January 20, 2019 at 8:37 PM #1398
Rating: 3.5 – Good
Fast-Paced Party Chaos
This review was written on January 3, 2018 for Version 188.8.131.52 of Speedrunners for the Xbox One
I’ve always maintained that racing games excel at two things: providing metered adrenaline rushes and straining long standing friendships. After the three count, anything goes: sabotage, deception, and betrayal are par for the course, as long as you’re the first one to cross the finish line. Thus, a well-designed racing game should be able to mirror a racer’s skills and ability to keep a lead over his opponents, and Speedrunners answers this call with moderate success.
Speedrunners is a 2D platforming game that takes place in a highly stylized comic-book city where speed rules the streets. The goal of the game is simple: run fast and keep the lead long enough for your opponents to disappear off-screen and get eliminated. Up to four players race against each other, taking obstacles and turns at high speeds and tearing each other down with an arsenal of items and gadgets, all while wrestling with dynamic maps and screen effects designed to distract racers in their heated competition. As the race goes on, the visible portion of the screen begins to shrink, boxing the remaining racers in closely and reducing the margin of error until a winner is decided.
Each race starts with all four players spawned next to each other. When the race begins, players must figure out how to most effectively traverse the game’s circular maps, each of varying complexity. Though the general route of the maps remains fundamentally unchanged for the duration of the race, small pathing details and interactive map elements force players to remain aware of possible changing conditions. Switch-activated trapdoors might open shortcuts or bar other players from a convenient pathway, or expose spike pits to inconvenience opponents
Runners are armed with a few baseline tools to help them maneuver around each map. The grappling hook can grip certain white ceiling tiles and is used to propel runners through the air or swing over map obstacles. A slide-tackle move is useful for dodging items and run through waist-height gaps that lead to otherwise inaccessible paths. Finally, a speed boost lets runners accelerate as long as they have charge in their bar, which can be filled at specific points on the map.
At its core, Speedrunners is built around the central mechanic of gaining and maintaining momentum. Aside from helping players navigate through the game’s racing courses or passing by opponents, each of these tools assists in achieving what the game refers to as "Super Speed," where a runner’s locomotion becomes vastly enhanced to the point where they can easily overtake other players in mere seconds. Entering Super Speed requires skill and coordination because players must make use of the grappling hook, slide, and speed boost in association with map knowledge and quick reaction timing in order to make the most out of their momentum. For example: grappling around a tight corner eliminates having to slow down and turn; sliding down an incline grants more momentum than simply running; and speed boosting mid-air might grant access to shortcuts or alternate pathways.
However, certain elements of Speedrunner’s design seem to sometimes stifle the sense of speed and authority it should be promoting. The game sometimes seems to punish skillful play by granting advantages to trailing players while disadvantaging the leader. If the gap between the leader and whoever is in last is too large, the camera will center itself to see all of the racers, meaning first place will be unable to see what they’re running towards. This gives them less time to react to dynamic map elements, so even if they possess good map knowledge, they can still get tripped by factors completely out of their hands. Powerful offensive items like rockets, fireballs, and player-seeking Golden Hooks are handed out to everybody except the leader, who’ll usually end up with feeble or outright ignorable defensive items like crates or force fields. I don’t have a problem with leverage mechanics per se, but in a game that emphasizes perfection and mastery of execution, it seems contradictory to punish the leader as hard as Speedrunners does.
Altogether, Speedrunners is a terrifically satisfying party game, but not too much else. The game’s shoehorned story mode is something that can be safely ignored, and the ranked competitive ladder only invites all sorts of scummy game tactics. Speedrunners performs its best when played with a group of friends – local or online – where tensions can run high, voices can wake up neighbors, and salt can flow freely. Issues of leader stymieing mechanics are more easily forgiven in a comfortable environment like a lobby with friends, and you really can’t beat the satisfaction of landing a well timed Golden Hook and screwing a buddy up. Finally, the near-absence of randomness from any of the game’s mechanics is always welcome, adding a cherry on top of an already neat little package.
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