Ring Runner, a Kickstarter title based on a companion novel, is a unique arcade experience that blends old-school style shooting mechanics with humorous, often laugh-out-loud dialogue. The game never quite gets its footing with awkward pacing, a campaign mode that borders on tedium, and a multiplayer offering that’s fun, but not wholly engaging; still, in the end its a fun game with an enjoyable story and a breadth of gameplay options.
In Ring Runner, you begin the game – after choosing one of seven difficulty settings (with the hardest being for “masochists only”) – in a cabin of a spacestation, with blood spewed upon your sheets and dresser, and with a voice speaking to you, claiming to be an implant in your brain. The dialogue between your character and this “implant”, dubbed Nero, is immediately funny, and the writing noticeably witty; this is good, as it drives the game from the start.
Though its quality veers at times, the majority of the game’s dialogue is as humorous as Portal, the Stanley Parable and the best in gaming.
Upon waking in an amnesic state, and after talking with Nero for a short period, your character goes on the run, as the station is being attacked. Soon after, you take off in a ship, and a couple hours of tutorial-like missions begin. In these missions you’ll try out multiple ship-types and level-designs (there are eventually dozens of each to choose from), with the most used ship being one that can grab and throw objects (including other ships) and can toss a surprisingly deadly boomerang.
The story in the early parts of the game borders on incoherent; one second you’ll be running from enemies, next you’ll be purposefully charging them, next you’ll be searching for snacks for Nero. You soon find yourself as part of a gladiator ring where you attempt to work your way to the top, with no particular reason for this happening.
As the game advances, the story becomes more fascinating, with the writers attempting to develop a comprehensive universe. In many instances they succeed, but at times the story doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, and wanders into uninteresting territory. In the end, the story is one that I don’t regret knowing, but isn’t one I’ve spent much time thinking about since I’ve finished it, as is the case with some of the best written games. Still, I applaud the writers for their comedy.
The controls in the game are fully adjustable, allowing you to use a gamepad, which seems to be the suggested and smoothest option, a keyboard, or a keyboard and a mouse. Regardless of what method you use, the controls are entirely changeable. I played with a mouse and keyboard, using the keyboard to control thrust and secondary buttons, and the mouse to control movement and primary/secondary firing options. I also found the controls workable, though imprecise, using the keyboard by itself, having the arrow keys control movement.
Once past the tutorial stages, you’re able to choose between (and customize) numerous ships, each with varying play-styles, and can jump into a variety of levels. The sheer number of weapons and ships available keep things fresh as you advance throughout the story, though the core gameplay does become repetitive pretty early on. As you advance you’ll gain additional skills, such as the ability to temporarily slow down time, which are nice additions but do little to shake things up.
The game’s story campaign took me roughly 15 hours to finish (though that number can vary greatly depending on the difficulty you choose); the majority of the time, Ring Runner was fun and engaging – at other times it was dull and tedious.
The art in the game (namely the backgrounds) is great, and lends a good atmosphere to the action. The graphics and design beyond the backgrounds are solid, if not a tad generic. The audio works without complaint, with the music being catchy, though minimalistic. There is no voice acting in the game.
Beyond the single-player offering, Ring Runner includes a decent multiplayer option, with numerous cooperative and competitive modes. Though fun – especially for those who really enjoy the gameplay – these offerings are relatively basic, and do little to entice the gamer after a few hours. Overall the mode was appreciated, and definitely adds hours of replay value, but it doesn’t seem like something that will hold many gamers attention for a long period of time.
Upon finishing the game’s story, and spending a good amount of time playing around with the game’s various other modes, I can’t help but feel that the game could have been something great, if only the story was a little tighter and the gameplay had more variety. Still, it’s a game I’ll look back on quite fondly.