Don’t you just love it when you stumble across a hidden gem on the App Store that almost no one else seems to know about? The latest such discovery I’ve made is tomocom’s Smash Runner: Super Marionette Battle (out now, free), a retro style, 8-bit platformer with a wonderfully addictive multiplayer hook.

At first glance, Smash Runner looks and feels much like the droves of other old school-inspired 2D platformers already available on iOS. The twist here, though, is that instead of running and jumping through the game’s courses on your lonesome, you’ll be testing your platforming mettle against up to three other online players in action-packed real time races.

These races are an enjoyably over-the-top and frantic dash to the finish line where anything goes. And I mean anything! Each of Smash Runner’s classically designed platforming levels is littered with hazards, obstacles, enemies, and power-ups that either boost your character’s abilities or hinder your opponents’ progress. So coming out on top and finishing first in these tensely fought multiplayer battles depends on a combination of skillful platforming and crafty use of power-ups.

As you complete races, you earn golden coins which can be used to purchase something called a ‘Gotchapon.’ Gotchapons cost 3000 coins (or $2.99 via IAP) apiece and are used to randomly unlock new playable characters and upgrade your existing ones. Aside from a deadmau5-esque dude, all the characters in Smash Runner are wacky parodies of characters from other well-known video games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros., Final FantasyClash of Clans, etc. Each runner has a unique ability (such as being able to take more damage or move backwards as well as forwards), so there’s a real incentive to keep playing and unlock as many as you possibly can.

One thing I would ding Smash Runner for is something that’s wholly outside its developer’s control: The fact that hardly anyone seems to be playing most of the time. What this means is that you’ll often struggle to find even one other player to compete against, let alone three. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still pretty decent when played solo or against one other competitor, but it really comes to life when there’s four different characters onscreen at the same time, all hurling power-ups at each other and battling it out to finish pole position.

Minor issues like a dearth of online players and the very occasional crash aside, Smash Runner is a fun, well-made game that I strongly recommend to anyone who’s into retro platformers and/or competitive multiplayer titles. It deserves to be so much more than just a hidden gem, in my opinion. And I’m not just saying that because I want more people to play against. Promise!

Verdict

Smash Runner is a hidden gem of a game that fans of retro platformers and competitive multiplayer titles alike are sure to adore.

'Smash Runner' Review: A Smashing Multiplayer Platformer
Quirky and oozing with retro charmStraightforwardly fun gameplayImaginative characters and level designTotally free (ad supported with non-aggressive IAPs)
Not many people seem to be playing, so you'll often struggle to find anyone to race against.Crashes occassionally
4.0Great