Sometimes a game comes at you and everything seems fully as you expect… almost. It looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. It’s definitely a duck. But then it moos a little and you’re forced to take a step back. That’s Shuttle Rush.
General gameplay here is very straightforward: this is a beat-the-clock platformer where you must reach the end of each level before time runs out. The reasoning for this setup is established in a quick backstory: your character is an intergalactic taxman who angers an alien ship when he comes to collect and snags his air hose while running for his life. Running out of time means you’ve run out of air, and seeing your character’s cheeks bulge as the last few seconds tick down does add that tiny dash of anxiety only the void of space can provide.
However, with all the pressure to make mad, twitchy dashes through each of the 40+ stages, Shuttle Rush throws in some quirks that force you to regularly pause for a think. Air machines are thrown into many stages and are most often necessary for adding enough time to reach the exit. Instinct might first dictate running to these machines as soon as possible, but there’s a catch: they need coins to operate, which are placed throughout the level. Each coin buys 4 precious extra seconds, which won’t mean much if you’re going too far out of your way to grab them.
Planning a route through the maze-like stages and deciding which coins to snare is important, and the GamePad provides a handy map to present your options as well as what doors a switch has opened. Exceptions come in some levels, such as when you’re racing a “boss” alien in addition to your own mortality. These stages are a bit more reaction-based without a map, and you’re out of luck if your opponent reaches a checkpoint first and closes the doors on you.
Playing Shuttle Rush, then, is a constant balance of extremes. You're not always twitchily throwing yourself at each stage. It's more a sense of dash, pause, think, dash, repeat. And repeat. Then repeat again. Stages can be quite challenging, even when it feels like things are figured out, and one can expect to fail multiple times before reaching the goal. There are no mid-stage checkpoints, so every stage will have to be run well enough as a whole to proceed.
Each stage has medals awarded for time, coins gathered, and not taking any time-wasting hits from patrolling enemies, but it’ll be enough of a challenge just getting through the first time. Gathering all the medals in each stage of a level will open up a bonus stage, which may give hardcore gamers plenty to keep pushing for. Online leaderboards certainly help in that respect, too.
Shuttle Rush has a nice, cartoony style on the surface, but its retro-style fittings sometimes come as a detriment. The backgrounds can sometimes not only look a bit dull, they can also blend a little with the platforms in the foreground. It’s not enough to make things unplayable by any means, but it can be annoying when trying to focus. The chiptune soundtrack does match the atmosphere well, though.
There’s plenty of frantic platforming in Shuttle Rush, but the way it also encourages taking a deep breath and forming a plan makes it stand out somewhat. Whether this hurry-up-and-think style is enough for players to want to repeatedly tackle its stages may depend, as that's practically the whole package, but those who love pushing themselves until they’ve finally beaten that one elusive challenge may find themselves playing until they’re blue in the face.