You know when something’s really cool and original at first, but eventually gets so overused that it loses all its novelty and charm? Like when they started using dubstep in car commercials? That’s kind of how I feel about the glut of 2D side-scrolling “retro” games.
Uniquely artistic indie titles like Braid and Limbo revitalized the genre, while so-called “punishing platformers” like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV, with their insane difficulty, returned us to a bygone era when video games were actually hard. These inspired indie platformers (and others) are some of the best games of this decade. But they’ve inadvertently given rise to mediocre shit like Spiel Studios’ Galaxy Run.
Okay, so Galaxy Run isn’t that bad. It’s just thoroughly unremarkable. It doesn’t offer anything new in terms of either gameplay or aesthetic, and what it borrows it doesn’t do particularly well.
You play as Rez, an astronaut who, having crash-landed on an unfamiliar planet, just wants to go home. Despite claiming to have an “engrossing storyline,” the plot is almost non-existent. Rez, using his trusty jet-pack, progresses through the levels and visits three planets, but it’s unclear how this is actually helping him get back to Earth. Rez himself is best described as a frat boy Buzz Lightyear, but somehow even more douche-y.
It’s a runner, which means the little astronaut you’re controlling is in perpetual motion. Jumping from platform to platform and avoiding obstacles requires precise timing and quick reflexes. Which is why it makes absolutely no sense as an iOS game.
Galaxy Run would work better on PC or console. Its fast-paced mechanics are best suited to the low-latency controls these gaming platforms utilize. Playing a punishing platformer on a touchscreen is like trying to operate on someone while wearing boxing gloves. Would you want to play Super Meat Boy on an iPhone? No, me neither, that sound horrible and frustrating.
Which Galaxy Run is at times. It suffers from a pretty common flaw in iOS games: inconsistent difficulty. The first handful of levels (let’s say 1-1 through 1-12) are easy, almost painfully so, while the last few (1-13 to 1-15) are so hard they’re damn near impossible. This sharp difficulty curve makes playing later levels a chore.
And oh man are there a lot of levels, 360 in total. Galaxy Run is divided into subsections: there are 3 worlds, each with 6 stages, each with 15 levels, plus an additional 90 “extreme” levels. Like many iOS games, each level can be completed in as little as a few seconds, and you are rewarded with up to three stars based on your time. Each stage introduces a new mechanic, some of which are more interesting than others.
Most of the levels are entertaining, a passable diversion if you’re on a bus or in a waiting room. Its one-touch gameplay is indeed quite easy to learn. And while there’s nothing visually special about Galaxy Run, its graphics are decent enough to escape criticism. Sadly, I can’t say the same about the music. Its heavily auto-tuned theme song is annoying, albeit catchy. The in-game music, however, is so repetitive and grating that I actually had to turn the sound off. But even this isn’t Galaxy Run’s biggest flaw.
What I found most problematic, and obnoxious, is the game’s use of microtransactions. I’m not a fan of microtransactions in free-to-play games, but I think downright despicable in games like Galaxy Run that you actually pay for. Basically, you have a few free power-ups (that slow time and make you invincible), and three chances to skip a level, but after that you have to pay. It’s straight up not okay to force someone to pay real life money in order to skip a level that’s too difficult. But that’s mobile gaming for you.
If you have an iOS device, and this review has not dissuaded you, you can purchase Galaxy Run for $0.99 here.
[+Entertaining at times] [-Easy to learn one-touch gameplay] [-Annoying and repetitive music] [-Nonexistent plot] [-Inconsistent difficulty] [-Have to pay to skip a level]