Mobile games have an uphill battle when making their way to console. Generally, they can be developed with monetary influences in mind, but even when they aren’t, it is common that the style of gameplay is from one of a few categories that are well-known from their original platform. Top Run is no different, finding itself coming from mobile’s endless runner genre, and feeling like it was probably a perfect fit for Android and iOS. Unfortunately, the package on sale here is one that doesn’t feel quite right for home consoles, and a lack of depth and interesting mechanics hinder an otherwise beautifully-crafted, pixelated experience.
Kevin, and his trusty sidekick pup Buddy, find themselves in a neon-clad city filled with dangerous enemies oozing that 80’s aesthetic and charm. Your friends Joy, Darryl and Ben can be found captured in cryotube-esque chambers and crashing through these sarcophagi let them join you in your fight down this action-packed street. Unfortunately, this is as close to a story as we get, with no explanation for why these super-powered, punk rockers are trying to end your game. As a pure gameplay, arcade experience, this is one that fans of those genres will probably find little fault in story-wise, but for anyone looking for a bit more in an already shallow experience, this will just feel like another thing that keeps this title from feeling complete.
High-octane action and quick-twitch reflexes are paramount in Top Run. As an endless runner, you will find your character moving constantly in a side-scrolling fashion down a street packed with obstacles and enemies. One hit gives you a game over, so keeping yourself alive as the screen gets more and more tightly packed will keep the difficulty on the accelerator with every step forward.
You do have some resources on hand to try to make your progression last as long as possible. Between a gun that utilizes limited ammunition and the help of your friends who, when released, flash forward to deal devastating blows to whatever is in your path, you also will have power-ups that can aid you in various aspects of the game. There are bouncers and speed boosts which can be a blessing and a curse, as you accidentally hop right into an enemy’s path. Top Run recommends using avoidance tactics as often as possible to conserve ammo, which does seem to be the best strategy, but also takes a bit of the action away from the experience. However, you could easily spam your weapon to keep your path clear if you had been granted unlimited bullets, so it is what it is.
My biggest issue with Top Run is the lack of diversity. You have one, singular stage to work with from the start, and after you reach a certain level, you can unlock one additional stage. Other than that you are left to repeatedly play the same level, without it being randomly generated to allow for some differences between attempts, with the only motivating factor being to complete missions, get a high score, and unlock the sparse scatterings of content. Besides various difficulty levels which increase the randomness of enemy placements and lessen the power-ups available, what you see is what you get.
Missions revolve around completing random tasks, such as gathering a certain amount of the game’s currency on a single run. With 100+ available to work through, this allows for some sort of cause to work towards but are basic and unsatisfying. Pixels that can be found laying on the ground can be gathered and used to purchase power-ups prior to playthroughs so you have a one-up on the baddies before entering the match, but each is fairly expensive, and will take several successful runs in order to garner enough pixels to be able to purchase these one-use abilities.
Skins can be unlocked to give your character various looks but have no effect on the gameplay. Also, you can unlock items in your apartment as your progress through this title’s leveling system, which opens up some interesting swag. Mostly consisting of cosmetics, this portion of the game is one that some will find as another motivator, but others will more than likely ignore. You are also given an arcade cabinet that plays a Space Invaders knock-off, but other than that you will probably spend very little time in this space.
The saving grace for this title comes in its art style and soundtrack. Top Run looks and feels like something straight out of 1985, with references to MTV, rocker cosmetics and enemy design, and a soundtrack that seriously pumps. As great as the pixel graphics and neon vibe feel, it just isn’t quite enough to make me want to spend a ton of time with it.
Top Run feels like a roller coaster, with highs that impress for a mobile port, but lows that really make you wonder about why so little is offered here. An aesthetic, art style, and soundtrack that feels directly from the 80s offers an experience that the nostalgic types, especially those who enjoy fighting for high scores, will surely enjoy. However, a lack of diverse levels and gameplay, and side mechanics that are purely cosmetic and shallow, make for an overall experience that becomes a pretty bare bones video game.
Top Run has a lot of good things to offer arcade veterans, regardless of it being a mobile port. With a rock-solid aesthetic and soundtrack, you will like what you see, but the total package on offer is bare bones and basic. A lack of interesting mechanics, cosmetic-heavy motivation, and the ability to play through one, singular level to start hurts what could have otherwise been a pretty decent endless runner experience for the Xbox One.