Sometimes the best games are the ones that successfully capitalize on a concept that is easy to learn and fun to play. A good example of this is Runbow, where on paper the game has no right to be as entertaining as it is, but the excellent implementation of the color-changing mechanic and easy to master control scheme gives players of all skill levels a chance at winning. This often results in a room full of people yelling and laughing as they scramble to the objective. With multiple modes of play and support for up to nine players, this could well become your go-to party game for years to come.
At its heart, Runbow is a platformer; you’ll need to try to reach the goal in the fastest time while jumping over obstacles, punching enemies, and navigating an ever-changing level. You see, the unique hook of the game is that the background colors are always shifting through the colors of the rainbow. This has an immediate impact on the levels because whatever color the background is, any platform that is the same color disappears and is no longer there. This provides a perfect twist to an otherwise tried-and-true formula. Not only are you in a race to reach the end of the level, but also you must pay attention to the color patterns and time your jumps to give you the greatest advantage. Strategies change on the fly. Do you wait a few seconds for the right color to pop up, dissolving a wall that provides a shortcut, or do you keep moving along different colored platforms, knowing that one mistake could send you into the abyss and ruin your chances of winning?
The dynamic level changes would be enough chaos in and of itself, but some levels throw in even more monkey wrenches to up the ante. Enemies are dropped into some courses to create more mayhem. Some you can just jump right over, but others you might want to do a dash down attack to get rid of them and access a new path. There are also other items littered about various stages, like bouncy mushrooms or springboards, which can send you flying high to reach a new path. In addition, you can find special power-ups that will temporarily boost your speed. This can be both a blessing and a curse depending on how expertly you take control of your character. One wrong move and you might run right off a ledge! Of course if you’re playing with others (and really you should be), there’s the additional hazard of your opponents punching you around and messing up your rhythm. You put all of these elements into the pot and stir it up and the result is nothing short of blissful chaos.
There are various modes of play in Runbow to keep things fresh. The basic is Run and it’s the one that you should start with because it’s the easiest to learn and honestly where I like to spend the majority of my time. All you have to do is reach the end of the level – preferably in first place. Then there’s King of the Hill, where you have to control an area of the map for a specified amount of time while punching others away. The Arena is last man standing and is in some ways similar to Super Smash Bros. with each player punching and dashing their ways to victory. Then there’s Adventure Mode, which is the beefiest of them all. Here you will have a whole bunch of levels to complete, either alone or with your friends. This is the co-op portion of the game and you’ll need to meet specific objectives to clear the stages. Some will be the standard “reach the goal” while others may require the killing of a set number of enemies or the collection of items. There are some really great levels in this mode that really change things up – like one where the entire level is flipped upside down and you must continue running or be consumed by a wall of death that’s chasing you. If you really want an exceptional challenge then you’ll want to boot up Bowhemoth mode, where the difficulty level has been ratcheted up all the way. This part of the game is not for the faint of heart, and could result in a broken Joy-Con. You’ve been warned!
Screens for Runbow don’t do the game justice. In fact, the backgrounds and foregrounds are often solid colors and at first glance might appear to be something from the early ‘80s. However, the scrolling stages are silky smooth and the characters are animated wonderfully, giving the game a distinctly modern look. It’s not the flashiest game on the Switch, but it nails the color-changing gimmick and keeps thing simple so you won’t get lost in the chaos. Audio-wise the game puts in the work as well. The music seems to almost flow with the action on-screen and there are a decent variety of tracks to keep things interesting.
The more you play Runbow, the more you unlock cool extras, like concept art and even playable characters. Although these special guests don’t play any differently from the stock characters, you might recognize a few of them from other games. The first two I came across were Shantae and Gunvolt, but there are others like Shovel Knight waiting to join the party.
Runbow initially launched on the Wii U a few years back, but as we all know that console flopped and many Switch owners may have never had the chance to check it out. The Switch is a great place for this game thanks to the sharing nature of the Joy-Con controllers and you can even go online if you’re lacking the people for couch play. The game is easy to learn and all should have a fun experience.
Runbow was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.