The endless runners subgenre – which includes games like Canabalt and Jetpack Joyride - has exploded onto the gaming scene over the last few years. These titles hearken back to an earlier era of gaming when winning was all about besting your friend’s high score, typically because the game had no ending. Development studio Glass Bottom Games is trying their hand at this formula with the release of Jones On Fire for iOS devices. While it borrows heavily from its predecessors, this new incarnation does just enough differently to make it worth a go for veterans of this style of game.
For those unfamiliar with the subgenre, endless runners (also called auto runners) typically start off with the main character running/flying/racing across a 2D scene. The player has no control over the ability to stop or slow down. Instead, the main objective is stay alive by dodging obstacles and projectiles. In the case of Jones On Fire, our hero Jones is a firefighter outrunning a raging fire. Trip over a fallen tree or land in a burning patch, and an onrushing wall of fire begins its pursuit. Avoid making another mistake for a brief time and the inferno goes away, restoring the chaos to its normal levels. The player is initially capable of jumping over objects on the ground and doing a running slide under obstacles perched just above. There’s a side objective of collecting kittens that are scattered throughout the levels and can be redeemed in the in-game store, but more on that later.
There are some key design choices where Jones On Fire is able to separate itself from other comparable games. For one, it’s not a true endless runner in the traditional sense. Instead of one long run, the action is broken up into separate runs, giving the player a much-needed respite. Each run ups the difficulty or “hazard level” by mixing in jumps and slides more frequently, but offsets the risk by rewarding higher score multipliers for collected kittens. Another big difference is instead of a sudden-death scenario, the player can actually take more than one hit before dying.
As mentioned before, players rescue kittens in both standard and golden varieties. In between rounds, these can be redeemed for a wide variety of helpful items broken down into a few categories. The “Abilities” open up new actions for the player to perform during their runs. “Pickups” introduce a permanent change to the game like random medkit drops that restore health. “Super Boosters” are one-time-use items like a dose of catnip to automatically attract kittens during the next run. We’ve seen pretty much the same system with Jetpack Joyride where there’s a side goal of collecting coins to buy powerups. Here, however, each item also has multiple, purchasable ranks that increase the potency of the upgrade, but also exponentially increase in price. As with Jetpack, there are also bonus goals that reward the player with extra currency for achieving certain milestones.
If there’s one thing that Jones On Fire really has going for it, it’s the “cute factor”. The developers really pushed the saving kitties theme, and it’s difficult for even the toughest man-dude to not get drawn in by the mewing kittens as they are collected and create a trail behind Jones. Although the game is played in 2D, most of the characters and objects have a charming, voxel appearance which helps distinguish the game from its more spritely-looking counterparts. The music manages to be both whimsical and intense, but fits the feel of the game perfectly. My biggest complaint with those presentation elements is in the lack of variety. I made it to Level 7, but the music only changed once and the background remained the same the entire time. Not that players will really have time to sit back and enjoy the scenery, but it can make repeated playthroughs a bit of a stagnant experience after awhile.
The gut reaction to seeing a game like Jones On Fire is to outright dismiss it or chastise it for being a clone. That would be shortsighted. It certainly borrows too many design cues from market leaders for it be an original experience, and that factors heavily into the overall review score below. The elements it does take, though, are some of my favorites in those other games. The unique tweaks that Glass Bottom Games has made turn Jones On Fire into even more of a family-friendly title that’s likely to appeal to a wide audience that isn’t yet burnt out on the endless runner subgenre. It’s a clone, to be sure, but in my eyes it’s still an entertaining one. And because it’s free, I’d definitely recommend everyone at least try it out.
Although this review covered the iOS version, the developers are also working on an Android port. This game was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer for that purpose.
© 2013, The Indie Mine. All rights reserved.