SpeedRunners Preview (PC)

The premise is simple. What if, one day, Batman, Daredevil and Spider-Man all stood bored because there's no villains to fight and decided to race each other to spice things up? Or to put it another way, it's Mario Kart meets parkour. In tights.

Each race takes place on a circular track, though along the vertical rather than horizontal, and it's simply the case of getting far enough ahead of your competitors to take a point. First to three points wins. It's a simple premise that is kept even more simple by the participants.

Can he swing from a thread? Take a look overhead!

Despite their rather unique looks there's no difference between the characters, each of them can double jump, slide and use a grappling hook. The controls are slick, and there's plenty of opportunity in the game to try and use these abilities to take an advantage, like throwing a grapple to take a corner faster that can either work wonders or cost you tremendously. The slide can also trip your opponent which does barely anything, but time it right and they'll hit one of the many obstacles scattered about the course. It brings the racing down to skill, like all good racing games should.

Timing and use of your gadgets is everything, and more often than not get you access to an alternate route. These routes aren't just shortcuts – though those are handy – but also access to pickups or the ability to make things more difficult for the other racers, with you throwing switches to change other paths so they miss out on bonuses or once again put them on the path to hit obstacles. These obstacles are videogame standards of spikes that insta-kill or boxes that just slow you down, and right now they're a bit simple, and it'd be nice to see a bit more variety here.

The environment isn't just out to stop you though, but also offer you assistances with speed boosts. Unlike most racing games that send you flying forward as you hit the arrows, SpeedRunners' boosts act more like NOS in Need for Speed, letting you choose when you use it, either to save yourself from death or clinch a victory.

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a blue shell

There's plenty of other ways to gain advantage/pull yourself out of the jaws of death too. After all Batman has his utility belt, Spidey has his webshooters and the SpeedRunners have pickups. The most obvious were the dropping of extra boxes, which seemed almost a waste, with everyone I played with spamming them as soon as we got them, and rockets which do what you expect. The 'other' grappling hook that you use to grab opponents that not only pull them backwards but give yourself a little boost too. Finally there was some weird corkscrew thing that gave you a massive speed boost and knocks your opponents flying. This was quickly dubbed 'the blue shell' which tells you everything you need to know about it really.

While fun, these elements only help SpeedRunners be even more fun, its biggest party trick is when the screen explodes. Yes, explodes. Once someone is eliminated, the whole screen goes with it. Now before anyone starts panicking that this could turn very expensive, it's just the play area. Your actual monitor is fine. With the explosion the screen starts shrinking, giving the remaining runners less room to manoeuvre, and less room for mistakes. As the screen contracts it not only ups the tension and focus, when the play area is about a quarter the size of the screen those left racing start to have to rely on muscle memory then seeing what's coming up. Our group was quite happy to laugh, joke and throw insults around as we played, but once the screen got to a certain size quiet descended as the two left racing concentrated and the observers held their breath to see who would cock up first.

There's still a few problems though. I've seen people get too far ahead and be eliminated because the screen couldn't cope. Lag issues that have sent people jerking through the scenery. It's in Steam Early Access right now, so problems are to be expected, and if you can get at least three people together it's worth trying.

Where does he get those wonderful toys?

However, finding internet opponents was nigh-on impossible, and I had no one local either. When I first got the preview code, those were my only options. Thankfully a recent update added the ability to invite friends to a game, which helped immeasurably. DoubleDutch Games also added bots, so you can fill a game even if you are Billy No-Mates, but they make few mistakes and are practically unbeatable, so they're not too viable an option yet.

Since SpeedRunners is in Steam Early Access, some things are going to take awhile to get up and running. There were only four characters when I played it, which feels too few, but again they don't offer any advantages so it's just a skin, but the last player is stuck without a choice. There's eight levels so plenty to mess around in, and occasionally DoubleDutch will throw up a test to see if they can do something a little different such as a vertical level with heavy emphasis on grappling hooks. On top of that, every Thursday they also do a 'What If...' scenario where they change how the game works to give them an idea on further developments for gameplay or levels. SpeedRunners is already a lot of fun, and all this experimentation could prove to be a great success. But its greatest obstacle isn't going to be whether it's fun, but whether enough people play it. I really hope enough people play it!

Most Anticipated Feature/Element: DoubleDutch are throwing out so many variations out it's hard to pick, though just the very art of nailing an un-expected swing for a win is tremendous.