Rush Bros [Review]
Rush Bros had a couple of cool ideas at work in it; mainly the one that uses the player’s own music to alter the game. The idea that the game would change with the beat of the music sounded really cool to me, as it would mean that the game would be different every single time depending on what music you played during the level. Unfortunately, that idea didn’t turn out to be as exciting as I’d imagined it, and a couple of other things tripped the game up as well. It’s a good platformer that uses some clever traps to create intricate levels and it can look stunningly gorgeous at points, but the game lacks the difficulty it would need to be truly great. The musical gimmick might have been enough to gloss over the difficulty problem, but it wasn’t implemented in enough ways to make the game truly good.
One thing you will never hear me fault the game for is its looks. The level and characters that you can interact with are all done in a dark black that are filled with spots of brilliant color. The result makes everything look really sleek and sharp. The colors just pop right out of the designs in all of the darkness, and it makes it really easy to tell where you are and what you can interact with. Also, the brilliant colors really do give the feeling of being in some kind of hellish nightclub; something that just builds on the pounding soundtrack that came with the game. It’s simplistic, but the art design was clearly well thought out and it gives the game a unique look that really stands out.
The backgrounds are another thing altogether. They’re these hand-painted landscapes that are combinations of music and otherworld landscapes. It’s weird to describe them, but there are speakers set into the sides of buildings in a futuristic city, or there may be plants or other objects in the background that pulse to the beat of the music. These places are stunning to look at and I just wish I had more time to enjoy them them while I’m flying through the levels trying not to get ground up or impaled. They’re just really surreal, huge landscapes that give the levels an interesting context, combining the mechanical stages with sweeping natural beauty.
Like I said, some things in the background move along with the beat of the music, but there are a few things in the levels that will as well. There are a lot of moving hazards in the game that move faster or slower depending on the beat of the music you have playing. It never gets to the point where they become impossible to dodge if you pick some ridiculous song, but they do move a little bit faster. There are also lots of little objects that will change speed along with the music as well, but most of them are only set dressing for the levels.
It was a cool effect, but overall I felt this wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped it would be. One of the game’s selling points was that the backgrounds and game elements changed with the beat, but it didn’t feel like it did a whole lot. Sure, a couple of traps moved a bit faster, but unless I was looking out for that I wouldn’t have noticed. There just wasn’t much in the way of appreciable differences between songs and I tried a couple of different ones just to be sure, as the game allows you to import your own music. It was still kind of cool that I could do that, but that’s not something I often bother to do and something I could have easily done myself just by turning on some tunes and shutting off the game’s audio.
Another downfall of letting the players stick in their own music was that they didn’t create all that many tracks for the game. Given the game’s emphasis on sound altering the experience and the overall club vibe, I thought there would be a really excellent soundtrack for it. Instead, I got a handful of songs that barely lasted the first couple of stages before they were looping. They’re good tracks and I enjoyed them while they played, but a game with this much emphasis on music and sound (one that pretty much uses club tracks as its visual theme) should have had a really strong soundtrack. XYLA Entertainment really needed to put in a lot more music for a game like this.
I think the focus was on being able to let other people put their own music into the game, but that wasn’t a great decision. Not only did this mean that they didn’t put many songs into the game, but it also meant that they couldn’t program anything too extravagant in how the music affected the game. If the levels were affected by the music in huge ways, then how could they possibly account for all the variables that user-imported music might entail? Could they design a system that could account for every possible musical variable without making the game too hard or too easy? It meant having to keep the music’s effect to a minimum, so I think the decision to let players import their own music ended up watering down what the game could have been. It’s a shame.
The difficulty can be spotty as well. The developers have created some really interesting levels with cool arrays of traps; that much I’ll admit. However, it’s the fact that you’re striving for a good completion time instead of just getting to the end of the level that makes the game feel strange. The game is designed around pushing the player to beat the level as fast as possible, so this meant that the difficulty is different from a standard platformer. When you die, you respawn a few steps away from where you were just killed. It makes death trivial for anyone who’s only interested in getting to the end of the level, but it’s a disastrous setback for anyone who’s racing against the clock.
Until I’ve played a game to death I can’t make myself care about completion times. I’ve never really been one for seeing how fast I could finish a game beyond a few I absolutely loved, so the game’s main focus was lost on me. I felt like I was playing Bioshock all over again; just trying to beat everything through attrition. If I threw myself at a given obstacle enough times then I could eventually get by it and get to the end of the level. It made the game just feel like it was all too easy, or that it wasn’t trying to do anything besides inconvenience me. I never made all that much effort to avoid obstacles because I’d just reappear a few steps away from them after I’d died. It made the game feel far less compelling than Super Meat Boy or They Bleed Pixels; games where you could do a speed run, but were also difficult all on their own.
I know my problem with the game is that I’m literally playing it with the wrong attitude, but I still feel like this was a misstep from the developers. If a platformer is hard in-and-of itself, there is still going to be a very good reason to want to do speed runs. Watching a truly skilled Super Meat Boy player breeze through the game’s deadly traps is amazing, but it’s just as amazing if the player does it quickly or precisely. You can do speed runs on any good platformer if you want to, but the game still provides a challenge for people whose only goal is simply traversing the levels. When you focus your development on creating a game about speed runs, you’re cutting out that whole section of gamers who just want a platformer about traversing intricate levels. I just feel that if Rush Bros had a better difficulty system it could have been more fun for people like me and for speed runners instead of only being good for them.
There are a few levels that felt like they got that balance right, though. There are some stages that have a row of spikes that start progressing toward you as soon as the level begins, and failure means that you start right at the beginning of the level. They’re all quite manageable, but you’d better not screw up all that much. I felt like these stages were from a game that I’d want to play, and that these places had the combination of speed running and platforming difficulty that I was hoping the whole game would have. Instead, I only got a few levels that I really liked and the rest of the game felt too easy. I wasn’t playing the game on the developer’s terms, but like I said, I think I could have been accommodated while still maintaining the game’s emphasis on speed runs.
Rush Bros is a slick platformer with a cool theme and aesthetic, but one that feels like it limited its audience with its focus on speed runs. I think it could have been made a lot better if the difficulty had been tweaked to be more challenging than it is, and if the musical gimmick had been used to greater effect. I’m sure the difficulty could be fixed with a patch in the future, one that alters the instant respawn only a few steps later. That could make this game a lot better with one simple change, but in the meantime it’s still a decent at best.