I love it when games are designed well enough that you actually feel like the character you’re controlling. Only when the immersion is that complete do you forget for a time that you’re playing a game. DoubleDutch Games recently released SpeedRunner HD for the Xbox 360. It’s a game that sets you up as a comic book-style superhero trying to thwart a mad bomber’s attempts to destroy the city. For awhile you’ll feel like a nimble, speedy acrobat capable of death-defying feats.
The crux of SpeedRunner HD is platforming at its most thrilling. Each stage of the game tasks you with reaching an activated bomb before it’s set to destroy. You do so with an ever-increasing arsenal of tricks at your disposal. The game gradually progresses you from jump to doublejump to sliding, swinging with a grappling hook, and wall-hopping as the challenge of the stage layouts grow in difficulty. Since you’re racing against the timer, ideally you want to be as slick as possible when stringing these moves together in order to not lose all momentum. Eventually you’ll learn how to correctly time grappling under and back over a floor or to build up enough speed that you can slide under a lengthy stretch of barriers. Combined with the high-tempo music you’ll really feel like a reskinned Spiderman zipping from one location to the next.
The visual style is an area where the game really shines. The story melds mediums in a way that’s thoroughly enjoyable. When playing through the adventure mode, the game sets up like a comic book. Story sequences are told through the use of comic book-style frames as you encounter the villain of the game, the mad bomber. Each stage is typically a dark foreground set against a brighter, but inanimate backdrop. It reminded me a lot of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet released earlier this summer. A better comparison might be the art style of Genndy Tartakovsky in his Samurai Jack cartoon series with its oft-used industrial backgrounds. I feel that we’re not quite yet to the point where this style is overused, and this interpretation still looked fantastic, particularly the red on black color scheme used on a number of the levels.
Unfortunately the single player mode ends just as it’s getting good. I was in a momentary state of disbelief when I caught the mad bomber and the story was over. I expected more for a game that runs 240 Microsoft points. Playing on the Normal difficulty level, I managed to make it through the game only having failed a couple times. The game offers three different difficulty levels, so if you’re a seasoned gamer I’d recommend going straight to the hardest difficulty. If that’s still not enough of a challenge, there are bonus levels packed with the game that will certainly put your skills to the test. Each of these levels will test how adept you are with ALL of the character’s abilities. I only wish these bonus levels had more of the comics cutscenes that were in the adventure mode.
Developer DoubleDutch advertises that it’s the multiplayer mode where the game really shines, and after playing a few hours worth of it I can safely say it’s no lie. Multiplayer supports up to four players locally, with the objective being to outrace your friends. Going so fast you get them to fall of the edge of the screen will take away one life from their counter. The fun factor really comes into play when you’re screwing your friends over with various items you can pick up like boxes to drop in their paths or hook claws that will shoot forward and pull an opponent back to where you are. There are about half a dozen maps to choose from, though some work better than others. One or two of them had areas where if you died, once you restarted you’d immediately die again ad nauseum until you were knocked out of the match. I honestly don’t have too many other gripes with the game, but the lack of an online multiplayer component is one, albeit minor. I realize that not much beats four buddies getting together on the couches for some competitive gaming, but any multiplayer game with more than a couple of players should support an online mode. These issues aren’t enough to take away from the pure joy that is competing against your friends.
As good a game as SpeedRunner HD is, the brevity of its single player campaign makes this feel more like an appetizer. I could easily see this being the start of a series that really fleshes out the comic book aspects of the story along with perhaps adding extra moves and environments. While I feel justified in the 240 Microsoft points price, not everyone will feel that way. If you think you’ll be able to make use of the local-only multiplayer, absolutely buy this game. Otherwise, be forewarned that as much you’ll likely enjoy the game, it will leave you wanting more.
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