One of the more interesting games that I came across the PAX East show floor was Runbow. It was hard to miss, as there always seemed to be a considerable crowd around the tiny booth that it called home. Part of that is more than likely because of the infectious, raucous gameplay that permeated around it, but anther reason was perhaps just as much at fault. Developed by 13AM Games, Runbow is a Wii U exclusive action party game that pits up to 9 players in a series of modes ranging from combat to racing. Yes, NINE players. With two TVs in the booth and several controllers, the sheer number of people that were just there to play the game was enough to stop all traffic.
Thankfully the game’s demos lived up to the commotion it was causing — after a few rounds I was completely hooked.
The best way to describe Runbow is to break down its punly name: a mashup of “run” and “rainbow”, it tasks players to quickly move across colorful platforms as the hues of the world shift around them. The 2D game is all style, matching an early Sixties animation visual aesthetic with platforming controls reminiscent of Smash Bros. The style is key to the mechanics of the game, affecting the different modes in unique ways. (More on that in a bit.)
The controls are minimal: movement includes jumping and across platforms, attacking, and combinations of the two. Tapping the attack button twice, or in tandem with up or down on the control pad, launches a quick special move. Because the game is designed for nine players, 13AM managed to pull it off by allowing not only Wiimotes, Gamepads and Pro Controllers but also any controllers that attached to those. That is, one player can use a Wiimote sideways while another uses the attached Classic Controller. It’s neat to see two people essentially attached to each other as they hold respective controllers, forming mini teammates or pairs of mortal enemies that unplug the controllers from each others. Even playing with an attached Nunchuck works just fine as a single control input: I would turn it sideways and use it almost like a tiny gamepad with my thumb on the stick and my fingers on the triggers.
The demo allows for some lite character personalization, such as selecting color, male or female, clothing and hats. It’s simple and meant to help differentiate the characters on the screen. I chose the Lime Green Hue with a snazzy top hat and monocle. Regardless of the screen size though things could get a bit chaotic with so many players all at once, and it was common to get lost in the kerfuffle. That felt like part of the magic, in a weird way.
Runbow celebrated the accidents and mistakes we made, often to the point where reaching a goal wasn’t as important as merely “surviving” to the goal.
There were a few playable modes at the booth, including Arena and King of the Hill, but it was Run and Color Master that interested me most. In both of them a team of players tried to make it to the end of a sidescrolling level, jumping on platforms and avoiding pitfalls. With Run the world would shift color every few seconds, hiding or revealing matching colored platforms or walls. Items allowed us to force everyone to move in reverse, to drop bombs on our opponents, or knock people off of ledges. It moved extremely fast, with a Best of 15 match taking around five minutes to complete.
Each of the levels we played would mix it up just a bit over the prior, asking us to move in the opposite direction, having boulders chase us, or splitting us up on few different heights. As we became accustomed to managing jumps and attacking to slow each other down, the game would find other ways to take us out or help us create mistakes. Even if no one made it to the end, the game found ways to entertain us. At the end of one run, “Go Play Oregon Trail” splashed across the screen as a taunt. The winner of our match only reached the goal first in 4 total runs, but that didn’t really matter. Most of us were happy just to see how many of our opponents we could knock out, or the dumb ways our own runs would end.
Color Master mode is similar to run, in that its a race to a goal. The major difference is that it’s a team-based endeavor in which one player uses the Gamepad to thwart opponents. I played as the Color Master, dropping bombs and removing the color from the world. In fact by combing a few of the moves I almost always wiped out the other players at once. I was unstoppable. The mode felt a bit unbalanced, as I wound up winning against the other team by a score around something like 24-4. My opponents were encouraged to work together to beat me, but the tools I had were just too powerful.
Runbow had me smiling throughout the demo, and often pointing at the lunacy on the screen or high-fiving the winners of the race. I couldn’t stop playing, and after a few demos had to force myself away to let another group jump in. The game seems perfectly built for the Wii U, using every control method possible and even utilizing the Gamepad in a few cool ways. Multiplayer and single-player modes will look to give plenty of depth the concept, even for those of us who don’t have enough people around for couch play sessions. Look for it this Summer in the eShop.