RUNMAN: RACE AROUND THE WORLD / Tom Sennett + Matt Thorson / PC
The quickest way to explain RunMan is a mix of Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, but though those are probably the primary two commercial influences on it, they aren't adequate to explain the game in and of themselves.
The goal of the game is basically to run to the right and run pretty fast, but unlike Sonic, the game isn't meant to be a pure speed thrill with "blast processing" or whatever. Like Sonic, it does throw a lot of obstacles in your path suddenly, but these serve only as a minor irritant rather than a frustrating game-stopper (and aren't accompanied by some annoying jangly crash with rings flying out everywhere either.) The Yoshi's Island influence is more on the background art and other little aesthetic qualities rather than the gameplay.
RunMan is just a little dude who specializes in runnin', so of course when a race around the world is announced, he's all over it. When all the other competitors see that he's there, however, they forfeit. So RunMan becomes a paper champion with no actual race taking place. Not satisfied with this lack of a running and a challenge, he decides to create his own crazy race across the world through hostile territory, accompanied by energetic old out-of-copyright blues and bluegrass tunes that someone dug up from the Internet Archive.
So you get this romp through five worlds composed of about six levels each. The game is at once casual and not - casual in that you have infinite lives and re-tries and can never really die or lose, but hardcore in that a good score in even the earliest levels requires demanding perfectionism and lots of practice to get the nuances of the level down. Each world is capped off by a "boss battle", which is the only place where RunMan can actually die - though it's not held against you in any way, you just immediately start the battle over from the beginning. And it really can't rightly be called a "battle" as you're really just running away from them at top speed while dodging obstacles, in Dino Run style.
The game is really a fun romp and deserves all the praise it's getting from the indie press. The joyful scribbly aesthetic is a sweet counterpoint to all the Self-Srs Bsns that seems to be out there in indie gaming today and the use of the bluegrass/blues music is inspired and totally catchy. The only issue I have with it - and one I haven't really seen brought up anywhere else yet - is that after the first three worlds or so the game leaves you in an uncomfortable limbo where you're guaranteed to blow through the levels unless you quit, but actually getting a medal in them requires such perfectionism and so much of a time investment in practice that it'll likely turn off people who aren't super-hardcore platformer fans. Thus, as much as I liked the game, I found myself wandering away from it and in no hurry to return to it after only a couple of days of play - I really didn't have an interest in Hardcore Training to get to the point where I could medal all the levels, but there was really nothing else left to do with the game.
* freeware download (donations of any amount requested)
* Gameplay Video