Indie platformers are far from rare at the moment, with multiple new options seemingly cropping up on Steam’s front page every week. However, every so often a title comes along and offers something new - SpeedRunners, the four-player platformer by DoubleDutch Games, is such a title. The game, which is currently available on Steam Early Access, combines smooth controls with high-octane, multiplayer, grappling-hook action to create an exhilarating experience.
In a city filled with superheroes, the masked vigilantes race to get to the crime scene first - although it seems that justice is usually forgotten once the competition begins. Upon launching the game you're offered a simple tutorial, which sends you into a regular race against bots, but with various signs around the level to teach you how to play. As basic as the introduction is, thanks to the responsive controls it’s not long before you’re double-jumping, sliding, boosting and grappling around courses with ease.
Races can support up to four players, consisting of any combination of local, online or AI opponents. While the AI is competent, there’s no replicating the rivaly that emerges against a real opponent when they repeatedly screw you out of victory with a well-timed power-up or grapple hook swing.
During a race, all players share the same camera view and are eliminated if they can’t keep up with the action. The last man standing wins the round, and coming top in three rounds wins you the match. This simple-sounding premise belies a lot of the gameplay’s depth; being in front of the pack gives you the disadvantage of not being able to see the obstacles that lie ahead, while sitting back gives you time to contemplate the best path through the course. This dynamic is made even more pronounced when the first player is knocked out, as this causes the edges of the screen to slowly close in until eventually you're left with a only a few inches of screen space. At this point the competition becomes extremely tense, with very little room for error.
The gameplay is spiced up further by an array of power-ups; there are the obvious inclusions of mines and rockets, as well as more unique weapons such as a grappling hook that pulls back the player in front, and a torpedo pickup that sends its user speeding forward and tripping up anyone who gets in the way.
It's all presented in a clean, cartoony art style, reminiscent of 1950s comic books - a theme that is consistent throughout the game. This is perhaps most noticeable with the character designs, with each of the four vigilantes having a very distinctive and campy superhero look. They’re also animated extremely smoothly, which makes the platforming even more satisfying.
As mentioned earlier, SpeedRunners is currently available on Steam Early Access, and it’s clear that there’s some work to be done before the full release. In the current beta version, there’s not much to the game beyond the seven maps on offer, and although the bots are there for people who prefer to play solo, a time trials mode wouldn't go amiss. We also encountered several bugs in our time with the title, such as when the AI opponents occasionally run the wrong way, knocking themselves out of the race, or certain sections of track which sometimes cause the player in last to suddenly win the round. They’re relatively minor issues for the most part, but they can lead to frustration in a game where a tiny mistake can mean the difference between first and last place.
Still, despite some small issues that will likely be sorted out before the full release, SpeedRunner’s mechanics come together to create a chaotic multiplayer experience that rivals Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. It’s even better if you can get a group of friends together for a local session, and while it might take a bit more effort to set up than on a console, it's worth the hassle to experience what's shaping up to be one of the most competitive games around.