I like to consider myself a fan of fast-paced platformers. I cut my teeth on Sonic the Hedgehog, defeated Dr. Fetus in Super Meat Boy and I wouldn’t rest on DustForce until I had “Double S” ranked a stage with an acceptable placing on its leaderboards. Not only that, but I also have a personal weak spot for games where the music and game react with one another, BIT.TRIP I love thee!
Rush Bros. wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, promising to be a “pulse-pounding, music infused platform racing game”. The levels respond to the beat of the music, and there is a perfectly competent split screen mode, but did it make my pulse pound?
No, although it did raise my blood pressure.
Please bear in mind as I tell you this that I wanted to like Rush Bros, but the game rarely allowed me to. The controls are nowhere near tight enough for the precision jumping the game demands, with some segments leading to constant restarting because your character couldn’t avoid an environmental hazard. The checkpoint system is comprehensive enough at least, if you die you’re only ever a few seconds from where you left off. Although this does mean that there is rarely any challenge to the levels as you can simply “brute force” your way through the different sections.
There is an exception to this, in some levels the automatic checkpoint system is disabled as your character is chased by a wall of spikes. The game spends most of its time teaching you that dying is merely temporary – and in some points it is even necessary, killing off the character respawning you in a safe position to carry on – then these particular segments punish you for the slightest mistake by forcing you to start the entire stage again. There is hardly any indication that a level will punish you in such a strict manner until you’ve died for the first time, which ultimately leads to an artificially difficult experience.
Most of the obstacles are clearly signposted, except for when they aren’t. Areas that are safe to walk on are a flat black silhouette and parts of the level that kill you are a glowing neon colour. This helps the obstacles stand out from the background and makes sure the player is always aware of their route to take to avoid damage. Of course some levels completely forgo this in favour of flat silhouettes of spike traps or spinning blades, as well as fluorescent plants in the foreground that your character can walk past unimpeded.
Speaking of hazards and spike traps, it is worth mentioning how the music interacts with the game. Rush Bros. comes with quite a strong soundtrack of pounding electronic music which I thought sets it apart from a lot of other games of its type. The game is able to detect the beat of these tracks and make platforms and stumbling blocks appear and disappear in time with the music. For the most part this works well, your character progresses through dodging blades on the beat, but it simply isn’t a well enough thought out mechanic. On some songs there will be a moment in the music where the beat drops for a pregnant pause. While fine as listening material, it’s a different matter in game. If there are any pillars that have been brought up to block you, the game forces you to stand in place and wait for the song to start up before you can progress. Considering the game supports online multiplayer and leaderboards, something that might seem insignificant can end up harming an otherwise flawless run.
If the game’s pre-packaged soundtrack is unsavoury to your ears, you can replace the music with a custom soundtrack. However this is cumbersome, with apparently no option to remove songs from a playlist. Not only that, but loading a new song caused my computer to freeze up for 30 seconds with no indication of what the game was doing. That said, I was impressed with how easily Rush Bros. was able to recognise the bpm of the songs I loaded in. Given the aforementioned problems with the obstacles in the environment, I dread to think what would happen if you loaded John Cage’s 4’33″ onto the playlist.
I really wanted to enjoy Rush Bros. but there are simply too many poor design decisions. Interacting with the environment feels like a chore in this game. If the character comes into contact with a wall while falling then instead of sliding down naturally, the character will lose all momentum to hang in place awkwardly which kills the flow of a run. Similarly, you have hardly any way to speed up naturally, instead relying on an awkward slide move for a slight burst of speed. Running down steep slopes doesn’t imbue the character with any greater acceleration. The only way to move faster is to find one of the powerups dotted around, although once you pick one of these up you usually end up running so fast that it becomes hard to control other than running in a straight line.
This lack of internal consistency really hurts the game. Aside from the aforementioned levels that return you to the start on a single death, there are jump pads that launch you in a different direction than they are pointing. There are sections of the ground that look safe but are in fact launch pads in disguise. In the final stage when the spiked floor on the room above fell through the ceiling to attack my character I was convinced that the game was an “I Wanna Be The Guy” style joke. Invisible walls crop up with no indication. The game’s open-level structure means I often found myself lost in the stages simply progressing in a random direction until I stumbled upon a key or locked door. When I saw the tenth jump pad that launches you into spikes on the ceiling I was ready to quit. The game reuses a lot of its old ideas, stretching them very thin over its campaign of 41 levels. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to make you retrace your steps three times in a level needs to play through Super Mario World again.
So, to be honest, I find it pretty hard to recommend this game. There are definitely some neat ideas here but it’s held back by some very suspect design. The art style is nice enough but it’s often muddied by the backdrop, making it hard to distinguish what is a stable platform and what will cause you to drop like a stone. This might be excusable if the controls were tight enough, but controlling your character ends up as little more than an exercise in frustration.
Fast-paced soundtrack keeps the pace high and split-screen and online modes allow for easy multiplayer access.
The game simply isn’t fun to control and there are too many questionable design choices.
Overall: 1 out of 5
We were given a download code for Rush Bros. for free, but it is available to purchase on PC for a very reasonable $8.99 here.