Once upon a time, Shacknews reviewed a colorful foot-racing game from 13AM Games called Runbow. We absolutely loved it. It was a clever party game with easy-to-learn mechanics, containing a vast variety of multiplayer modes, and an ample amount of single-player content and unlockables. Runbow was a cult favorite and Shacknews counted ourselves among that cult's members.
Almost three years later, Shacknews is back for a second round, this time on Nintendo Switch. A lot has changed in terms of the gaming landscape, but Runbow remains largely the same. So how does it feel on Nintendo's newest console? It still feels pretty good, but it does have a few issues that may be beyond the developer's control.
Crossing the Rainbow Bridge
The premise for Runbow involves up to nine players getting together for a foot race. The idea is to reach the end of each stage and collect the trophy first, utilizing melee strikes, butt stomps, and power-ups to prevent other players from doing so first. The background is constantly changing color and if that color matches that of any platform, that platform is momentarily out of play. That means new obstacles can pop up or the rug can literally be swept out from underneath a player's feet. That makes these races treacherous, where it's entirely possible for all nine racers to get wiped out.
The individual courses are all cleverly designed, some testing players' platforming prowess, others featuring obstacles like lava and spike pits, and others scrolling up vertical shafts. Making things trickier are the power-ups, which can give players the power to either get a leg up or take out the opposition directly. They're not so much a boost, as they are a gamble, given that they're completely randomized and there are more than a couple of power-ups that can backfire.
Races can get downright chaotic, making the race to the finish the go-to for Runbow game modes. However, there are other modes that mix up the action and feel just as fun. There's a King of the Hill mode that tasks players with standing on a designated point for a certain amount of time. It's a mode that gets more fun with more players, as everyone scrambles to take everyone out with butt stomps. There's also Arena Mode, which is the survival mode that sees players looking to knock each other into hazards and be the last person standing. There are no shortage of choices for party crowds and all of those choices are superb.
Party of One
Runbow can also be a solo party, in more ways than one. There's a robust Adventure mode that works to teach players the Runbow mechanics, while also piecing together a decent story pitting players against a rogue, colorless pirate named Satura. Many of the multiplayer elements are in place, making this an ideal way to learn the ropes. Players can also go off on their own paths, meaning every player will reach the end of the story in a different way.
The more interesting single-player mode is the Bowhemoth, which puts together some of the most brutally tough levels that Runbow can string together. Players are given a limited amount of lives and no saves, meaning only the hardened Runbow player should even attempt this. It feels like an old-school, tough-as-nails platformer and it's an appreciated addition to what's mostly a party game with friends.
But let's hope there are friends around, because the online lobbies feel noticeable empty. Following Runbow's launch and in the days afterwards, I attempted to get into an online session, only able to pull in one or two other players at most. It was disappointing, to say the least, because Runbow is at its best with multiple players. With cross-play being all the rage these days, Runbow would have benefitted from cross-play connections either with the game's Steam version, Xbox One version, or any other version. Even with the Switch's install base, it doesn't appear that anybody is playing online, which is a disappointment.
The Colors, Duke! The Colors!
Those looking for the basic Runbow experience can find everything they're looking for on the Nintendo Switch. Is it a full upgrade from the Wii U version? Not exactly. The Wii U version had a clever game mode called Color Master, in which one person on the Wii U GamePad could select the color patterns and try to troll their friends into dying. Losing that mode is sad, but fortunately, Runbow has plenty else to hang its hat on.
Runbow is still an incredible party game and with Nintendo's multitude of controller options, it's possible to get up to eight players together for total madness. Yes, it's theoretically possible to get nine players together online, but you'd need a private party, because the public lobbies don't look to be having it. In terms of pure fun, it's hard to find anything better, as Runbow even manages to outshine a lot of its AAA competition with just the simplest of premises.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the developer. Runbow is available now on the Nintendo eShop for $14.99. It is also available on Steam, the Xbox Live Marketplace, and PlayStation Store. The game is rated E.