The auto-running genre is one of the most saturated on the App Store, and although there are many excellent games that use that particular formula, there are far more mediocre or just plain bad games trying to cash in on the genre’s popularity. It’s because of this that it’s hard to get excited when I see new running games released, similar to how I throw up a bit in my mouth every time another match-3 rears its head.
Cynical attitude aside, when a new running game comes out that’s actually good, it deserves to get some attention, even if it’s the billionth one I’ve played. This brings me to Brain in Jar [99¢], the debut title from independent developer Java Soda Games, a new auto-runner that qualifies as one of the good ones. It doesn’t really reinvent the genre in any way, but it has a great visual style and the gameplay mechanics are honed near-perfectly, making it an incredibly fun game to get into. Not to mention, you play as a brain in a jar escaping human capture from a lab, which should be a wild enough notion to pique anybody’s interest.
Brain in Jar isn’t an endless runner, rather it’s made up of 25 increasingly difficult levels that are randomly generated with each play through. Your jarred brain makes its escape by way of a sturdy metal cart which can propel itself through each level thanks to your telekinetic powers. You have the ability to jump and double jump, and a few levels into the game you get the power to control your movement speed, slowing down or speeding up using left and right arrows.
It’s these game mechanics that make Brain in Jar so successful. They’re simple, mind you, but done very well. Jumping is super responsive and has that certain something that makes it just “feel” right. I’d liken it to how jumping and moving in a Mario platformer just feels so much better than similar games. Also, the ability to control your speed adds another layer of strategy that sets this game apart from other runners, and again Java Soda really nails the feel of controlling your character this way.
Another highlight to the gameplay are the obstacles in each level, which get more dangerous as you progress. These are typically science lab-ish items, like computer desks and metal bookshelves. What’s clever is that some of these items can be dealt with in multiple ways. For instance, you don’t have to jump over a desk or table, as some of them you can just ride right under. Or with bookshelves you can just jump right through the open spaces in the shelving rather than trying to jump the entire thing.
These multiple paths come more into play as you get deeper into Brain in Jar. Eventually, as one example, there will be lasers trying to shoot you down in your tracks. You can fire back, of course, but you can also seek shelter under a table in some circumstances. The best part about this is how it tends to all happen on the fly. You might be cruising along and have to double jump a giant bookcase, then slow yourself down so as not to run into a ceiling mounted turret, casually dropping down and racing under a desk as the turret futilely fires at you from above, the desktop shielding you from its blast.
It’s these organic action sequences that really put a smile on my face while playing Brain in Jar, and help me forgive some of the game’s shortcomings. For one, while the 3D backgrounds and objects look good, they never change, and the scenery tends to feel pretty repetitive. Secondly, there’s no endless mode. The standard Normal mode is certainly challenging enough, and the Hard mode will really test your skill, but with the random nature of the levels and the running gameplay it seems strange not to include some type of endless survival mode. To that effect, Game Center integration with achievements and leaderboards would be a great addition to add some variety and replay value to the game.
While there aren’t a ton of bells and whistles in Brain in Jar, what it does do it does extremely well, almost better than any of my other favorite running games. The developers seem keen on adding more to the game through updates too, as they’ve said in our forums where members are enjoying the game as well. If you aren’t totally burnt out on auto-running games and want one with a comical sci-fi style and excellent mechanics, then give Brain in Jar a spin.