Bring Eight Friends

Runbow Review Screenshot

HIGH Being in a room with eight friends, taking the lead in a race, stopping before reaching the trophy to taunt and still managing to win.

LOW The online community is pretty small.

WTF Picking up the power-up that switches places with another player while in the lead and ending up dying instead.

Despite not being a massive commercial hit, the Wii U is still the best console for couch co-op play, and Runbow is yet another stellar addition that works best in a room full of people holding controllers and elbowing their friends. Runbow delivers a unique and engaging party experience that Wii U owners shouldn't be without.

The basic premise behind Runbow involves racing against eight other contestants in a mad dash across a two-dimensional level, leaping over crevices, lava pits, and spikes while trying to be the first to the trophy at the end of the stage. The hook is that most of the platforms in each level are color-coded and disappear when they match the ever-shifting background color. This creates situations where, for example, players think they're jumping to the safety of a green platform only to find nothing beneath their feet as the level's background color transitions to green mid-jump.

Each level in Runbow is short and fast-paced, which encourages runners to use every jump, dash, slap, and power-up to come out ahead. In order to even the odds of a constantly changing environment, players also have the option to double jump and rocket jump either vertically or horizontally.

In addition to the standard Run mode, Runbow offers a variety of other ways to play.

Arena presents a ‘Last Man Standing' variant where players attempt to knock each other into spikes. King of the Hill wants players to secure a central position on the stage until a timer reduces to zero. One of the most unique modes, Defeat the Color Master, allows the player with the Wii U Pad to change the background on the fly while other players try to reach the trophy alive.

For those interested in more solitary pursuits, Runbow offers a substantial singleplayer mode featuring 146 levels dispersed across a large grid. When players finish one level, they unlock levels adjacent to it. There's also a Bowhemoth mode that tasks players with leaping their way out of the belly of a giant beast without the ability to save their progress. The faint of heart need not apply.

Online play is generally smooth, and players can bring as many of their local friends as they want along for the ride. Before matches, players can customize their male and female Runbow avatars with hats and costumes, or choose between a variety of unlockable indie game guest stars, such as Juan from Guacamelee!

While the online game lacks the same magic as local co-op play, it is a passable and enjoyable substitute. One of the only major flaws is that the Wii U online community for the game is rather small, which means outside of the Run mode, finding enough people to fill all nine player positions is a challenge.

Of course, Runbow isn't a perfect party game. While the controls are simple to learn, the responsiveness of button presses can feel erratic. The slowdown, whether from power-ups or online lag, can also turn an otherwise enjoyable experience into a frustrating series of mishaps. While in multiplayer this means that players lose a race, in singleplayer it means replaying an intensely challenging level over and over again.

Ultimately, it's hard not to recommend Runbow to Wii U owners. It supports almost every controller available for the platform and allows up to nine people to compete in hilariously frenetic racing action. The online modes and singleplayer takes care of players who don't have friends over on a regular basis, and the game offers up enough challenges and unlockables to keep folks busy for hours and hours.

On a system without a lot of high-profile support lately, Runbow shines as an exclusive that plays to the Wii U's strengths and reflects the Nintendo ideals of a couch full of friends, laughing and playing together. Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Wii U. Approximately 3 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 times) and 3 hours of play in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: mild fantasy violence. Players can punch each other or fall into spikes or lava, but there is no bodily harm represented.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Sound is not necessary to enjoy this game, only a keen sense of sight and color.

John Vanderhoef

John Vanderhoef

As a 5-year-old child forced to hang out with older children because their father was friends with his father, John recalls his first experience with video games -- wide-eyed, a big dumb look on his face -- in a furnished basement littered with imported Korean toys and illuminated by the glow of a cheap 19 inch television displaying mesmerizing, bouncing pixels. Yet because he was young and inexperienced and "bad at it," he wasn't allowed to play. Kids are like that. After eventually convincing his folks to buy one of those amazing machines for the family as a Christmas present, he did finally get to play, albeit while sharing with two older sisters. Luckily, they soon lost interest. But he has never looked back.

In college John fell to poetry, short story writing, and journalism, but ultimately took to writing critical, academic work on video games. He was actually surprised this was an option. For reasons he will never be completely sure of, he ended up in graduate school where he wrote about the discursive mapping of gender onto the terms "hardcore" and "casual" and the power hierarchy of legitimate and illegitimate games that creates. He is a proud feminist.

Currently, John is a PhD student in the Film and Media Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He continues to study gender, race, and sexuality in video games, video game culture, and the video game industry. He also mulls over issues of creative labor, cultural hierarchy, and power, among other random subjects.
John Vanderhoef

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