Music-based games require a few, basic ingredients to become a tasty stew. Rush Bros, a new game in the genre that also mixes in platforming elements, took those ingredients, combined them, and cooked the meal.
Great music? Check.
Interesting visuals? Check.
Competitive multiplayer? Check.
All of the right elements are there. My spoon is ready. I dig in. I chew.
“Huh… Why does this taste so flavorless?” I say. “Everything is there. It should taste great.” I take another bite, just to make sure.
Then I realize the one key part of the process that may have been missed: it didn’t cook long enough.
Rush Bros, developed by XYLA Entertainment, should be better. It should be a game I can come back to often, one that I think of as a palette cleanser for other games. The premise is simple: race through a stage which designs itself around your own, custom soundtracks. The game is a platformer, and so learning the physics and how to avoid traps and solve puzzles on the fly is key. There are no enemies to avoid or defeat, no bosses to vanquish, only the clock. Race through the level, get to the end. The game is meant to be played with a controller, and justifiably so. I would advise against using a keyboard, as I often found myself missing easy jumps and mashing keys in anger.
The obstacles are rendered colorfully, though they’re standard fare: moving walls, pits of spikes, and ramps try to slow players down while making their way to the checkered goal. There are no “lives”, so falling into a pit only sets progress back a little bit. The game comes with over 40 pre-designed levels, each one trying different graphical styles or environments. There are neon worlds, overgrown jungles, industrial caves, and each looks fairly pleasant to the eye. The supplied music is good enough to have playing in the background while at home or at work. It’s upbeat, poppy electronica that could make a nice album for iPods. Changing the song that’s played is meant to alter the level, so experimenting between song types can theoretically lead to more manageable obstacles.
Rush Bros lets us bring in our own music, too, provided we have the MP3 or OGG on hand. The files are dropped into a folder, creating a playlist. Select the folder from the “My Music” menu and the songs are automatically selectable to update levels. It’s great in theory, but the end result doesn’t do a whole lot. Yeah, the songs play throughout the level, but I couldn’t find a real noticeable difference in the course design.
Though the single player mode is there to provide practice, or improve time trials, the game is really designed to be played against someone else. I played with SideQuesting editor-extraordinaire Steven Strom on a variety of courses —
usually smoking him in races, ha! getting demolished by his superior skills as a player of games, a man, and a copy editor. As our races began, we could see each other on the visible split-screen, plotting where the other racer was. I would sometimes try to trick Steven into following me down the wrong path to a doom of spikes, but he never fell for it. Most of our matches would end with one person making it to the goal and the other becoming frustrated at the inability to find a key to unlock a door in the way. “I don’t know what to do next, dammit,” was often heard over our chat as our frustration grew. For a game built on speed, the obstacles get in the way (no pun intended) of having a good time. Races became slow as we stumbled around, trying to figure out where to go or how we passed a key.
A few bugs popped up as well. Once selections are made throughout the title screens, such as course and music, it would take the game sometimes 15-20 seconds to actually start running. The game froze on me a couple of times as I tried to exit out to the main menu, with Steam thinking it was still running (when it wasn’t). Connecting to other (random) players was a rarity. I think I was only ever able to find one other person online to do it, and he ended up just standing on his course without moving.
That’s the bummer with Rush Bros. There are plenty of good ideas, but not many of them are fully realized. It never achieves the vision of what it could really be. What if the courses became more focused on racing and less on puzzle solving? What if the music could much more dynamically alter the level design? What if the multiplayer was designed into best-of-three or best-of-five matches with record keeping?
That’s not saying you should avoid Rush Bros. In fact, I think — if the concepts are pushed to their limits — it could really become an addicting rhythm/platformer experience, a la Bit.Trip Beat. It does deserves a deeper looking at from the developers. At the same time, I’m having a hard time recommending it. It could be great, but that’s not enough to be great. Especially when the concept has been employed better in Bit.Trip and Audiosurf.
Ultimately, it tastes a bit like broth without any bread.
This review was based on Steam code provided to SideQuesting by the publisher. It was played on a MacBook Pro with a controller, and is also available for PC.