Hot on the heels of nearly every app store success follow the inevitable quick cash-in copycat titles. Glowdot Productions‘ Rogue Runner is one such game. Crafted in the mold of Halfbrick Studios’ Monster Dash, Rogue Runner attempts to offer a similarly over-the-top, casual run-and-gun experience, and while it plays many of the same notes, it plays them without any feeling. Like an uninspired cover version of your favorite song, Rogue Runner is familiar, but falls flat in its execution.
The story is loose and unclear. You’re some kind of rogue agent having busted out of a facility in the desert and are on the run from both enemies agents and their alien cohorts. In the course of your escape, you will battle enemies both on the ground and in the air while attempting to avoid the desert’s many pitfalls.
As in Monster Dash, tapping the bottom left corner of the screen causes your character to jump, while tapping the bottom right fires your forward aimed weapon. Setting out, you are given the choice of driving either a jeep or a tank. Your choice of vehicle is cosmetic only, however, and has no impact on game play. Ground enemies attack from on foot and in vehicles of their own, though they amount to the same thing. Helicopters and UFOs will also attack you from the air; to destroy them, tap on them to launch surface-to-air missiles or just shoot them down from the peak of your leaps.
Your vehicle can withstand three hits or falls. Miraculously, when you fall into a pit you only lose a heart and then your vehicle parachutes back in from the sky. Huh? Once your vehicle is destroyed, you have a final chance to continue on foot. In an act of pure senselessness, however, there is no game play difference between being in vehicle or on foot. On foot, you move at the same speed, jump exactly the same height and fire surface-to-air missiles out of your buttocks. Huh?!
Pixel Art: I’m a sucker for pixelated, retro graphics. Rogue Runner’s sprites look something like the offspring of Final Fantasy VI and Metal Slug. The pixel art really is the best thing about the game.
It’s all the same: The helicopters are the same as the UFOs. The running agents are the same as the driving agents. The jeep is the same as the tank is the same as the agent on foot. HOW DOES HE FIRE SURFACE-TO-AIR MISSILES FROM HIS BUTTOCKS?! I WANT TO KNOW!!
No weapons or pick-ups: One of the things that made Monster Dash so much fun were the different and silly weapons, like the machine gun jetpack! Rogue Runner has none; you have your standard pistol and your butt missiles, and that’s all she wrote. There’s nothing to find, nothing to collect, nothing to do except shoot at your enemies, and your enemies — despite their different appearances — are all the same.
Jumping: The jumping in Rogue Runner just plain stinks. It feels floaty and off, too difficult to control with any degree of accuracy. Monster Dash and Canabalt both nailed the jumping and succeeded because of it. Rogue Runner, on the other hand, just feels wrong and you will constantly and senselessly find yourself falling into pits, not because you’re bad at the game, but because the game just doesn’t feel right.
A Fundamental Lack of Intelligent Design: Your thumbs obscure the lower two corners of the game screen. Monster Dash took this into account, making surfaces tall enough that they were never obscured by your thumbs and you could always see the next rooftop coming. Rogue Runner makes no such allowance. Ground will often scroll into the screen beneath your thumbs, costing you precious milliseconds in which to act as you simply cannot see what’s coming. It’s a flaw in the game that will get you killed repeatedly.
OpenFeint / No Achievements: I usually list OpenFeint support among a game’s strong points, but Rogue Runner fails to take advantage of what OpenFeint has to offer. It uses the service for leaderboards only, and there are no achievements of any kind. Truly lame.
Rogue Runner is obviously attempting to tap into the same market as Canabalt and Monster Dash, and trying to appeal to gamers who enjoyed those games. By their very nature, these running games become repetitive. Canabalt managed to overcome its repetitive nature by providing an atmosphere so compelling, and such attention to detail that it that it succeeded not only as a game, but as a work of digital art. Monster Dash managed to overcome its repetitive nature using achievements, awards, ridiculous statistic tracking, zany weaponry, changing environments and immense charm. Rogue Runner offers none of the above, and simply fails to overcome its own repetitiveness as a result.
Rogue Running looks the part, but sadly does not play it well. The game becomes tiresome quickly — in my case, within the first five minutes of download — and gives very little reason to return to it. It has far less on offer than either of the games it’s aping, and your time would be better spent playing them instead. If nothing else, Rogue Runner just goes to show that when a game makes Apple’s list of New & Noteworthy titles, that only makes it new, and not necessarily noteworthy. I wish I had my dollar back.