Publisher Developer Reviewed On Release Date
tinyBuild Games DoubleDutch Games PC April 19, 2016
SpeedRunners
A multiplayer side scrolling racer is something I don’t recall playing since Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s competitive mode, and I’m thrilled to see it return. SpeedRunners is a thoroughly entertaining mash-up of the 2D platformer and kart racing genres. Full of varied items and smart map design, it’s something you will want to keep playing for just one more race. Gathering a group of friends results in nothing but pandemonium, no doubt a goal of the developers.

Fundamentals first

Your goal is to race far enough ahead of your opponents that they, one by one, fall off the screen. Maps consist of circuits, but laps do not matter. The only way to win a round is for all other racers to not keep up with you. Win three rounds and you take the match. Your basic controls include flat out running, an always available grapple hook that lets you swing from solid white ceilings, and wall jumping to climb upwards. Obstacles are littered throughout the track, and it is wise to avoid them because your number one priority is to maintain momentum.

Embrace the mayhem

Mario Kart would still be fun without the zany items, but their inclusion takes it to a whole new level. The same is true for SpeedRunners. Scattered power-ups give access to a handful of items, most of which have offensive and defensive uses. Mario Kart’s red shell is iconic, and the closest equivalent here is the golden hook, which homes in on the next player ahead of you. If you connect, the target stalls and you propel forward, stealing critical momentum. Golden hooks are powerful weapons, but sliding at the last moment is enough to escape its grasp. This turns an already exciting race into something of a mind game. Seasoned players will be watching to see what items their opponents are carrying. Just holding onto a golden hook can make race leaders nervous, constantly sliding, and in turn running slower, in hopes to avoid contact. Items can also counter each other. A crate can do its basic job of slowing a runner, but it can also shield from an incoming rocket. Using the drill item will increase your speed while blocking anything thrown your way. When all players hold weapons the gameplay becomes chaotic in the best possible way.

The road not taken

Maps are full of shortcuts and clever design. A short ceiling grapple point precedes many wall climb areas. When used properly, one can swing up vertically and avoid some of the back and forth wall hopping in order to gain seconds on the field. One of my favorite design features is a downward snaking tunnel. You run to the right, there’s a wall and you drop down, run to the left, repeat several times. Grapple points, however, line the ceilings. If played perfectly, you can swing using the ceiling *above* the corridor you are currently in and never even touch the ground. Other examples are the numerous switches found near branching paths. These are ingeniously placed so that a player who is behind can close off a shortcut another player is trying to reach, or in some cases open a new path for yourself. To try to keep the races close, sometimes these switches work in the opposite direction. The first player to reach an area may have to take a longer, more winding route, only to bump into a lever at the end that allows everybody else to skip the section you just labored through.

Race the world

Online matchmaking is a breeze, briskly linking you to other players for either quick matches or ranked play, for those out there taking their SpeedRunners play more seriously. While racing bots can be very difficult on higher difficulties, playing against other humans is where SpeedRunners shines brightest. Competing with other humans will have you trying to learn player tendencies like whether they hold onto crates for defense or just drop them immediately, or which shortcuts they attempt to reach every time. The cerebral element at play makes every win more satisfying and every near-win more crushing. Bots can never replicate the feeling of knowing your opponent would take a certain path and successfully setting him up with a trap remote bomb.

Community creations

SpeedRunners includes sixteen maps out the gate, and integrates Steam Workshop with a built in level editor. I’ve found many great maps from the community, including some gimmick maps. One named after Final Destination from Smash Bros. It is a single platform, but full of items. Rather than racing your goal is to use the items to knock your opponents off the stage. Also cooked right into the menus is a just-for-fun betting system built for Twitch. All one has to do is input their Twitch info and viewers can get in on the action by betting points on who they think will win, complicated third-party setup required.

Final Say-So

Playing SpeedRunners with a group of friends is one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences you can find. This will have long legs as a party game, you’ll have a blast yelling at each other as a last moment shockwave slams the door on a comeback bid or because you keep saving your golden hook to use on just one friend in particular. Maps are constructed phenomenally, but even if you tire of the built in levels, there is a wealth of user generated content available or you can even make your own. SpeedRunners captures the spirit of Mario Kart and packages it into the classic stylings of a side scrolling platformer.

Score: 5/5 Stars
★★★★★

tinyBuild provided a review copy of SpeedRunners for PC