Runbow | Shantae and waterfall
Runbow | Steam header
Title Runbow
Developer 13AM Games
Publisher 13AM Games
Release Date Nov. 18, 2016
Genre Platformer
Platform Steam, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS
Age Rating ESRB – Everyone
Official Website

Sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re getting into with 2D platformers on Steam. There are so many of them, and so many different types, that often you don’t know what to expect from any given one when you pick it up. Runbow was one such case for me; for some reason, I expected it to be a fast, fluid game along the lines of something like Speedrunners. That’s not what Runbow is. Instead, Runbow is much slower, with most of the gameplay seeming to revolve around waiting and solving color-based platforming puzzles.

It should also be noted that a big part of Runbow is the local 9-player multiplayer component. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to play that, partly because I play PC games on a desktop, meaning my setup is not optimal for local PC multiplayer. The other part is because I don’t have a lot of friends to play games with locally to begin with. There is an online multiplayer mode, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone playing it, at least at the times that I tried, so I didn’t get the chance to play that either. So, it’s entirely possible that the single player campaign sells the game short, and it’s much more fun as a party game, but that’s something that can be said for lots of games.

Runbow | Shifting color
A lot of times, all the color shifting amounts to is making you wait.

Runbow is a platformer where the background periodically changes color, and any platform that is the same color as the background disappears. There are some variations, such as strips of different color moving across the screen or different colors coming from environmental elements. Visual design is very bare bones, with all ground being either solid black or one of the background colors. It’s a very striking design, and makes it so there’s no confusion about what you can land on, what platforms you can jump through, which ones you can’t, and what will kill you. At certain points the game uses its color mechanics in interesting ways, such as moving with a waterfall, vertical bars moving steadily across the screen, or smaller colored areas blocking deathtraps such as colored spikes or lasers. Boss fights consist of standard platforming levels, with the exception that you need to punch Satura at the end.

The controls are where Runbow falters most. You can choose between playing on the keyboard or a controller. Characters can jump, double-jump, attack and taunt. There are different kinds of attacks; simply pressing the attack button once will do a standard ground or air attack, double-tapping the button will launch the character forward, pressing the attack button plus up will launch upwards, and attack plus down will do a ground pound. The up-attack is particularly important, since it serves as a sort of triple-jump, which is vital for many jumps, especially considering the relatively short arc of both the single and double jumps. There’s also a slight delay in attacking and jumping, which can make it unnecessarily difficult to attack enemies on the ground without jumping on them. The controls seem generally somewhat unresponsive, with the game sometimes not registering jumping or registering it late. There are also problems inherent with having level designs that might as well have been done with an Etch-a-Sketch, since any cliff that juts outward even slightly can block your triple-jump, and the character has a tendency to slide off edges if you land too close to one. Fortunately death isn’t much of a setback, since it just puts you back to the start of the relatively short level.

Runbow | Color spikes
I won’t deny that there are levels that put the color mechanic to very good use.

There are some good songs on the soundtrack, but in any given 36-level world there are only two different background tracks plus the boss level music, and the two tracks are just variations of the same tune. As enjoyable as the music is at first, it doesn’t take long for it to get repetitive.

There’s not much story to speak of, just that some villain named Satura has gone into movie posters and replaced the characters with monsters, and it’s the job of multicolored protagonists Hue and Val – as well as an array of guests from other indie games, including Gunvolt, Shantae, CommanderVideo and others – to go into those posters and restore them. There are 144 levels in total plus a final boss fight, and on each one you get up to three medals depending on how quickly you reach the goal. There are three types of levels: the most common is trying to get to the end of the level, but some levels have you either killing a certain number of enemies or collecting a certain number of coins. Each world has its own background designs and slightly different color palette, but otherwise the level appearances are identical throughout the entire game. This means that there’s quite a bit of similarity over the course of almost 150 levels and over 5 hours for the single-player campaign.

Runbow | Colored light
The background color affects more than just platforms sometimes.

Runbow is a game with an interesting premise – taking timed platforms to their natural conclusion as a mechanic – but it largely falls apart due to its unresponsive controls. As I mentioned earlier, it’s very possible that the single-player campaign sells the game short and it’s more enjoyable to play as a party game, but a game being enjoyable when played locally with friends doesn’t mean it’s well-made. It has its good points, mainly in the different ways it uses its core mechanic, but considering its issues, I ultimately find it difficult to recommend for its full price of $14.99 USD, especially if you don’t have anyone to play it with.

Runbow | Colored rays
All things being said, there are some cool level ideas in here.
Review Score

Review copy provided by publisher

Chris Melchin
Chris is a computer science student who has been gaming ever since he knew what to do with a Super Nintendo controller. He's a fighting game player, with a focus on BlazBlue and Under Night In-Birth games. His favourite games include Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Persona 5, and Little Busters. He started watching anime in high school, and his favourite series is Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. He also writes Vocaloid music for his personal YouTube channel, and has a (slight) obsession with Megurine Luka.