The endless-runner genre has begun to resemble, rather appropriately, an endless-runner game.
It's become an interminable trudge through the same basic motions, with the same familiar sights whizzing past.
Platforms Unlimited initially appears to embrace these cliches, but it's actually the freshest and most compelling take on the endless-runner I've played in ages.Cool runnings
Usually in a slick new endless-runner, the developer attempts to differentiate its game by making it prettier, or by raining down visually alluring (but essentially meaningless) reward trinkets on the player.
Platforms Unlimited doesn't do this. In fact, its minimalist visual style is stripped back rather artlessly, to the point of being a little ugly, and the game is stingy with its rewards.
But that doesn't matter too much.
Developer XperimentalZ Games has made its game fizz by taking the two most basic components of the endless-runner genre - the 'endless' and the 'runner' parts - and making them interesting.Endless love
The endless part has been given a shot in the arm by Platforms Unlimited's procedurally generated nature. Sure, most endless-runners are random, from Canabalt to Jetpack Joyride. But Platforms Unlimited's take just seems... cleverer.
Each stage in Platforms Unlimited feels like it's been crafted by a real person. A real NASTY person.
Yep, this is a tough cookie. It's all about pinpoint jumps between tiny platforms, many of which are unstable or crooked or obstructed by insta-death baddies.
But they feel properly crafted nonetheless, with a real ebb and a flow, and the odd pleasantly repetitive section to scratch the rhythm-action itch the game's sparse style and reactive electronica soundtrack gives you.Deft touch
Those tricky random levels are made bearable not just because a quick restart (with a whole new level) is so close at hand, but because the control system is so spot on.
You're still just tapping the screen to make your little cube jump, but the exaggerated range of those jumps, and the finely calibrated correlation to the length of time you hold the screen, is something else.
It makes this most binary of control systems feel like a precise analogue tool. It means you can make several consecutive hops with several stabs of the screen, then soar half the height of the screen to the next distant platform in quick order without dying and cursing the controls.
Okay, so you will probably die. But it will be your fault, and not a result of the vagueness of the touchscreen controls.Solid platform
Structurally, Platforms Unlimited is almost as sparse as its visuals, but it's a lot more skilfully realised.
You can collect little yellow dots throughout each game, which accumulate across each attempt. You also get bonus dots for meeting bonus criteria (lasting so long, playing so many games).
These can then be spent unlocking and upgrading additional power-up dots, which can do things like freeze enemies or grant you an indestructible shield.
Besides the main endless mode, there are three daily challenges, which unusually allow you to play and complete the same fixed level. It's a welcome alternative to the free-form grind of the main game.
It's just one more quietly thoughtful addition to a game that isn't immediately easy to love, but which has subtly reinvigorated our appreciation for a tired genre.