I must run...away from this game.
After releases on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, iPhone, iPad, Android, and Nokia phones, Gamelion's I Must Run! lands on DSiWare. The game plays kind of like Bit.Trip Runner, with the male protagonist constantly running straight, and punching objects, sliding, and jumping to survive. Unlike Runner, I Must Run! has no real rhythm to play against, making it feel more like an endurance challenge than a test of skill within the game’s mechanics. Oh, and it's not fun. That's a problem too.
You control the character with either the D-pad or buttons. In my experience, the game was easier to control with actions mapped to the D-pad, but either control scheme works fine enough. The story mode offers four lives and no continues, so you need to run through each of the game's levels (which can take between three to five minutes each) in one go, with the only checkpoints coming at the beginning of levels. There’s a distinction between a game being difficult and a game forcing endurance upon the player. Jumping over girders and hitting boxes in itself is not hard, even as the game speeds up. However, staying focused for several minutes at a time while jumping over same-colored buildings and hitting the same four objects is just boring, and the only thing making me lose is my loss of interest (and inevitable focus) part way through the stage. When there is no charm or rhythm to break up the monotony of a game like this, you quickly realize that what you're doing is not worth focusing on, and the whole thing feels like a waste of time.
The general plot of the game focuses on an ex-Marine getting mugged by the son ofthe mayor. When he fights back, the mayor's son unintentionally falls on his own knife and dies. The man wrongly receives jail time for murder, and one day his beautiful wife, who visits every day, stops showing. The husband gets a note from the mayor saying he'll kill the man's wife if he doesn't show at the city hall in 24 hours. From there, our hero is tasked with escaping jail and saving his wife. Though it doesn’t make a bit of sense, the story is presented with cool comic-like scenes, and the craziness sort of emulates the charm of an old NES game. The story mode is a continuous run through the game's six stages, which include a sewer, a construction site, and suburb.
In addition to the story, there is a mode called Run Endless, which is the same as the story except without plot, scenery change (picking the subway keeps you stuck in the subway, for example), and with only one life. This mode takes the remotely positive aspects from the story mode (a second chance, a small shift in location to slightly raise interest, and the story) and leaves the repetition, the uninteresting graphics, and the unmemorable soundtrack. Well, maybe that's unfair. If you were getting into the game, and stuck on a level, Run Endless mode does provide good practice, as all stages are already unlocked. Though it can function well enough as a practice tool, Run Endless is fairly weak as a standalone mode.
I Must Run! isn't mechanically broken, has decent art, and has an interesting (if slightly nonsensical) story. Unfortunately, it also carries artificial challenge, poor in-game graphics, unmemorable music, a throwaway secondary mode, a lack of continues, and far too much repetition. If you like this genre from playing Bit.Trip Runner and Robot Unicorn Attack, playing I Must Run! will not do your perception of the genre any favors. With that said, at a cheap price point, you might still be able to get the kick out of it I simply didn't find. It feels like Gamelion really enjoyed these kinds of running games, and wanted to make one of their own, but just didn't understand what makes them fun in the first place.