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Free And Worth Every Penny - Issue 20

This may only work for those of you of a certain age and a certain background. For those in the right group, however, I believe it will work quite well.

Think back to the first time you played a good Sonic the Hedgehog game. Early- to mid-90's, on your Genesis (or, as I did, on a friend's). Doesn't really matter which one it was. Remember the exhilaration you felt as you got better at the game, and Sonic went from clumsily hopping around, trying not to die, to flying through the levels, careening around at top speed, blasting through enemies - a hyperkinetic, invincible pinball. As your knowledge of the levels increased, completing them became an art, as subtle and impressive as getting through an arcade shoot-em-up on one quarter or beating Contra without using 99 lives.

Now remember the frustration of Sonic's frequently cheap level design. Okay, obviously my own memory is coloring my opinions here, but "learning" a Sonic level really wasn't always fun. Spike walls and bottomless pits were deliberately dropped in your path, and there was no way to know about them or react to them on your first run, you just had to die a few times until you figured it out. It could get infuriating.

Now imagine taking that frustration away, and replacing Sonic with a little star guy. Or starfish guy, maybe? Honestly I'm not sure what he is, but if the image is roughly star-shaped you're pretty much there.

Now if you like what's in your head, go play RunMan: Race Around the World, because Tom Sennett and Matt Thorson made this just for you.

RunMan is pretty much everything I loved about Sonic, without pretty much anything I didn't. It's a straight-up speedrun game, with the simple objective of getting to the end of a stage as quickly and stylishly as you can. You have only the arrow keys, a jump key and a "zoom" key to concern yourself with (well, also a "suicide" key if things aren't going well), and you will only use those keys to move left to right as fast as possible. The game is nothing if not straightforward.

Under that straightforward facade, however, is a surprising amount of depth and - if you're into this sort of thing - joy. When "zooming", RunMan will plow through most enemies and bounce off many surfaces, picking up speed and earning a higher score while the level literally cheers him on. Of course, he's also more likely to careen out of control, or accidentally run into an enemy that can't be zoomed through. There's no death to worry about here, though - hitting an enemy the wrong way simply tosses you back a bit, and even "bottomless" pits only slow RunMan down momentarily before he jumps back out. It's a high-score challenge all the way, with medals awarded at performance thresholds for each level as you make your way across the [very Mario-ish] overworld map. Levels contain multiple pathways, encouraging you to optimize your route on repeated playthroughs. And as you can see from the screenshot, the low-fi (but very nicely animated) graphics emphasize high-contrast color and the sort of attitude these games had before "attitude" meant "edgy" and "dark".

In short: if you like games that challenge you to go fast, you need to go see if you can keep up with RunMan.

RunMan: Race Around the World is:
  • full of personality.
  • impressively large.
  • backed by a pretty awesome soundtrack.
  • the sort of game I want to see more of.
Go check RunMan out here.

Be aware that this game is actually Free and Worth Several MORE Pennies - it's donationware, meaning you can have it for free, but if you like it they'd appreciate you paying whatever you feel it's worth. They'll certainly be getting something from me.

"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Immortal Machines. This piece originally appeared there.