Race the Sun reminds me in many ways of the Java-based title Jet Slalom -- another endless runner that would see you piloting a hovercraft of sorts through procedurally generated terrain, populated by increasingly dense simple shapes. Jet Slalom was a game that proved so instantly accessible and absurdly addictive that our school at the time had to ban every site that carried it, just to make sure we did some work. This was back in the heyday of Candystand and Miniclip as post-millennial developers began to learn the ins-and-outs of browser-based
productivity assassins games.
Race the Sun also falls into that mould. Ostensibly an endless runner with two simple rules -- always move forward, and never crash -- players are free to roam about the minimalist landscapes in lateral fashion via a solar-powered vehicle. Indeed, you'll need to in order to avoid the rush of oncoming shapes and structures. The turning circle of your ship is sluggish to begin with, and decisive flying is of paramount importance.
The game begins with languid sojourns through open, spacious environments, the sun atop the horizon constantly threatening to set and bring your journey to an end. There are pickups strewn liberally across the maps: blue ones (Tris) add to your score multiplier, green ones earn you the ability to make a single jump, the white ones enshrined in soft pillars of light prolong the day and speed up your craft, and then there's the rare pink object which gives you one free pass when it comes to the crunch.
Diverting from the easy, straight course to risk ruin amidst the denser pockets of each level in order to chase down pickups seems needless at the very start But the first time the sun sets and leaves your craft without power, stranded ignobly and with a lamentable score, you begin to realise the importance of chasing them down.
Doing so will lead to you crashing, a lot. This game has made me curse and swear more than anything I've played all year. A momentary lack of concentration can render anyone's run obsolete, and thanks to your craft's somewhat sluggish manoeuvrability, you'll need to plot out your course as soon as the buildings on the horizon come into view. Last nanosecond, seat-of-your-pants flying will only get you so far in this game. It's difficult, and it demands that you respect the limitations of your solar-powered craft, but it does make for a persistently stubborn charm.
The game itself is split into levels that gradually up the ante, increasing flying speed as well as obstacles involved, and these change on 24 hour basis, along with the leaderboards. Just because you're at the top one day of the week doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be there tomorrow, or the day after that. Conversely, you might suck on one day (or all week if you're me), but then there might come a day and a game world that has everything finally clicking into place for you. It's a simple mechanism, but one that will keep players coming back a fair bit in the short terms, particularly if you can rope a few friends into getting involved too.
There's some progression in there too, with Jetpack Joyride-esque objectives in 1-star, 2-star, and 3-star difficulty flavourings, the completion of which will help to boost your pilot ranking. Some of these missions see you accumulating Tris or travelling a certain distance, others might have you performing a certain number of barrel rolls (thereby forcing you to move laterally a lot more than you would) within the space of a single run, or only turning left. There's a pleasant sense of accomplishment that follow the completion of some of these things, adding to the experience, even if some of the goals feel a little like they belong in a F"P, microtransaction-stuffed game.
One of the best things about the whole experience is the relay system. If you're finding the game too tricky, you can make use of the little option at the end of each run that allows you to share a relay point via email or across social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Basically, another player can then start from where you finished, and then when they crash or run out of solar power, the chain can be continued. Buddy up with a friend, and you can leapfrog one another to maximise points and distance, helping to unlock more of the fiendish 3-star accomplishments. You can only create a four-stage relay, but it works very nicely indeed.
But I have to say, in spite of ringing the changes each day and providing a player editor and a fiendishly challenging Apocalypse mode, I'm not sure that I'll be playing Race the Sun long after this review goes live. You see, as much as I like the HD aesthetics (the game looks beautiful) and the subtly urgent trance that fills the ears as you race towards the sun, as much as I like the central premise, I can't help but feel there's nothing here really that I can't get from that little decade-old Java-game. Moreover, as much as this game is an inventive take on the endless runner genre, most of those games come in for a smattering of pennies, if not nothing at all. Ten dollars isn't much really, but you could buy Jetpack Joyride an infinite number of times over, because its free.
It doesn't have the personality of a Halfbrick or Imangi title, either, and thus I find it difficult to recommend. The good news is that you can try it for yourself over on Kongregate is a feature-reduced alpha version of the game. It's free to try and you'll get to play through the levels, save your progress and race the sun. Then, if you want to, you can pay ten dollars for the full version which unlocks the level editor, daily objectives, and a slightly expanded progression system. I'm just not sure why you would.
- Lovely minimalist aesthetics
- Soundtrack finds a nice balance between sci-fi serenity and urgent trance
- Innovative relay system engenders a sense of social community
- New worlds, challenges and leaderboards every day
- Gamepad support
- Hefty price tag for what it is
- Limited, short-term appeal
- Player-created levels have no leaderboards or progression
- Gets repetitive rather quickly
- You could buy Rayman Jungle Run three times over for this
The Short Version: Race The Sun is a welcome fresh take on the endless runner genre, but unfortunately it doesn't really do enough to justify its $10 price tag, particularly when there's a perfectly good version of the game (not to mention dozens of robust competitors) already available for free. Sure, it's elegant and it looks nice but it's also a relatively simplistic score attack game that gets old pretty quickly.