In gaming, sometimes less is more. For every enormously deep and varied title like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto there are the games that take a simple concept and absolutely nail it. The iOS platform lends itself perfectly to the minimalist approach; smaller game size, less powerful processors and more simplistic controls means the games that really flourish are ones with a basic core premise executed perfectly. The heavyweights of the iOS platform, from Angry Birds to Temple Run, all conform to this formulae and Rock Runners from developers Recoil games follows suite, combining the runner and platform genres in a game that is both amazingly simple and brilliantly fun.
As with most runner games, Rock Runner’s premise is simple. The main character is constantly moving from left to right and the player taps to jump, completing each level in the quickest time possible. Rock Runners manages to enhance the well-known runner genre by combining it with platforming elements; jumping, swinging, teleporting and avoiding obstacles whilst collecting coins to achieve a speed boost. Momentum is maintained even when falling as the player is teleported back to the platform through orange and blue portals in a less than subtle reference to a popular puzzle game.
It’s the game’s boosting system that makes for very fun and highly rewarding gameplay. Not many levels are challenging to the point of being unbeatable as players are given three lives to avoid obstacles and hazards along the way. Completing a level without stopping though is addictive and the real challenge; not since the glory days of Sonic the Hedgehog has platforming felt this quick and fun. Due to the levels being quick bursts (very few break the minute mark) restarting after breaking the characters flow isn’t a painful option.
Rock Runners is split into four worlds, each with their own unique look and feel. The missions are set out like a blockbuster board as they must be beaten to unlock a path towards the end level marked with a space ship. It is this set up that really pushes Rock Runners above similar games in the genre and enhances its longevity ten-fold. There are 140 levels but not all need to be played as players will try to get the most direct route to the end, collecting all the reactors along the way. Once a world is completed the player’s quickest path (including the reactors) will be shown and the time taken in each will be added up, which is the score for the world. This time can be shortened by either going back and going a quicker (but usually harder) route or attempting to beat the time of the levels already played. It’s a great system and really challenges players to score as highly on the leaderboards as possible.
As with all runner games, the gems picked up in levels not only boost the player’s speed but can be spent in the shop. The usual offerings are found here, from extra character skins to skills that can be upgraded as well as keys that unlock levels on the world maps. It is of little surprise that in-game micro-transactions are on offer here but unlike other games these never feel intrusive; they are there as an option but enough gems are earned on run-throughs to make buying more avoidable.
Visually Rock Runners is great, with well detailed 3D models working great with the 2D platforming. Both the foreground and background are nicely detailed but never to the point of being distracting. The retro music also compliments the game well as it ramps up to a faster pace when a speed boost is achieved.
Despite how good it is, Rock Runners isn’t without its flaws. As nice as the graphics are the game’s frame-rate does occasionally suffer, which can often lead to missing a jump and ruining a speed-run entirely (although it must be noted that the game was reviewed on an iPhone 4, this issue may not present itself on newer models).
As good as the boardgame-like layout of the levels are, it can also provide a frustrating experience when running through them the first time. The reactors that must be collected are invisible until the level they are in is unlocked, leading to an aimless hunt around the levels to find a last one before a world can be completed. Collecting keys is also an annoyance as their appearance in levels is completely random, meaning buying them in stores is often the wise option (thankfully these aren’t too expensive).
Another downside to the game is the way the levels are designed. Despite boasting 140 levels the game isn’t as varied as what may be believed due to the fact that certain platforming sections are often repeated, even during the same level. Some run-throughs can essentially have the same mechanics played again and again, which dulls the enjoyment of playing through different levels.
Despite Rock Runner’s imperfections it is a superb entry to both the runner and platform genres. Trying to constantly improve a world’s speed run gives the game a fun challenge and no levels, even the ones marked as harder, are ever difficult enough to prove frustrating. A great looking and sounding game with extremely fun and fast gameplay ideal for short and sharp sessions, Rock Runner is an essential purchase for any iOS gamer.
+Fast paced and fun
+Swinging through levels is great
+Micro-transactions aren’t a necessity
+Map system is a great idea
-Some levels are repetitive
+Great blend of 3D and 2D
+Each world has a unique feel
-Frame-rate can struggle
+Soundtrack compliments the game perfectly