I’ve decided to preface this review of Runbow with a short, but important note. It’s one that may be irrelevant by the time you read this. The game desperately needs patching. Several times during play, the game crashed, forcing a restart. Once or twice is maybe acceptable, but after a few days of playing, it had reached double digits. What’s worse is that upon completion of the adventure mode, the game crashed during the ending cutscene. Twice.
With that said, Runbow is an intriguing experience, littered with increasing difficulty and a plethora of multiplayer opportunities. The idea is always simple; reach the trophy at the end of the level. But the concept brings depth, because the platforms you’ll be jumping onto and some of the obstacles that you’ll be avoiding are coloured in pastel hues. Constantly, throughout the levels, the background with change colour and when background and platform match, it will vanish.
Let’s say the background is about to change to orange – this could be on a timer, which asks you to quickly memorise the pattern, or it may be a scrolling rainbow to keep you on your toes – and let’s say you want to jump onto the platform ahead, but it’s also orange. You have several options, either move quickly, before the two matches up or you could wait for the orange background to pass and become, let’s say, blue, which allows the orange platform to stay solid. You could also try to travel further, to maybe a red platform which is further on. This can be done by using the dash move which adds a boost of speed and distance to the second movement of your double jump.
So, this complexity morphs and changes throughout the game. Sometimes it’s not the platforms which disappear, it might be a bubble around enemies, meaning you can only attack them when that bubble vanishes as the background lines up. There may be a laser which blocks your path, but it will end as the hue changes to grey. You can take your time with these levels, but then you’ll sacrifice medals of which you can be awarded three for beating the best par time. Admittedly, if you aren’t that interested in unlocking new characters and artwork, then you might be best to take your time.
However, the game comes alive when played with haste. Because those vanishing platforms allow for amusing moments or clutch time saves. Of course, they could also see your character plunge to its death and force a restart. Which is where the game becomes frustrating, but not from unfair mechanics, simply by offering a challenge. When playing the adventure, you choose levels on a grid, making your way to the corners to fight against the boss. Each square you complete opens those around and the levels are colour coded for difficulty. You might open only red stages which are too hard for you, so can track back and try a different colour, but it will take you longer to reach the boss level.
Playing fast is also good practice for multiplayer, where the skill is prioritised. You can race other players to the end of levels, holding ground with swift movement and fighting skills – the dash button doubles as a punch or a downward stomp. Played with others, either online or on the couch, Runbow becomes a frantic competition of laughs and jeers. And, although it’s a small design choice, the characters each stand out because they can be fully customised through colours and hats, ensuring that the melee never hides your hero. Helpful when up to twelve players can join in.
In addition to this, characters from other indie games pop up and make an appearance which is a lovely touch. They don’t bring any special moves with them, but it’s nice to play as Commander Video from Bit.Trip or Gunvolt and unlocking them adds another layer to progression. However, no amount of fan service can forgive certain flaws within the game.
The dash movement is sometimes scatty, pushing you to places you didn’t intend. There were many times my avatar would become stuck on a ledge, forcing the only movement to be into spikes or water, which caused an annoying restart. The idea of mapping the attack and dash to the same button is a bizarre choice and, while it isn’t the fault of the developers, loading into an online game and only finding one or two opponents really sucks any joy out of the experience – although playing with others over the internet is very smooth.
Runbow has the potential to be an outstanding game. A few patches here and there will help it along the way and should a community begin to emerge, then online play will be a chaotic joy. The central idea is incredibly clever and forces some crazy moments of action which can be found in a vast number of game modes. Even with the few flaws, it’s a great game, but the patch to stop game crashing needs to come soon, because a crash meaning replaying a tough level is enough to make some just uninstall the game entirely.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Headup Games