Side-scrolling games have been given renewed life in the mobile arena for a variety of reasons. One is that the shorter play sessions that originated from the genre's beginnings in the arcade are a perfect fit for the short amount of time mobile gamers have for play. Another is that the current crop of side-scrollers have displayed a startling combination of depth and simplicity. Games like Monster Dash, Canabalt, Doodle Jump and Gravity Guy are only a few of the games that are app store classics, and deservedly so. With such stiff competition in the market, how does this game bring its own unique style to the genre?
Don't Run With a Plasma Sword does so by embodying most every humorous science fiction cliche this side of Star Wars and Flash Gordon, and marrying that aesthetic to what is possibly the most complex side-scrolling control method on the app store. And it is glorious, to use the useless and nonsensical descriptor.
The game has a very distinct cartoon look to it. This accentuates the humor that shows in the cutscenes and loading screens, but does make for a user interface that could use some work. Don't get me wrong, the menus are very functional and do their job well, but I did find them a little tough to navigate at times. The in-game UI strikes a good balance between displaying needed info and being minimalist. All the graphics ran very well on the iPhone 4S, with very vivid colors. I have no major complaints in this area.
The sound effects and music come straight out of an arcade cabinet from the nineties. There isn't much polish to the sound, but the audio reinforces the humorous aesthetic. It fits, without stealing the thunder from any other element of the game. I do wish that the music was more prominent, due to the fact that what is here works within the aesthetic the game works to achieve. In short, the audio is good, but doesn't do anything beyond supporting the other elements of the game.
The plot is silly, non-sensical and inconsequential to overall gameplay. In fact, I was surprised to find that the game actually had a story arc of sorts. I will admit, the presence of a story, even one as filled with humorous clichés and bad science fiction tropes as this story, did give enough context to gameplay to put me into an enjoyable mood. The overall lighthearted tone was very necessary for my overall enjoyment of the game, even though it was quite terrible on a technical level. It's so bad, it's good.
This is the game's bread and butter. There are two aspects to the mechanics of play: the action part and the RPG elements part. The action part sports very tight controls that allow for flexibility in movement and attack. There are power-ups that are all beneficial but fairly balanced. Last but not least, there is no way to stop moving forward. That's right, this is an "endless running"-style of side-scrollers. This forces the player to use a combination of instinctive reaction and split-second decision-making to clear the main levels. As you play and gain experience, you can spend that experience on the RPG elements. These elements include unlocking new moves and permanent boosts that drastically affect one's overall effectiveness. There are also minor cosmetic changes that can be unlocked with experience, but those end up competing with character improvement. There are in-app purchases that help with collecting experience. The IAP is completely optional, though.
The difficulty scales decently, although it does favor grinding near the end of the game. There are four main areas, comprised of six levels and a boss level. These levels naturally flow into each other during the course of one play through, i.e. when one level is completed the player is automatically advanced to the next level. This allows the player, if they are skilled enough, to maximize the potential of each play through... again, if they are good enough. I have found that it takes about one or two levels before a player will hit the proverbial wall, upon which it will be time to upgrade something or unlock a new move, especially at first. By the time the player gets to the second or third level, the challenge will have ramped up to such a point where multiple tries at a level are required to progress. This would be a problem, if the game was not a blast to play. Believe me when I say that the gameplay, despite the intense difficulty of the later levels, is a lot of fun to play. Do not let the exponential difficulty curve prevent you from at least giving this game a try.
This game doesn't rewrite the endless-running side-scroller genre. But, it is still a good game, with the gameplay shining the brightest among the game's many good points. It isn't perfect, and the flaws may threaten to turn some people away, but there is enough good here to at least give it a shot.
Bottom Line: Try it.