The mobile gaming space that was once dominated by Gameboys and Atari Lynxes (Ha!) has now been supplanted by iPhone and Android devices. Graphic advancements, miniaturization of arcade classics and new twists on genres have made the mobile platform a force to be reckoned with. One of the most popular genres in “phone gaming” has been the “Endless Runner” one. Games like Canabalt, Temple Run, and Jetpack Joyride have been downloaded millions of times and have been on the top of numerous mobile “best-of” lists.
Their main objective is to jump or run through a space while collecting objects and avoiding falling or hitting obstacles. They are the best kinds of games for quick gaming sessions and scoreboard junkies because they scratch the “I don’t have lots of time to game” itch. I can’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve eaten up trying to beat friends and family in my chase to be number one. For all that said, the runner grind of the collection can also be a bit boring at times. I’ve stopped playing just as many of these games because they don’t add anything to the experience besides the usual run, jump, rinse, and repeat.
Luckily while at IndieCade East this year I came across a game that wanted to do something different with the runner genre. During the game slam, a young woman named Jenna walked up to the podium and gave a quick presentation about her game called “The Golden Arrow,” a game in which a bad-ass, monster-killing princess is the protagonist. My ears perked up and on screen was a retro, 8-bit-styled runner game that added a narrative to the timeless runner formula. I knew that I wanted to find out more about the game, and she said it would be hitting the iTunes store in the upcoming weeks.
I got my hands on the game and let me say, it really is a great game. Monster & Glitch, the one woman indie development studio headed by Jenna Hoffstein, makes a game that combines a fun, accessible playing foundation, delightful and propelling soundtrack with a charming narrative that both makes the game stand out and pushes the player forward.
The mechanics are straightforward: varying presses of the screen will determine height and duration of your jump over and across multiple platforms. Various objects will be put in your way to stop your journey, but through some quick responses and some help from smart game design you can extend your runs and get closer to your monster-killing goals.
Your score increases the longer you run but the twist is in how the story unfolds. After you run a certain distance you will receive a scroll that gives you another part of the narrative. In most runner games your progress resets after you die, but in Golden Arrow your runs are cumulative from one scroll to the next. So you will only have to travel the distance remaining after your last death. Being able to “pick up” from where you left off makes the game such a delight to play and keeps you engaged in the process. It totally removes the potential frustration that can happen in a game like this.
You can gain running speed by jumping into stars on the playfield. More important are the randomly placed rocks that you see in the world. I found that running into them slowed you down and gave you a little more control over jumping, especially if you need to make multiple jumps on a platform. Once I learned to slow down it exponentially lengthened my runs and thus my high scores. I was tops on the leaderboards for about ten minutes, until being dethroned. (Brianna, Jest, and Marmarh I’m coming for you!!)
Golden Arrow’s music also is a highlight. Wonderful vocals fill the start and story screens while pulsating chiptunes push you along your trek. Wait until you get to the 6,000 meter mark and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The story of the princess who finds her prince has been commonplace in many an enchanted tale, but there are a couple of poignant story bits there for discovery. I won’t spoil them but will say that some of them surprisingly touched me on a personal level. Once you finish the tale, you will appreciate the care with which Jenna weaves her story together.
Golden Arrow is great because it doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel, and in many respects it didn’t need to. What I believe sets this game apart from many of the games on the market is that it didn’t try to hook me with micro-transactions or time gates. It got me hooked by giving me addictive gameplay wrapped in a fun and engaging story. I suggest everyone pick up this game on the iTunes store for the low, low price of $.99.
Also I had the chance to sit down and chat with Jenna Hoffstein and talk about the game and how it was to develop The Golden Arrow. Check out our exclusive interview here:
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