Runbow Review — Giving Platformers a Fresh Coat of Color (PS4)
Developed by 13 AM Games, Runbow is a party platformer originally jumped onto the Wii U back in 2015. Since then, its gotten new life by being ported over to multiple platforms. Finally, it has made its way over to PS4.
Personally, I missed this game the first time around. I’ve seen it played before and have even had a controller passed to me, as I was invited to join in on this massive (up to) nine-player adventure. Honestly, I bounced off this game pretty quickly at first, dying way too early to even get a feel for what it had to offer. So when I picked up my DualShock, I wasn’t sure that I’d get on the hype train everyone around me seemed to have boarded years ago.
Runbow mixes the chaos of party games, with the urgency of racing games, with the patient precision of platformers to create one unique experience. Or rather, five unique experiences, as there are multiple game modes for players to choose from. But regardless of the mode you’re playing in, the main premise of the game still applies. It’s all about color.
The background color of any level or stage is constantly changing, sweeping horizontally (or sometimes vertically) across the screen. This gives players a second to see what color is coming next and prepare accordingly. Awareness of these color changes is crucial, because many of the platforms and obstacles in the world are color coated. For example, when the background color becomes blue, all blue platforms/obstacles are no longer visible. If you can’t see it, it “doesn’t exist.” Therein lies the challenge of executing jumps, defeating enemies, and avoiding danger.
But for all the challenges you’ll encounter, there’s a lot of lighthearted fun to balance it out, from a majority of the level names being pun based to the fact that you get to play as characters from well known indie games. Runbow does a great job at making itself inviting, even though a snide comment pops up on screen every time you die. And even that is balanced by the praise that appears after each of your successes.
Platforming Runs Wild
One of Runbow’s key attributes is just how massive things can become, with up to nine players on screen in local or online multiplayer. While every mode can be played with up to nine players, the Adventure mode and the Behemoth mode both work perfectly well as single player experiences. The game modes are as follows:
Adventure mode serves as the main campaign, in which players are presented with 140 levels. Your goal is to stop Satura, the evil femme fatale, once and for all. You’re given basically no narrative to flesh out this concept but that’s fine; this is definitely a title where the gameplay is all that matters. Each level represents a piece of a poster and your goal is to complete all four posters. At the end of each level, you’re rewarded with 1-3 ribbons based on your time; 20 seconds or less gives you three ribbons, 30 seconds or less gives you two ribbons, and any other time gives you one ribbon. This gives completionist players something to go back to.
As far as platforming, Runbow utilizes the double jump and allows players to execute an upward punch for additional air-time. When enemies or other players are on-screen, you can punch them to accomplish your goal or just troll during a co-operative experience.
The biggest drawback to Adventure mode is that it gets a little repetitive. To the game’s credit, however, there’s a lot done design-wise to mitigate player boredom. Each level is framed as a “challenge,” with different goals. Sometimes a level is just about reaching the end and touching the trophy. Other times levels ask you to defeat a certain amount of enemies on screen or grab ten coins, scattered throughout the environment. In addition to being given different tasks to accomplish, each level offers its own unique flavor of gameplay, such as introducing spikes, lasers, auto-scrolling moments, etc.
One of my favorite ways they varied the gameplay was during the Constant Cave Ins level in which colored spikes would crush you. The trick there was to align yourself with the rainbow of color that continuously moved on screen. This was a nice change of pace compared to the usual experience of having just one color to keep track of at all times.
For those who love hard platforming Bowhemoth mode is an uninterrupted gauntlet of the game’s toughest levels. Your goal is to get through it and try to get the best record possible (in terms lives or speed).
There are a few moments involving enemies, throughout the game, that felt poorly executed. Jumping on enemies heads is clean and creates a fun bounce for your character. But punching enemies always felt sort of sloppy, and I was never sure if I was just bad at it or it was a hitbox issue. Normally, this didn’t detract from my experience, but there was at least one level where punching was required, and it made it a pain to get through. On a similar note, I experienced a few glitches during the multiplayer specific modes in which my character got stuck on an object in the game.
The other game modes can technically be played alone but, since they’re competitive in nature, unofficially require some friends. These serve as fun mini-games where players are trying to defeat or outlast their opponents. In Run mode, you’re trying to be the first to reach the trophy at the end of a level. For Arena mode, your goal is to be the last man standing in a stage. And King of the Hill is all about controlling a single point within a stage. Each mode allows you to customize the situation, similar to setting up a tournament in Mario Kart. Players can tinker with the color palette, number of rounds, and so on. Also in the spirit of arcade racers, these game modes include a variety of items (if you choose to play with items on) that add a bit of randomness to things and serve to even the odds for players that fall behind. The more players on screen, the quirkier and more chaotic things become, but I had a great time with simple two-player matches as well.
Of all the multiplayer specific modes, I found King of the Hill to be the dullest, as it just involves standing on a spot for a few seconds. It felt a lot more luck than skill based, but it might function well with more players in the mix. The other modes, however, were always a joy.
Gold at the End of the Runbow
After a while Runbow definitely becomes more of the same, but, to its credit, what it offers is inherently fun. The constantly changing colors are intimidating at first but I was shocked at how quickly it became intuitive. There are a lot of good platformers out there, but what makes this unique is the fact that levels aren’t difficult in their design, specifically. Instead, the challenge comes from your own ability to quickly think about the shifting environment and plan your next move. Runbow is about negotiating when to take your time and when to race into a rhythm. Sometimes it’s about being careful, but more often than not, Runbow is the platforming equivalent of double dutch—it takes skill but once you get in a groove you can pull off some spectacular things. And, much like double dutch, it’s a bit more fun when more people jump in. Whether you’re a casual gamer or a platforming veteran, you’ll find Runbow easy to pick up but hard to put down.
Runbow review copy provided by publisher. Played on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.