In Retro Runner: Princess Power (“RR:PP”), you play the role of a princess who no longer desires to wait for a prince to rescue her from captivity and plans to make her escape. Along the way she encounters enemies and bosses who try to stop her, as well as weapons and powerups to destroy them, in this storied version of an endless runner.
Ever since Temple Run and Jetpack Joyride became big, endless runners have been showing up more and more. Many are clones with their own graphics, such as Agent Ride or Pitfall! (the runner version), and some try to add a bit of their own flavor into the mix. Retro Runner is one of the latter, and the game differentiates itself from most endless runners in a few ways.
The first is that the playfield changes as you progress through the story, traveling with the princess through different eras of gaming, from the Atari generation, through the SNES/Genesis consoles, and the current period. This means that your character and the environment gain better graphics and sound along each leg of the adventure. Each stage plays the same, but the advancing graphics is a fun trek through time.
Most endless runners have some sort of currency collection as a carrot to keep you playing and let you gain powers, and this game is no different; however, RR:PP also includes weaponry to fight enemies along the way. With the point of a finger, you chuck knives, energy shields, throwing stars, and homing pigeons at your foes. Yeah, homing pigeons. They’re deadly! At the end of each stage is a boss that takes a different strategy to defeat.
The story is fun (yay for a princess taking care of herself!) and the gameplay is a joy, but there are some things in the game that I felt could use improvement, most of which left me confused when I first encountered them.
In the tutorial, you encounter what seems to be the final boss of the game who is undefeatable in this mission. At this point I had no way of knowing that and spent a considerable amount of time avoiding his attacks and hitting him, unsure if I was doing any damage. The game made it sound as if I was hitting armor, but again, at this point there wasn’t a way for me to know this wasn’t the default “hitting a big enemy” sound. Finally I got hit again and the story advanced. It turns out that I was supposed to “die”.
Games such as these allow you to collect or purchase currency to use in-game to buy powerups that make the game “easier”. But in RR:PP, the amounts required to purchase anything after the first level of any category are enormous and made me feel that I had to purchase in-game currency if I had any intention of boosting my character. I don’t want a free ride, and in-game purchases are the driving force as to why games like this exist these days, but the initial curve feels extremely steep.
A few of some very important things to me in a game is both control and the UI. Control in this game is fine, it’s hard to go wrong with a runner really though admittedly, sometimes incoming enemies are difficult to see because you need to have a finger on the right side of the screen, covering some of the playfield.
Outside of gameplay, the UI for the game needs improvement. Level selection shows you all of the stages in the game, but there is no indicator as to which levels are open to the player; they are all the same color and clickable. When it comes to the powerup purchase menu, it isn’t intuitive what you can click on to gain a skill without randomly pressing around and seeing what happens as, again, everything is clickable, but you don’t find out what you can click on without trial and error. On the bright side, since I started writing this review, a patch has come out that makes the powerup purchase menu brighter, but to a new user it is still not particularly easy to understand.
While I like that the game asks the player a quiz after each death as a chance to gain bonus currency, no matter if I failed or not, the question stayed up and allowed me to keep clicking on answers in a now-dead interface.
I encountered three bugs that I hope are easily squashed. The first is that once I purchased some currency, I still received ads until I restarted my device. Secondly, after one death, the second end boss joined my next run. It didn’t attack me, but it hovered ominously up and down while I tried to make my way through the stage again. Finally, before I made a purchase to remove ads, I confused the game by turning on airplane mode. Naturally it couldn’t load the ads and gave me a blank screen, but in order to be able to keep playing, I had to open the home screen and return to the game.
The thing about mobile games is that you need to be able to entice users right away as they tend to be fickle. Leaving them to hunt and peck their way through your interface is a surefire way to lose many of them which is a shame because the game underneath here is pretty fun. Keep it clean and simple. I want to suggest the game but not just yet. Let them get a few things worked out and I would gladly do a IGC Second Chance.
Retro Runner: Princess Power was developed by Stratum Games
The game is free, supported by in-game ads and in-game currency purchases, and on iOS, Android, and soon the desktop. Oh and the game is fucking hard, too! Fuck!