bowhemoth mode – although we’d suggest leaving this until you feel incredibly confident in your Runbow skills. This mode challenges you with multiple rooms of particularly fiddly platforming and colour schemes, and in a terrifying twist, it doesn’t ever let you save your progress; if you need a break or quit out of frustration, you’ll be thrown right back to the start the next time you load it up. It’s not for the faint of heart, but the rewarding feeling of beating it is naturally one of great jubilation and pride.
While the gameplay itself is great, it’s actually perhaps the game’s personality that really shines through here. Everything is presented with an incredibly high level of polish, with sleek menus, a fantastic, scarily catchy soundtrack, and an always-beautiful display across all gameplay modes - and the game even acts like it has a mind of its own. When you inevitably fall to your doom, the quick respawn loading screen will taunt you with messages like, "Imagine winning," and, “Well that was anti-climactic,” which often had us chuckling away even as we failed.
The multiplayer options are split into ‘Run’, ‘Arena’, and ‘King of the Hill’, all offering slight variances on the standard gameplay. Run has you running from a starting point to a goal, Arena encourages players to punch each other around in the hopes of being the last one standing, and King of the Hill makes players fight over one particular spot on the map, aiming to take command there for a set amount of time.
In local multiplayer, these modes all support up to eight players, and this extends to nine if you play online. As you can probably imagine, the more players you have, the more hectic things get; having nine of you sprinting around, desperately trying to avoid being punched while monitoring the colours of platforms is arguably even more hectic than a full eight-player game of Super Smash Bros. – and that’s saying something!
The multiplayer side to the game is undoubtedly fun, but there are a few things that left us a little underwhelmed at times. Firstly, there’s no option to add in AI characters, so if you can only gather three people to play that’s all you’ll ever be able to experience without joining unpredictable online players (the online Runbow scene on Wii U often saw players drop out if they weren’t winning). Also, it won’t take long until you find yourself replaying all the same stages, and knowing the exact layout of a run takes something away from the madness.
These are relatively little niggles in what is otherwise a sublime experience, but they’re worth noting for those of you who will primarily play this alone or with just a couple of friends. Unfortunately, due to the fact that it relied so heavily on the Wii U’s GamePad, the ‘ColourMaster’ mode is also missing from this edition. This mode was a Nintendo Land-like affair where the GamePad player caused chaos for those playing with Wii Remotes and it’s sad to see it go.
Returning to Runbow’s strong points, though, we couldn’t help but mention the awesome character roster and unlockables. As well as the game’s own mascots, you can choose from a cast of Nindie heroes including Shovel Knight, Rusty from SteamWorld Dig, Juan and Tostada from Guacamelee!, Max from Mutant Mudds, Commander Video from Bit.Trip Runner, Shantae from Shantae: Half-Genie Hero and more, and unlocking all of these is a joy. The unlock requirements are visible from a ‘Gallery’ option on the main menu, but you never know who you’ll unlock for your hard work. The challenges are good fun to complete, and the whole process acts like a Nindie version of early Smash Bros. games.
Runbow is a great example of a party game that can cater to solo and multiplayer preferences alike, and almost certainly deserves a cheeky purchase on Switch. The gameplay is great fun, the presentation is to die for, and unlocking Nindie heroes through a really nicely put together adventure mode is the icing on the cake. We felt there was a little left to be desired with some elements of the multiplayer modes, and this might just make some think a little harder before jumping in, but we absolutely recommend giving this one a go if you’re interested regardless.