Absolutely nothing about the first five minutes of Darkness Rush: Saving Princess [$0.99] gave me any reason to think it would be a good game. There's that mouthful of a title, for one thing. An absolutely incomprehensible story and translation didn't help, and the Castlevania stylings and scantly clad ladies plastered everywhere just made me nervous. Even the tutorial was off-putting - I mean, seriously, how does it take that long to show us how to use a jump button?
It was a huge surprise when I realized two things: this game is an endless runner, and it's really, really fun.
There are two caveats to lay out before we go any further. This game is poorly optimized even compared with standard Unreal Engine memory consumption. My freshly restarted 4S experiences unforgivably bad frame rate drops sometimes. Only the newest generations can run the game, and crashes are a big problem if you're low on memory. Also, the game pushes its in-app purchases pretty hard for a paid title, but there's only one thing that can't be earned by playing. Prepare to put down an extra dollar if you want to unlock the under-dressed (but fantastic) Helena as a playable character.
Now to the fun. Darkness Rush follows a pretty typical formula for an endless runner. You run and jump as long as you can while collecting coins. Eventually gravity gets the better of you, and you die. Your score is uploaded to the Game Center leaderboards and then you do it all over again.
Yawn, right? But remember the awesome mission set up from Jetpack Joyride [Free]? You've got that to contend with here as well. Each time you play you work toward four different missions that change up whenever you earn one. Completing missions gives you experience, and leveling up earns you a new title to show off in multiplayer.
You can spend the coins you earn on equipment and power ups. Each time you start a new game you're prompted to buy single-use powerups that give you extra lives or double your income, that sort of thing. They're totally reasonably priced and can make the game much easier. Equipment is less reasonably priced, and could take hours to grind (or moments to buy with real cash). Here's the thing, though: equipment isn't just cosmetic - it can also increase your agility, mana, jump height and speed. Makes it a bit more worth the grind than Barry's flowery lei, no?
Mana is where the real fun is, taking Darkness Rush from your standard running and jumping affair to something a lot more interesting. As with Stylish Sprint [$0.99], you can attack some of the obstacles in your way, and you can fly. Both those things cost mana, which regenerates very, very slowly. Run dry and you're pretty much toast. But you also collect gems as you run, and once you have three you can transform into a wolf, bat or angel depending on your character. While you're transformed you don't use up mana. You can also take an extra hit, which knocks you back to your human form. Managing transformations adds a whole new level to the game, and it's the key to getting a good score.
Then there's multiplayer. It's not currently a huge selling point, to be frank. Once you make it through the wait for a match (which varies wildly with the game's relatively small user base) you're dropped into a foot race against another player. If you die you get set back, so it's mostly a challenge to see who can die less. Considering the lag and frame rate drops, this gets pretty hilariously bad.
But multiplayer is just icing on an otherwise excellent cake. The terrible translation is due to be fixed, and it sounds like there may be some optimizations coming down the line, too. I sure hope so. As endless runners go, this one is gorgeous, varied and tons of fun, so it deserves to be playable. And if you're sitting there steaming that all the lovely gothic art has gone to waste as an endless runner, swing by our discussion thread. Rumor has it that LuckySheep will be moving on to something more Castlevania-like next. I can't wait, but dear lord - let them hire an editor first.
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