'Runner' games similar to the likes of Bit.Trip Runner have been a popular choice for quite some time now. Popularised by mobile titles and best enjoyed for their addictive "one more try" gameplay, the genre often strips the medium down to its very basics - just one button to press and a top score to aim for. With something so straightforward, it's absolutely crucial that there's a balance between practice and reward, where the game offers a strong challenge but never feels unfair.
Enter Run Run and Die, a new arrival on the Wii U eShop that instantly displays "Prepare to die" on the title screen upon startup. This phrase - borrowed from Dark Souls - is entirely justified, as the game delights in killing you over and over again, displaying death counters so you can keep track of your failures. It's only 24 levels long, but the average player will meet with serious adversity before they even reach the double-digits.
Like a Pixar movie gone wrong, Run Run and Die puts the player in the flippers of an adorable little penguin...being brutally experimented on in the dark depths of a mysterious laboratory. A sudden explosion eventually frees our chubby hero, who must now waddle his way to safety while being carefully watched by the villainous Mimi. "Who's that? What's going on here?" Those questions are answered through brief comic-style cutscenes that play between levels, as you move from the basement through the rest of the facility.
While you couldn't really label this particular runner as a casual experience, it's certainly something that's easy to pick up and play, as you'll only ever need to use the 'A' button to progress. The penguin runs automatically, navigating around complex 3D mazes on a set path, so all you need to worry about is timing your jumps to avoid various deathtraps along the way. As you advance the camera angle will frequently change to represent a different security feed, giving the player a fresh perspective on the level. It's a fitting and clever gimmick, given the unseen omnipotence of Mimi as she watches on, and plays into some clever graphical tricks for certain levels later into the game.
You're told early on to avoid absolutely everything that's coloured red. Red is death. Ranging from whirling fanblades to buzzsaws, dalek-knockoffs and beyond, the timing required to jump these obstacles is often incredibly precise and requires split-second precision. On top of this, there are golden orbs to collect which add a semi-optional extra goal to complete. Your fragile penguin can only survive one hit before having to restart the level, and without a choice of difficulty settings this means that you'll need to nail a run in one go before moving on.
What seems so simple to begin with quickly builds into a test of patience and determination after only a handful of levels. For a while we doubted ourselves, wondering if our platforming skills were just a bit rusty, but the more we played and the further we got, the scales seemed purposefully tipped in the wrong direction. Run Run and Die is a very difficult game indeed - and we're always glad to see titles on Nintendo consoles with real bite - but without crucial balance everything goes off the rails. It simply doesn't play fair, and that's something to keep in mind before diving in.
Those frequent camera changes may present a unique challenge as your view switches around the room, but the total disorientation will consistently leave you feeling one step behind the game. You could be rounding a corner, for example, when the camera changes position and a wall of spikes is suddenly dead ahead. Blind leaps of faith into pits that stretch off-screen are par for the course, forcing a sort of 'trial-and-error' mentality where you have no choice but to memorise levels in order to complete them. There are far too many moments where you have no time to prepare for what's ahead, and it feels like this artifical difficulty was implemented to inspire those 'hilarious' moments of sudden rage that are so popular with online let's-plays.
Since you're unable to change the speed of your character and need to follow a set path, bouncing off walls is the only way to change direction and grab a few optional orbs if so inclined. The rest of the time you're left to wonder what you're meant to be looking out for and attempt to time jumps that lead into areas you can't even see yet. There are actually levels that start off with an instant deathtrap unless you immediately jump, which just reinforces the mentality here - the game wants you to die as often and as cheaply as possible. Making it to the end is a grudge match that many won't have the time or the energy for, especially when there aren't any substantial changes to the gameplay to look forward to.
Its cartoon visuals and frantic soundtrack, occasionally (and unfortunately...) punctuated by the screeching laugh of Mimi herself, set up a maniacal atmosphere comparable to a fever dream. Some of our favourite levels scale things back a bit, emulating older consoles like the Virtual Boy and Game Boy with red and green visuals to match. A few of these enjoyable levels actually take place entirely in 2D, which only serves to emphasise how misguided the typical three-dimensional camera is at some points.
The GamePad can be used for off-screen play, and actually turns its own screen off when using the television anyway. There aren't any bonus modes or much incentive to replay older levels other than to collect any orbs you missed, but at a budget price masochists may still want to give this one a try. Just know that it's not going to be an even fight.
Run Run and Die may look deceptively cute, but with a title like that we suppose we've only got ourselves to blame for underestimating its difficulty. It doles out death by the bucket-load, but its major flaw is that it rarely makes it feel like the player's fault. The windows of timing are too narrow, the camera angles work against you, obstacles pop up out of nowhere and it all piles up into an extremely frustrating experience with little else to show for it. It's cheap, fast, and designed to make you angry. Sounds fun? Well, it's your funeral...