Switch version tested
Review code provided
Looking at this title a few times, a double-take here and there, did I really want to add this to my playlist? I’ll play and review anything and give a fair evaluation unless I’m bribed with ale and white chocolate. However, variety is the spice of life and playing a rogue-like, or 8-bit platformer one after the other can get a little exhaustive. Enter Top Run and further proof that experimenting isn’t just for college: there are some real gems out there.
Top Run has all the elements I like in a game, but also the same factors that every Tom, Dick and Harry throw into the pot in just about every retro title. Think 80s, neon, pixel-art, platform, a nostalgic nod to things you liked as a kid and some challenges to keep you invested in a seemingly repetitive and straightforward title. All of those things apply to Top Run, and all of those things are done well. It has He-Man in it, for crying out loud.
There’s no story or plot device here. Instead, you play Kevin along with his trusty companion, Buddy – initially a German Shepherd (more on that ‘initially’ later) and hop up, over and under platforms, shooting baddies and attempting to get further each time. Whether there is an actual end goal, I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve invested a lot of time in this as it is genuinely one of those addictive games you can’t put down. The mechanics are simple: it’s an automatic side-scroller, so all you need to do is time your jumps accordingly and shoot at the right time. By default, you have a double jump that can morph into a triple jump with a change of skin.
The main gameplay is incredibly basic but fun. It’s longevity and replay value come with the challenges. Each time you start the stage, you have one of three objectives to complete. Complete one of these, and it will give you some XP, this XP levels you up for further goodies including gear for your apartment. More on that later too. These challenges remain until you finish them and thankfully aren’t random. A typical challenge might be to trigger off lava five times or jump 250 times. Most of the time, they are so incredibly simple, but tricky to achieve. Not because they are difficult as such, but collecting two of the same power-ups in one run can be hard if the specific power-up doesn’t show up. You can increase your chances in a change of skin. Let’s go there now so we can address that, as well as the dog.
During each attempt, instead of collecting coins, you can collect pixels. Over 10,000 usually allows you to buy a new skin for Kevin as well as Buddy. Buddy can turn into a full-on German Shepherd – that is, the common colour, a Terminator-like dog or even a cat by purchasing a new skin from the menu. Kevin has some better examples such as characters Kung Fury, Inspector Gadget and of course, He-Man. Other than the aesthetic elegance they offer, they come with additional bonuses such as how many floppy disks you can throw (your attack), a triple jump and having a friend join you in every run (the He-Man skin provides this buff). The inclusion of these characters from yesteryear, the addictive nature of ‘one more go’ and to see how many more meters you can travel, is very reminiscent of The VideoKid.
As well as the skins, you also get items for your apartment as you level up. It’s only cosmetic, but fun to revisit your place between plays and being greeted by confetti for getting new blinds. A bonus in your room is a playable arcade game in the mould of Space Invaders which I ended up binging on for far too long. Think of it as a mini-game, but as a fan of the original, it might as well have been a standalone. Other than the cosmetic elements and buffs, XP and level increases unlock a new stage, a variety of difficulty modes and a way to double your points and increase the benefits of the available power-ups. While I’m game for normal or easy modes, Top Run encourages you to play the harder levels to unlock more XP. Though these are in essence harder versions of the same levels, the points multiplier increases and you can level up faster to some extent.
The power-ups in the game are a little erratic – especially when you’re trying to collect two of the same. Still, they had advantages like freezing enemies to unlocking a hoverboard that has a magnet for gathering more pixels. You can also rescue friends during each run, and in turn, they offer a special ability that can be used once each time you rescue them. With special moves such as Super Sonic Rolling Dude and Mind Blowing Telekinetic Blast they’re a pretty good addition to bolster your score, and they’re a requirement for some objectives.
Yet again, we revisit the 80s, which was mostly pinks and purples. It wasn’t, but I do remember the abundance of hairspray with that coin-like aftertaste in the room anytime someone had a top-up. The graphics are fine and remain consistent throughout. With the variety of skins, it’s clear who you’re playing, despite the choice of pixelated graphics. My latest skin is a variation of Freddy Krueger, and he looks great. Perhaps the standout here though is the soundtrack. It’s so incredibly 80s, and if someone said that they were lifted from a John Hughes film, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. They’re spot-on in every way and if you like 80s synth-pop, don your leg warmers now and turn this up to 11.
Considering that there are only two stages to the game with three difficulties, it seems like this would be over far too quickly. Still, with the seemingly endless challenges and incentive to level up, I can see me playing Top Run for the foreseeable future. If it wasn’t for that big round hangy thingy on the wall that tells the time, that ’20 minute go’ was actually two hours. Once you complete one challenge or even two in one go, it’s so tempting to see what the next one will be, then the next, and so on. That endless quest to grind a character to better levels and complete the challenges is totally enticing, and with the seductive sounds of synth-pop and overuse of neon which always looks great, Top Run is a thoroughly enjoyable title.
My memory of the 80s really isn’t like how these retro-inspired titles will have newcomers believe (besides, I’m more of a 90s kid). Still, I happily welcome with open arms when titles such as Top Run can hold my attention for so long when I have a large pile of games craving my attention. They can wait: I have to score another 55,000 points in hardcore mode first.
TBG Score 8/10
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 10/02/2020
No. of Players: 1
Developer: Katata Games
Publisher: Fantastico Studio
Download link: eShop