A 2D side-scrolling racer with looping stages and minuscule sprites, SpeedRunners recalls Sonic 3’s oft-forgotten two-player mode. It plays by the rules of different retro classic, however – Codemasters’ legendary Micro Machines. The idea is to outrun other players, causing them to fall behind and become edged off the screen. We could’ve use Codemasters’ own two-legged racer Micro Maniacs as an all-encompassing comparison here, but few seem to remember it.
Although the art-direction holds some appeal, with its swinging ‘60s superhero vibe and all, SpeedRunners isn’t much of a looker. Indeed, many scoffed when it was revealed as this month’s Xbox One ‘Games with Gold’ freebie. Spend just a few minutes with SpeedRunners though, and it quickly becomes that it’s impeccably designed. At a time where most multiplayer-focused games are shoved out the door and balanced and tinkered with in the weeks and months that come, it feels refreshing to play something that has clearly had countless hours of playtesting.
There’s a surprisingly large assortment of stages, each as well-designed as the last. They’re packed with ceilings to grapple onto, sharp bends, switches to flick – which open and close alternative paths – and obstacles to slide under. Knowing level layouts inside and out gives some advantage, especially when a well-timed ceiling grapple can propel you ahead of the pack, but with set-pieces relatively few it’s still possible to come out on top when traversing a lesser-used, or completely unfamiliar, stage.
When playing online only the Metro Station stage prompts a jeer or two after being selected, with this being the opening stage used to teach the basics. In addition to a tutorial, there’s also a brief story mode to play through, lasting around an hour. As well as introducing the characters – which vary from a balding gentleman in a shark costume, to a bipedal, rifle-toting, deer – the story mode is generous with XP, getting you well on the way to unlocking new maps, weapons and ranked battles.