The thrill of local multiplayer, notably explored recently in the likes of Samurai Gunn, Nidhogg and TowerFall, is going to an extreme with next year with Runbow. The multiplayer game, a competitively running and platforming game, pits up to nine players against each other in fast, frenzied battles to the death.
Toronto-based developer 13AM Games brought the maniacal fun of Runbow to this weekend's Indiecade festival in Culver City, California, drawing big crowds. On hand was the game's Run mode, in which nine players sprint from one side of the screen to the other, punching each other and hopping from platform-to-platform along the way.
The twist in Runbow comes from its use of color. Colored gates, platforms and other obstacles are strewn throughout each level. They come in green, blue, purple and orange. Every few seconds, one of those colors sweeps across the game's background, momentarily deleting all platforms of the same color. So if you're standing on a green platform and the background turns green, the floor drops out from beneath you. Or you may run face first into an orange wall that wasn't there two seconds ago.
13AM Games attempts to summarize that mechanic with Runbow's tagline "If you can't see it, it doesn't exist."
As players race across the screen, trying to pay attention to changing colors and how they'll affect the environment, they have to worry about other things. If they lag too far behind and fall offscreen, they'll die. Sometimes a spiked boulder will come rolling onto the stage. And, frankly, it's just hard enough to keep track of nine player characters on the same screen. There's diversity in color and design — players can look like mummies, lumberjacks, ninjas, pirates — but you're frequently packed into the same small space.
Runbow's color-driven mechanic would make for a crazed, confusing competitive platformer on its own, but the developer throws in a handful of power-ups to make things even more bananas. Players can punch their opponents at any time, momentarily stunning them, but a Power Punch pick-up makes those punches far deadlier, launching opponents into the air. Players can also pick up a lightning power-up that shocks everyone else for an extended stun. Other power-ups include one that makes everything happen in slow motion and another that swaps one player's location with another.
The power-ups and jostling for position almost make Runbow feel like a side-scrolling take on Mario Kart, in which every player has to share the same crowded screen space.
There's more to just racing in Runbow. 13AM also had a King of the Hill-style mode and a deathmatch battle known as Arena in the alpha it brought to Indiecade, but we didn't get a chance to play them. (Ties in the game's Run mode are settled in a version of the game's deathmatch mode, though, which involved bouncing on a floor made of mushrooms while trying to avoid spike pits.)
Runbow takes advantage of the Wii U's GamePad in an interesting way. The player wielding the touchscreen controller can dole out power-ups and switch the background color on the fly in the game's Colourmaster mode, which is essentially a means to torment up to eight friends as they fight among themselves. 13AM also has a smart implementation for getting nine players into the game: two players share a Wii Remote-Classic Controller pairing, turning what would normally be a single-player controller into two.
Producer Dave Proctor at 13AM Games says Runbow is coming to Wii U first, noting that Nintendo had been "insanely supportive" of the game, early next year. He also said that the development team is working on color blind options, noting that the game has a black and white tonal visual option that may serve as the best solution for color blind players.
Check out Runbow in action in the Indiecade trailer below.