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Solid…For A Mobile Game

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    Race The Sun

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Solid…For A Mobile Game

    This review was written on December 22, 2018 for Version 1.00 of Race the Sun for the Xbox One

    The arcade games of yore specialized in a few avenues. They focused on one solid gameplay loop, and avoided extraneous bloating and mechanical complexity; they were fair to their players and rewarded skillful play; and they required intense perseverance to place on their leaderboards, a symbol of honor in any local arcade. Eventually, the endless runner genre emerged, which took the fight for new high scores and personal progress to new heights. The classic arcade style of rinse-and-repeat gameplay, while elevated, was soon associated with low effort shovelware littered with scummy monetization antics, and before long, a clear distinction could be drawn between classic arcade style games and endless runners. Race the Sun falls somewhere in between the two.

    Race the Sun is a simple game that revolves around one equally simple concept: stay out of the shadows and chase the eternally setting sun. You pilot a solar-operated craft and your only goal is to travel as far as possible, dodging obstacles and collecting powerups and score multipliers along the way. As long as you stay in the sunlight, your craft will keep cruising along. Spend too much time in the shadows, however, and your ship’s battery will drain, slowing your craft to a gradual halt and ending the run.

    The game employs a minimalist art style to poor effect, drenching the landscape and terrain in drab shades of white and gray that can make obstacles in the distance very difficult to see. This does make it easier to tell which parts of the ground lack sunlight, but I found myself crashing into obstacles more often than I failed from stalling. The only colorful part of the game is the sun, but its unfortunate position at the center of the screen means that, when it’s setting, it appears in front of you and can easily blind you.

    Appealing to the addictive qualities of games of a bygone era, Race the Sun shapes itself after classic arcade games. This means that the ultimate goal is playing well enough to crack the global leaderboard. Each day, the map changes completely to keep runs fresh and challenging. The game still encourages mastery of the course, but because the run is always changing from one day to the next, true mastery is never quite attainable. Instead, the emphasis seems to be on developing an understanding of the game’s physics and mechanics well enough to perform on a new map every day, completing quests and unlocking new parts for your ship.

    It’s within the game’s progression system that Race the Sun falters. It utilizes a system typical of endless runners – "complete x amount of challenges to advance to the next level" – and behind each level lies new perks for your ship. The right combination of perks can help improve a run significantly, but progressing far enough to unlock them can be aggravating. Some challenges require you to play in unconventional and debilitating ways, and others demand you to progress extremely far or collect an unreasonable amount of items in a single run. They can be fun at first, but failing to complete a challenge after a long run often left me feeling like I was wasting my time.

    To the game’s credit, the complete lack of monetization within the game itself is immensely telling of its intentions. This is meant to be a traditional high-score game, through and through. There’s no paying to get powerful upgrades, or watching ads to continue a botched run, or in-game stores and currency to grind towards permanent perks. Everybody plays on equal footing, and the highest spot on the leaderboard is handed only to those most deserving of it.

    Despite not being tailored to my personal preferences, I still managed to find enjoyment with Race the Sun. The frustrating moments of failing a run because of slow turning speed or hard to see obstacles were always compensated by the fact that, even when I wasn’t actively progressing, I was getting better and the game respected my time and my efforts. With practice, there’s nothing stopping me or anyone else from taking a spot on the leaderboard, which is truly and unfortunately a rare nugget of design philosophy in an age of milking the consumer dry. Still, the dreadfully dull aesthetics and poor progression system hold the game back from true greatness, and the end result is essentially a mobile game released on a console.

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