Minor hiccups aside, Runbow is a blast whether you crave a party game or a platformer.
The best way to sum up the experience of Runbow, a Wii U eShop game from first-time developers 13AM Games, is that it is so much fun that the Wii U can’t even handle it, as the biggest issue that stunts this impressive debut is the occasional bout of choppy visuals. This chaotic and borderline insane nine-player platformer is jam-packed with content both competitive and cooperative. On the off chance you can field the crew to play it locally or online, it is an absolute blast across every single mode. As long as you can accept the occasional technical hiccup, Runbow is a game that can be as challenging as the hardest platformers on one hand and an amazing party game on the other.
Outside of being a frantic platformer, the hook to Runbow is its color mechanic, which fits right in with the psychedelic Saul Bass-inspired visuals. The background color changes, bouncing in harmony to the fabulous soundtrack, and as it does, certain like-colored platforms disappear. Not only do you have to worry about attacking foes and timing your jumps, you also need to be cognizant of what color is coming up so you land on a platform that is actually visible.
With fun platforming and a fresh color mechanic, Runbow is the best local experience on Wii U this side of Smash Bros., as you can bring together up to nine players at once using Wii Remotes, Nunchuks, Classic Controllers, Pro Controllers, and the GamePad. The four competitive multiplayer modes each have their own unique hooks, ranging from the standard race-to-the-finish mode to the frenzied king of the hill mode where players fight to stay on one platform in a single-screen level. One of the modes is ColorMaster, which pits the GamePad player against everyone else. In this mode, the GamePad player tries to trick, trap, and destroy the other players before they reach the finish. The basic Run mode is by far my favorite, but the other modes are all fun, adding variety to something that could easily be run (ha!) into the ground without a little diversity. All of these modes save ColorMaster can go online. I wasn’t able to fully put the online through its paces, but the little that I played ran smoothly. If a community builds up around this game, hopping online for some nine-player chaos could be a ton of fun.
On the cooperative side (or single-player side, if you’re playing by your lonesome), you have Adventure and the Bowhemoth. Adventure is a surprisingly deep mode filled with more than 100 levels laid out in four large grids, each with a different theme. You can forge your own path through these levels, as each completed level unlocks adjacent ones. Whether you’re playing by yourself or with eight friends, the Adventure mode is wonderful, starting off gently but quickly ramping up to difficult but rewarding platforming challenges. The end game of the Adventure mode struck that nice balance between frustration and determination that only rare hardcore platformers such as Super Meat Boy and Runner 2 nail. The Bowhemoth builds on the challenge of the late-stage Adventure levels, offering up a balls-to-the-wall experience that can take anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours depending on your skill level. It is a series of super tough platforming challenges that must be played in one sitting. Simply put, the Bowhemoth does not f*ck around.
The brilliance of all these modes is that they leverage different elements of the game in engaging ways. The controls of Runbow are simple, requiring only two buttons and an analog stick/D-pad. You run; you jump; you punch. Depth lies in that simplicity, as you can perform different types of attacks depending on your directional input and timing, and you also have a double jump that can be used with an uppercut to effectively be a triple-jump (like Guacamelee) that ends with an obnoxious attack to nearby friends or foes. That triple-jump can be a boon in competitive modes, as you can knock a contender out of the air with it, but you might want to tweak your strategy when you’re playing cooperatively because then you’ll just be that jerk who beats everyone up as you’re trying to complete a level in the Bowhemoth.
The impressive array of unlockable guest characters makes a great game even better. By completing in-game achievements, you can play as beloved indie characters such as Shovel Knight, Rusty from SteamWorld Dig, and Max from Mutant Mudds. Everybody plays the same, but they all have unique animations and taunts that hearken back to their sources. Unlocking them is relatively easy, and you’ll likely accidentally unlock the majority of them by just playing the game.
All of the content stuffed into Runbow is, for the most part, polished and fun. However, the game would hitch up with regularity while I was playing, usually at inopportune times. It didn’t matter whether I was playing with nine players or just by myself. When playing some modes, it’s not an issue, but when you’re trying to take on stout platforming trials, anything less than “running perfectly” is infuriating. Your failures should be your own fault, not the game’s.
Even with that issue, Runbow is a top-shelf Wii U eShop game, bringing a wide selection of modes and options that can all be played with a stupid amount of players at once. It’s frantic and insane, but in the best way possible. It works best as a party game, but even those just looking for a fun, difficult platformer should get ready to Runbow.