PC, Xbox One
That title, it turns out, is a little misleading. Yes, this is a game about running fast, but you’re not racing against the clock. Instead you must win a footrace against up to three other players. It, like a videogame speedrun, is a test of memory and execution, but more so of reflexes, of being able to think on the fly. Mario Kart- style power-ups – homing missiles, rolling bolders, crates to drop behind you – mean that knowing the course layout is only half the battle.
It’s also a game of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, and vice versa. The four of you, whether playing locally or online, share the same screen real estate: as the leader pulls away from the chasing pack, their reactions are tested more and more, since they have less warning of oncoming hazards. Those at the back will be out of the action if they fail to keep the pace. As the race progresses, the screen contracts, a flashing red border encroaching on the runners, who’ll complete laps until one drops out. The last one standing wins the round; the first to win three rounds claims the match.
The action blends the precise animation of N+ with the zippy, slippery speed of Super Meat Boy. It’s a game of momentum – or, more precisely, of momentum brought to a shuddering halt by a spike trap you fail to avoid, or a cluster of crates you didn’t see coming in time. A delightful grappling hook is introduced as a way to avoid hazards, but is in fact a terrific way of building up speed, governed by a parlous balance of risk and reward. Swing too long and you’ll sail straight up in the air. Get it right and you can give yourself a tremendous boost of momentum while heading down a slope, or swing halfway up a wall-jumping section.
Learning the best routes through the multi-storey, multi-path courses is essential, and the singleplayer campaign is structured with that in mind. There are four stages, and you must win a number of matches against AI opponents before a 1v1 race against a boss character. On regular difficulty the game is generously accommodating, before crushing you on the higher settings, where only perfection will do. Alternatively, you can head online for a pasting.
The latter scenario would play out, at least, if there was anyone around, but servers are sparsely populated – a consequence, perhaps, of being in Early Access for the best part of three years. A forthcoming Xbox One release should see console players right, but the best way to play it is with four players in the same room, celebrating, consoling and baiting one another after every hard-fought victory, fluffed jump and pinpoint missile shot. Yes, yes, well done – a fine win. Now let’s see you do it again with two dead arms.
Colour-coded and patterned scenery helps you recognise imminent hazards. A solid white line denotes a grapple point; a dotted one signals that you need to wall jump. It’s a vital design choice in a game played at such pace