Coin-Op Marathon Man

Beginning a review of the latest side-scrolling runner with a comparison to Canabalt might seem tacky by now, but bear with me on this. What I love most about Semi Secret Software’s now-primordial genre classic is that it seems it could be the tip of an iceberg — there’s got to be so much more going on in its world than the player ever gets a chance to witness. That’s also how I feel about Fakepup’s latest addition to the running genre, Super Bit Dash (Out Now, $0.99). A scarf and a bulky power suit who-knows-how-many layers thick literally envelop its protagonist in secrecy; everything we can infer about him comes from his effortless gravity defying maneuvers, wall busting abilities, and peculiar way of exploding if he happens to get poked. I hope we get a chance to see some of the mystique unraveled in major updates or sequels, because the small peek we get at this pixelated dude’s world for now is very, very cool.

Putting the “dash” in Super Bit Dash are the player’s swipe commands, which make the runner burst upward, rush forward, stomp downward, or throw on the brakes to buy the player reaction time. It’s important not to forget his run-of-the-mill jump – executed by tapping anywhere – because his dashes consume one of up to four coins he carries with him. Who knows why the guy needs pocket change for his super powers, but if the player intends to keep making him do cool things, he or she had better keep him swimming through coins along the way! The expert player will execute dashes strategically, making sure there’s always a coin or two in reserve to let him break down barriers or make it over large gaps an ordinary jump can’t handle.

Excess coins don’t just vanish into the ether. If the player has chosen Classic Mode at the start screen, the game keeps track of all collections and awards a 1-UP for every hundred gathered — a fine return of classic platformer tradition! Super Bit Dash’s checkpoint system gets it past the design dilemma of setting the player back to less intense sections of the game when he or she slips up. Instead, it rewards good performance with a chance to prolong the current level of challenge, which feels just as it should be. Once all lives are expended, chances are the course will feel very different the next time around because it’s strung together from a larger assortment of corridor sections the developer has cooked up.

It wouldn’t be correct to call Super Bit Dash an endless runner per se, as its Classic Mode does have an end if the seasoned player can survive long enough to reach it. OpenFeint leaderboard competition focuses on what happens within that span: number of coins collected, number of lives lost, number of checkpoints crossed. If you’d rather, however, you can choose to play the game in Endless Mode, which consists of all the rooms strung together in a random order and lacks the 1-UP system. And if you’re just looking for a cool game to pick up and play but aren’t much of a challenge seeker, Super Bit Dash has you covered too — both Classic and Endless Modes can be played on easy or hard difficulty. The major difference between difficulty modes as I’ve experienced them are different room sets and the rate at which the character runs; he progressively gains speed, Canabalt-style, on the hard difficulty level, while the easy setting provides a comparatively laid-back experience.

However the player chooses to run through Super Bit Dash, the game feels utterly slick. It’s no surprise to me that cocos2d is involved on the programming side of things, and Super Bit Dash proves it performs just as well with swipe interfaces as it does in games that rely on virtual buttons. The downside of its seamless corridor stitching is that it leaves the game wanting for aesthetic variation compared to strictly segmented, level-based runners. Super Bit Dash cycles through three lovely chiptune-inspired tracks, but sadly they loop much more quickly in-game than the teaser track posted to Fakepup’s blog awhile back. Perhaps a soundtrack release is in order one day?

Diehard leaderboard competitors should get lots of mileage out of Super Bit Dash; for the rest of us it’s liable to run its course within a few hours, but the price is right in any case. Despite how tired the running genre has become since Canabalt whipped it into a true craze on iOS, Super Bit Dash’s intuitive swipe interface and cool approach should give this one some staying power; since the preview writeup, it’s been the kind of game I’m tempted to fire up every so often just to experience it again. A new mode appears to be on tap for updates, and who knows where Classic Mode’s mysterious conclusion could lead?

iFanzine Verdict: This super-polished offering manages to bring something new to the running genre with its cool move set and completely natural swipe interface. Even if you’ve tired of side-scrolling runners Super Bit Dash is worth a trip back to the genre, and its heavy platforming elements stretch its appeal to retro enthusiasts.

[xrr rating=4.5/5]