Flat Line: A Review Of Race The Sun

AA1When a game claims to be reminiscent of Star Fox, well, colour me interested. The varying terrain, the enemies, the characters, the alternative pathways… it’s all so exciting! Nintendo released a version for its 3DS handheld unit, and even though I knew I was paying for roughly twenty minutes of gameplay, I couldn’t wait. The components of Star Fox are so tightly woven and snappy, and the entire package just delivers the perfect punch.

Mention Star Fox, and there are certain things I think you could reasonably expect. And none of those things are in Race The Sun.

I first encountered this game on Kongregate. As a web-based flash game, I absolutely saw its merit. Everything about it is simple, from the concept to the style: race as far as possible, earning points along the way. The action across the eternally flat landscape is fast, and it provides the same high-score challenge as a million other games, just with a fresh, somewhat sexier coat of paint.

Unfortunately, those “million other games” are all web-based and iOS games–which is exactly where Race The Sun belongs. Specifically, Race The Sun is the same game as Jetpack Joyride. The player can continue infinitely through the play field, dodging randomized obstacles and collecting items in a worldwide high-score competition. Both games also feature bite-sized objectives to give less competitive players something to shoot for, too, and completing these objectives allows you to unlock other power-ups.

But regardless of platform, they’re both great-looking games with plenty of replayability, and they’re both practically flawless in terms of mechanics. So what’s the problem? The problem is that Jetpack Joyride is free, and Race the Sun is ten dollars.

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You can trick yourself into thinking that you’re experiencing a great deal of gameplay, but unless this is your game that you will become the expert at, there isn’t. Star Fox is a character-driven adventure in space that requires skill and strategy, and Race The Sun only provides the score chase. Like Jetpack Joyride.

I’m making a point of this not only because similar games are available for free, but this game is available for free–you can still play the original version that’s on Kongregate.

Typically, price shouldn’t enter the conversation when it comes to games, but there’s simply not enough variety in Race The Sun to justify the price tag; it’d be like charging ten bucks for Jetpack Joyride, Whale Trail, or Tiny Wings. Even if we’re sticking strictly with PC comparisons, considering you can get experiences like Papers, Please, and Cloudberry Kingdom for the same price (or Out There Somewhere and Reprisal together–for less), it’s still a difficult sell.

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Pricing argument and lack of depth aside, the single most heartbreaking thing about Race The Sun is that it hints at an infinitely more interesting experience.

One of the power-ups you can earn lets you jump your ship into the air for a short period of time. When that perspective shifts, and you’re flying above all of the obstacles, the game’s unrealized potential really starts to take hold of your imagination. A feeling is captured with this simple jump–there’s a real sense of mechanical heft and gravity to the entire proceeding that’s nothing short of lovey. It’s especially effective since you’ll play the game for a fair bit before you get the ability to jump, and the first time you get to really take to the air is simply breathtaking.

Then, after you feel what Race The Sun could have been, it’s back to deep, resigned yawns as you return to dodging geometric shapes, steering left, and steering right. You’ll fondly remember all your feeble attempts to take in the entire landscape over the course of just one jump, as you’re given an ever-so-brief glimpse of what an open world flying game in the style of Star Fox could have looked like. In later levels, you’ll find even more interesting features (like spaceships), too, making it that much more frustrating that it’s so close to a game you’d kill to play.

Or, let’s say, a game that you’d pay ten dollars for.