Okay, yes, you’re right, if there is one genre that has been flogged to death, it is probably the endless runner. Ever since the likes of Canabalt, every man and his dog, pet goldfish and best friend Barry have been trying to add something new to the scene. Many have tried, many have failed and many, many more will continue to do so.
Being more of a “traditional" gamer, I’m not a massive fan of the casual genre, though if a title is exceptional I’ll give it my time. I mentioned Canabalt before. I love that game. I love it so much I even own it on cartridge for Commodore 64 in the form of C64anabalt (yes, I’m old enough to own a C64… in fact, three of them, but that’s another story). Few endless runners have come close to capturing that incredible atmosphere and compulsive quality that oozes from Canabalt’s digital pores, and while I wouldn’t put Flip Runner (Free) quite in the same league, it certainly has my attention by the nose hairs.
Flip Runner is, at its core, a basic endless runner, only it takes the unique approach of utilizing a horizontally split-screen play area. The aim is simple – run as far as you can and tap the screen to jump – thus avoiding sharp objects and ultimately becoming a smear on the sidewalk. Instead of merely jumping, however, the player leaps off the top of the screen, flips over and continues to run on the ceiling of the bottom half of the display.
Essentially, each half of the screen is a separate environment, the lower half appearing to be a mirror image of the top, though this isn’t the case, as the obstacles block the way sporadically in a staggered manner on both halves. Think of it as though someone took the gravity swapping system from games such as Gravity Guy and VVVVVV, split the two halves of the screen across the middle, then swapped the positions of said halves… wait, I’m confusing myself now…
…which is exactly what happens when you first play Flip Runner. For the first few games, you’ll find it really mind-bending and keep jumping to avoid obstacles that are on the opposite half of the screen, resulting in a bloody mess. It doesn’t take long to get to the concept though and it soon becomes a massively enjoyable and challenging experience.
As well as the running and jumping, there are two power-ups to collect. The first is a lightning-bolt invincibility/speed boost that envelops you in a small electrical storm and blasts you 1000 meters along the road, destroying everything you touch along the way. To activate the boost power-up, you need to collect three lightning bolt icons. Sometimes the bolts are plentiful, though often you’ll be playing for what seems like an eternity before you see a single one of the little yellow glowing beggars… it’s in these voids of helpfulness that the heart really gets the red stuff pumping. The other power-up is a shield, which protects you from a single hit and trust me, it can really come in handy.
Both the shield and the boost power-ups can also be bought from the game’s store, along with a multitude of different “hat" designs that range from large grins to baseball caps and the comedic arrow-through-the-head. The designs are simply for aesthetics and add nothing to the game other than a bit of fun customization. Of course, these power-ups need to be bought with currency that is earned by running as far as possible through the game, and you can also purchase said currency with real world money via IAP, but rest assured there are certainly no nasty traps here.
Design-wise, Flip Runner is a great looking game. It’s extremely simple but the animation is fluid, the character design very well drawn and the multi-level parallax scrolling cloud layers look great. The character, road and obstacles are all presented as silhouettes and look fantastic against the color-changing, block-colored background. The music is catchy too and the effects are excellent. I particularly like the electrical buzzing of the lightning power-up. Bzzzzzzzzz….
As a “traditional" gamer, Flip Runner has helped remind me of the beauty of the well-executed casual game. It’s one of those “just one more go" type of games that is really hampering my sleeping patterns. Ultimately, Flip Runner provides a fresh approach to an exponentially stagnating genre. It’s fast, fun, won’t stick out like a sore thumb on the credit card statement and despite its relative simplicity, provides hours and hours of enjoyment. My only gripes were the touch detection in the store that sometimes stopped me from purchasing the lightning power up and the fact that this game has no native support for iPad, though it does still look fantastic at 2x scale. Minor irks aside, this is a flipping great game.