Run, by Chris Whitman (also known to old-time forum folk as “I Like Cake”), is a game that you can play for free or buy. He describes it as an existential horror farming game. The game cycles between three modes of play.
In the platforming part, you walk on a sequence of words, try to get to the end of the level without falling or hitting something dangerous. The words are connected with how it’s played: for instance, there might be the word “across” that you can ride on to cross a chasm. This part of the game I felt was an interesting experiment, but way too easy; only late in the game where a monster chases you through it did it provide any challenge at all. I felt more could have been done in this part (perhaps with a few lessons from the excellent Ceramic Shooter: Electronic Poem). I also felt the words were a bit too recondite, much like Braid’s text between levels. (I couldn’t help but thinking it might be more interesting if the levels had instead been made out of some famous (and public domain) poem, Keats, e.e. cummings, Gerald Manley Hopkins, something like that.) I did enjoy the chase sequences in the final few levels of the platforming segments, but found this mode the least entertaining of the three.
The next mode of play is a series of interconnected variations on classic arcade games (Snake, Space Invaders, Gorillas, etc.) where each one changes the terrain to be used in the following ones; these were structurally the most interesting, but because it’s easy to mess up and make one of them create a terrain that it’s impossible for the next one to finish, although that does add some challenge that the rest of the game otherwise lacks, since you need to plan ahead. Overall this was my favorite segment of the game, with the others modes it was like “Oh, I’ve played *this* game before, and better” but this mode felt like a genuinely new experience. I hope future games (by Chris or others) expand on this game mode.
The last mode of play is an Actraiser-style game (it even uses the first few notes from the Actraiser sim-section theme song as a tribute) where you direct individuals to till the fields, plant seeds, and harvest food. This mode is both simple and complex; if you want to maximize food it’s complex, but if you just want to make enough food to survive it’s not all that difficult. I felt as if there should have been some reward for making more food than needed (perhaps population growth?). There also doesn’t seem to be any *difference* between the different farm stages of the game. Visually they differ a little but in gameplay terms they all have six fields and all play out the exact same way, it’s like playing the same level over and over again (there are blue people that come and interfere with your food a bit, but those don’t seem affect how you actually play the game, they don’t change the decisions you make or actions you take, they just reduce your crop yield). So while I liked the idea of this (I loved the sim sequences in ActRaiser) I felt it needed more work.
In summary, unlike a lot of so-called “art games”, I felt that this one had the potential to be fun, but didn’t meet that potential, when it easily could have with some more complexity and challenge to its game modes. It felt like a game that had all the trappings of a good game (nice music, sound effects, levels, goals, graphics, interesting themes) but which wasn’t playtested / balanced to improve how compelling the game modes were. So instead of a great game we get a great attempt with good ideas that other developers can learn from, but which will probably alienate itself from most players. Overall it’s worth playing for free, and if you enjoyed it, it’s only a few dollars to own and to own the soundtrack of (I believe the full version’s exactly the same as the free version, except that you can download it and play it full screen).