Short Takes: Runbow (Wii U) - Colorful, Clever, And Very Challenging!
What do you get when you take a platforming game and blend it with racing and melee combat? Well, if you toss a box of crayons into that blender as well then you get a delicious smoothie called Runbow. As the newest offering from Toronto-based developer 13AM Games, Runbow is an interesting mix indeed. Not only does it offer fast-paced prismatic platforming and colorful combat, but it also supports an unprecedented 9 players locally or online. (Of course, if you want to have a full complement of nine players in local play, you have to utilize four Wiimotes connected to Nunchucks or Classic Controllers. Runbow cleverly utilizes this setup to turn what is normally a single-player controller — a Wiimote connected to a Nunchuck or Classic Controller — into a two-player one.)
When you play Runbow, you run, jump, and punch your way through dozens of frantic platforming levels in a race to the finish. As you traverse each level, the background changes color every few seconds, which effectively alters the level around you. There are many platforms and walls of various colors that will appear or disappear based on the level's current pigmentation. For example, if you see a red platform and the background turns red, then that platform no longer exists. This constant rotation of hues will require you to react quickly and even change up your jumps on the fly if you want to survive to the end of the level. Add to this the fact that there are eight other players vying for first place and you have the recipe for some very frantic and fun gameplay.
I was surprised at the variety of game modes that Runbow has to offer. When playing online you can choose either Run, Arena, or King of the Hill. Run is the standard race mode; get to the end of the course before the other players while avoiding their attacks, as well as various hazards and enemies along the way. In Arena mode, you just have to be the last one standing; try to knock your opponents off the stage while evading their attempts to do the same to you. King of the Hill presents a different challenge, as your goal is to seize a control point — represented by a crown — for 7 seconds without being knocked off. Each multiplayer mode also presents you with collectible temporary power-ups which can either help you or hinder other players. For example, you might pick up an item that causes you to swap places with another player on the map. This can be extremely helpful in a race if you are deposited into first place, but be warned: the inverse is a possibility as well!
In addition to the aforementioned game modes, there is another mode called Colour Master that can only be played locally. In this mode, one player uses the Wii U Gamepad, and up to eight others play on the TV in a standard race. When playing as the Colour Master, your goal is to prevent the racers from finishing. This can be accomplished by means of a variety of tricks and traps at your disposal. For example, you can lay bombs to stun the racers temporarily, or place splotches of paint to obscure the colored platforms. Each time you use one of these abilities you must wait for it to recharge before it can be used again. If just one racer makes it to the finish, then the racing team wins.
If you're worried that Runbow has nothing to offer solo players, fear not. There are two more game modes I've yet to mention: Adventure and Bowhemoth. Both of these game modes can optionally be experienced with multiple players, but I've found them to be just as enjoyable unaccompanied. In Adventure mode, you run and jump your way through as many as 144 levels which are laid out in a 12x12 grid. When you complete each level, you unlock the adjacent levels as you work your way towards the boss levels in each corner. The Adventure levels vary in difficulty, as indicated by the color of the box on the grid (either green, yellow, or red). You can either choose to methodically clear each level in order, or just make a beeline for the endgame.
If you're in the market for an even greater challenge, then the Bowhemoth is right up your alley. In Bowhemoth mode, you are swallowed by a giant monster and have to work your way through several intensely difficult platforming segments in order to escape. The game keeps track of your completion time and death count, so there is motivation to go back and improve your score. My first successful Bowhemoth attempt lasted 28 minutes with 86 deaths.
One of the most notable features of Runbow is the character roster. In addition to the original characters, Hue and Val — who can be outfitted with dozens of unlockable costumes — the game sports a bevy of recognizable mascots from some of the most popular indie games of the last few years. Among the unlockable avatars are Shovel Knight, Juan & Tostada from Guacamelee!, Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series, and many more. All of these characters control pretty much the same way, but each one has a unique taunt. Even if it's just a change of skin, I appreciated having such a diverse roster of characters from games that I love.
Should You Play It?
If you do decide to purchase Runbow — which I can heartily recommend — make sure you download the game onto your Wii U system memory, as opposed to an external storage device. I had issues with the frame rate when the game was on my USB hard drive. Many times, the screen would freeze or stutter and cause me to die. The developers told me via Twitter that this was a known issue that they are working on, but in the mean time they recommended keeping the game on the system's memory, as it will run much smoother. Needless to say, they were right.
In conclusion, I've been enjoying my time with Runbow and I believe that you will too. The game is unique, clever, and very challenging. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a date with the Bowhemoth.