Thunderbolt logo

Run Roo Run

At this point it’s safe to say I’ve run every game developed by 5th Cell through its paces, and though I’ve always cheered on their lofty gaming ambitions, this is one developer that has consistently left me unsatisfied. Setting aside grand aspirations for a more focused approach, however, Jeremiah Slaczka and his team seem to have finally found their niche.

Run Roo Run is, in a word, simplicity. You play as Roo the kangaroo who is on a desperate quest to save her kidnapped joey. One finger is all you’ll need to guide Roo across the whole of Australia, and though the game is incredibly straightforward and easy to jump into, Run Roo Run is a deep and deeply rewarding adventure.

screenshot

From the very moment the title screen kicks on, Run Roo Run becomes a joyous experience. The presentation and music are utterly delightful, and the pacing at which you’re taught and let loose to play is flawless. There are 20 separate areas to travel through, each with 15 normal levels and six extreme levels – “extreme” not to be taken lightly, by the way.

That may sound like an enormous amount of content – and for a buck, you’re definitely going to get more than your money’s worth here. However, Run Roo Run follows a similar concept to the WarioWare series, where each level takes literally only two or three seconds to complete. All levels for a given area can usually be finished in under a minute; heck, the game’s leaderboards encourage it. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find as much fun and variety in any other game available on the App Store. Each and every one of the 20 areas introduces a new mechanic, and though all action in the game is mapped to a single tap, Run Roo Run feels like a lot of game for an iOS title.

screenshot

At the outset, you’ll simply command Roo to jump over obstacles, with levels ramping up ever so slightly in difficulty as you go. As you progress further into the game, all of the techniques you’ve learned and power-ups acquired come together to create wondrous speed runs that are almost musical in execution. Roo will tunnel, bounce off the heads of birds, whip herself around barber poles, and speedily slide through oils spills in order to save her kangaroo offspring.

Though the game starts out almost too easy, the difficulty curve is subtle and refined. You’ll barely notice that you’re soon performing amazing platforming feats. Each of the 20 locales has its regular levels and extreme levels kept separate, and it’s clear that players are meant to first complete all of the game’s casual gameplay before moving on to the more hardcore fare. The extreme levels live up to their name, and though it’s confirmed that all of the levels can, in fact, be completed, I had my doubts while taking on some the game’s more brutal challenges.

screenshot

Run Roo Run’s extreme levels are also tied to the leaderboards in an integral way, as your level scores don’t show up on the leaderboards until you’ve completed both the regular and extreme levels for a given locale. And the competition is quite fierce. Shaving off milliseconds can become an obsession, and since high scores are divided into individual locales, there’s plenty of incentive to keep coming back to your favorite levels.

As if there wasn’t enough content already under the hood, 5th Cell will be releasing eight new levels each week for at least the next 18 weeks. These aren’t merely throwaway designs, either. The updates so far include speed runs on par with the game’s extreme levels, and some of the current creations are downright diabolical.

screenshot

Run Roo Run has the added bonus of looking and sounding beautiful. This game could have been made by one of Nintendo’s top teams. But it wasn’t. This is by far 5th Cell’s most polished and focused work. The developer has now established a signature art style, and yet this particular game easily trumps all of their past work. The animations are gorgeous – without a hint of lag – and the music is simply divine; I often found myself leaving my iPhone on the title screen just to be serenaded by the game’s opening theme.

For full disclosure, I went into Run Roo Run a skeptic. When it was first revealed, I was a huge cheerleader for the ideas described in Scribblenauts. Lock’s Quest, too, was a cool concept I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into. However, both games fell short of the hype, and I was growing tired of 5th Cell’s ambition-over-gameplay approach. Run Roo Run is a complete departure for the developer, and it’s proof positive that sometimes the best ideas are simple ideas. Run Roo Run is one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have on this particular platform, and probably the best dollar you’ll spend for a long, long time.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in August 2008.

Gentle persuasion

You should check out our podcast.