Score, Huh! What is it Good For?
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 3:13PM
Ernie in features, flash, mobile, pc

Written by contributing author Mark Hagan

Is it possible for two games, with similar premise, visual aesthetic, and even the same name, to be entertaining on their own accord? For the free platformers Mr. Runner, then by all means yes. So as not to confuse, we will arbitrarily refer to the Armor Games offering as Mr. Runner A, and the GameVision iPhone app as Mr. Runner B. The goal of each is to, oddly enough, get from point A to point B. As a runner myself, this couldn’t be easier or more complex.

Like most platformers, simple controls and objectives make for a minimal learning curve. You’ll be well on your way to scaling walls and avoiding pools of lava in Mr. Runner A, as what to me looks like an 8-bit charred fire nymph. The game ramps the complexity with an analog feel to the leaping and bounding as the running is just a means of locomotion, not besting the level. Mr. Runner B however, is stripped down even further. The style is of simple design, perhaps a developer nod to the eerily similar Limbo, which is rapidly becoming a widespread source of homage. Jumping is omitted in favor of a straightforward dynamic of acceleration and timing.  Your nimble twiggy (not that Twiggy) navigates in and out of pockets of safety a la the Super Mario underworld.  Anticipation is key as you scamper through the world while it comes crashing down, the only reprieve coming in the form of the world’s familiar landmarks.

These marathon men hold a common virtue beyond design or mechanics. The lack of a true scoring system is where these games, and others like them, bring a complex, if not peculiar, goal in their own rite. By score, I mean there is really no way to judge your performance other than the mere advancement of your miniscule avatar.  It could be argued that time is the ultimate score (a parable maybe in each), but is it truly? For the most part, our gaming culture is built upon these mysterious benchmarks we accumulate, gloat about, and yearn to best. Yet here I am, shunning precious sleep, in an attempt to avoid the crush of the world, both real and virtual, so to reach the sanctuary of a giant Easter Island head.

Should game studios can take a page from this playbook? There is a community of gamers out there that do not belong to the casual crowd, yet don’t quite fit in the hardcore community either, possibly due to their lack of tea-bagging tendencies and KG inspired primal screams. A daily dose of self-affirmation doesn’t always need to come by way of tokens collected, gamerscore achieved, or zombie decapitations (a zombie capitation is not only more difficult, but will contribute to the sustainability of zombie harvesting for future generations).

Mr. Runner,
in either of it's forms, won’t win any Game of the Year votes, but they do understand that sometimes enjoying the escape is reward enough.

Play Armor Games Mr. Runner | Download GameVision Mr. Runner

Mark has been gaming since the days of the Atari 5200 and such classics as Dig Dug and Eggomania. The Dreamcast was a turning point for him with games like Seaman and Jet Set Radio. His love of gadgets, games and geekery stems from his curiosity of innovation through art, and vice versa. His turn-ons include the sound of cellophane wrappers and warm sake in the morning.

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