It may be the last gasp before I succumb to middle age spread, but I've recently got back into the running sensation.
Not jogging, but full on until-you-can't-breathe sprinting. It's like being five-years-old again, when all you cared about was running around, ice cream, cats, and LEGO.
Games about running tend to be more complex than childhood memories, and so it is with Distinctive Developments's Dead Runner.
As the ominous name suggests, the setting is a bit sinister as you find yourself in a dark, monochromatic forest made moody by eerie music. Your goal is to navigate through a never-ending thicket of trees.Starter's orders
Luckily, nothing's actually chasing you. All you have to do is tilt your device to dodge trees.
In Distance mode, you have to get as far as you can before eventually running face first into an immovable tree-like object.
Thicker trees seem to project additional width, which can catch you out and induce a Game Over collision. You can more easily dodge out of the way of saplings, though.
Technically, the game is sharp, with pop-up cleverly used so as to prevent too much forward planning, although you're never surprised by trees' proximity. In addition, bushes slow you down, but you can run straight through them.
Neatly, each failure results in a tombstone being erected on that spot - something you have to avoid in subsequent runs. But when you pass that point, there's a small frisson of achievement gained for running farther.Twist of the heel
In Points mode, you have to be more cunning, however.
This is because you have to collect power-ups dotting the way for points. Combined with the distance you travel, they contribute to your overall score. Yellow glowing orbs are the basic points power-up, while purple ones give you a double multiplier and green triple.
Of course, these are positioned precariously close to tree trunks and they provide a temporary speed boost to further accelerate the risk-reward dynamic. Other achievements, both good and bad, are unlocked through OpenFeint, as are local and global leaderboards.
Yet despite its easy pick-up-and-play nature, and have-another-go vibe, Dead Runner feels somehow misaligned.
Mainly it's the pseudo-horror setting - something that's not well substantiated in the gameplay. In fact, the game works best as a zen-like experience, where you zone out, flicking inbetween and around trees to gain power ups in a manner similar to taking tight corners in WipEout.
If horror was the real objective, plenty more atmospheric stimuli could be applied, but title-aside, Dead Runner would seem to be better positioned as a first-person take on Canabalt, especially if it had more of a Doodle Jump-style distance gameplay progression.
Think less Blair Witch Project and more the loneliness of the short distance runner.