For a masterclass in economical gameplay and storytelling, look no further than Run Roo Run. Developed by 5TH Cell, the same team responsible for Scribblenauts, this is a bare-bones platform adventure that delivers a pure hit of gaming satisfaction. Best of all, there's a cast-iron promise of additional free content in the weeks and months ahead.
How does it play?
We open somewhere in the wilds of Perth, Australia. Roo's little son, Joey, has been bagged with a net by a man in van. Roo is pissed. She finds a hat discarded at the scene of the crime, puts it on, and she chases after the van all the way to Sydney Zoo. Finding Nemo takes at least an hour to setup their premise; this game does it in six comic book panels.
Between Roo and her destination are twenty stages, each broken down into 21 levels of platforms and pitfalls. Her movement is constant and she's only got one life (but infinite continues), but players don't have any control over the direction or the pace she's hopping in. All they can do is tap once to start the level, and then further taps to make her jump. Therefore, it's all about timing and reflexes, and trying to complete each level in as fast a time as possible.
Where the game reveals its cunning design is the addition of modifier items that Roo must use/activate to complete a level. Initially it's just basic stuff that's introduced one stage at a time, like a double jump for tall obstacles, or a helipad that sends her on a vertical hover. As you get further into the game, all these different modifier items are mixed and jumbled together so it's a constant test to navigate through all of them unscathed.
Some of these modifiers are also brilliant allusions to other video games old and new. Without wishing to spoil the surprise, see if you can spot references to classic gaming tropes from titles like The Legend of Zelda, Uncharted, and Portal. It's always magical when a developer knows their beans and tries to replicate a console-sized experience on a humble touchscreen.
Why do we like it?
Run Roo Run is top-tier entertainment for all ages. It's simple to play and understand, with the now-ubiquitous one-tap control mechanic, but arrayed around each stage are a sequence of increasingly complex challenges. The "extreme" levels are especially tough to beat.
We also like how the game chose to locate itself in Australia, and is refreshingly free of cliches and stereotypes. There's nary a boomerang or a cork-hat to be seen, just a cartoon representation of the Outback wilderness. We're entirely to blame for that Rolf Harris joke in the headline.
Developer 5TH Cell have promised to release extra bonus levels in the weeks ahead, to keep the challenge fresh. But you're already looking at something like 400 levels to complete, and that's more than enough to be getting on with already. All that's missing is a cameo appearance from the Rolfster himself.