With Christmas just around the corner, many a Nintendo gamer is perhaps asking "what should I buy?" Alas, there isn't a whole lot to look forward to in terms of new releases, so in this series we'll be spotlighting a menagerie of quality indie games that have shown up on the eShop over the years. In this edition, Mitch Vogel will be taking a look at Runbow, which recently got a physical release with Runbow Deluxe.
I'll admit, while I've deeply enjoyed the library of quality games on the Wii U, it has somewhat desensitized me to platformers. Games like New Super Mario Bros. U, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Yoshi's Woolly World and many more have all delivered wonderful experiences that are positively top of their class, but it's also led to inevitable fatigue. As a result, I never gave Runbow much of a look when it initially came out, as it didn't seem like anything mind-blowing at the outset. I ignored all the positive reactions and great press and simply ignored it. Now that I've picked it up nearly two years after release, I've come to realize that this is one of the greatest multiplayer games in the Wii U's library.
See, Runbow's biggest draw is how it perfectly manages to offer up a diverse experience of varying ideas and difficulty levels at a rapid fire pace. Is a level too hard to beat in single player? Just play some other levels and go around it. Lose to your buddy in Arena? You'll be playing another round before you have time to dwell on it. I was mildly reminded of WarioWare as I worked my way through the various modes and levels; it throws a lot at you at once and then it's over nearly as soon as it's started. Maybe it's just me, but I feel that platformers are better suited to this 30-second burst kind of gameplay. Rather than waiting for a window of opportunity or taking time to painstakingly search for collectables, you just simply react to what's immediately in front of you and hope that you made the right call. It's exciting and keeps you on your toes as you're always battling the clock, whether alone or with friends.
But perhaps the most impressive part of the game is its treatment of death. Make no mistake, Runbow is a hard game in many places, but it treats death as a method of progression instead of a barrier to it. In most other platformers, you often have to redo several portions of a stage just to get another shot at the part that you messed up, and this can get frustrating through repeated attempts. Runbow manages to sidestep this, however, with its quickfire stage design. When the whole stage itself lasts only thirty to forty seconds, it's not such a tall order to get back to where you were and try again. Because of this, the stages can be made more challenging without any detriment to your overall enjoyment. It's difficult, but fair, and it molds you into the player that you need to be in order to triumph over the game's toughest challenges. Also, getting roasted by the snarky comments on the loading screen after each death can be pretty funny, and it motivates you to be a better player.
I've been rather disappointed, though, that the online scene has all but dried up. There's no better feeling then stomping others with your freshly acquired Runbow skills in a heated competition, but it's rather difficult to assemble a group of eight other individuals who are interested in playing for a few hours all at once. This is where online should come in, but I haven't for the life of me managed to get into a multiplayer game yet in any of the modes aside from the vanilla Run Mode. This isn't strictly the fault of 13AM Games, but it does make me wish that I jumped in earlier when the fanbase was more lively in this regard.
Playing with friends does easily make up for the dead online, however, and this has quickly become a go-to for game nights with friends. Runbow manages to strike that beautiful zone of having a high skill ceiling and a low barrier to entry; anybody can play it and it takes quite a while to master. I've already seen Runbow's ability to reel in people that wouldn't consider themselves to be much into playing video games, and I'm quite looking forward to bringing this home and introducing it to my family over the holidays; this is the kind of thing that I can see becoming a lovely way to bond on the evenings.
Overall, I've been very impressed with Runbow and appreciated my time with it thus far. The colour swapping gameplay gets a surprising amount of creative mileage in the level design, and I didn't expect to get so wrapped up in the single player campaign. Still, the true fun comes out when playing with others, which can be unfortunately difficult to do if you're trying to play online nowadays. That being said, local play is generally more fun anyway and this is couch multiplayer at its finest when you've got a full squad of nine players on board and actively invested. Runbow is my favourite indie game on the eShop since Shovel Knight (who coincidentally makes a cameo here), and I would say that it's definitely worth a look for anyone who's looking for a platformer that does something a little different.
Now, we'd like to hear from you. What are your thoughts on Runbow? Do you still play it regularly? What's another indie game you'd like to see in this series? Share your thoughts in the comments below.