Thursday Review: Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages

Ring Runner (sometimes stylized RingRunner) is an indie 2D space combat game focusing on an epic space adventure imbued with quirky humor. It’s actually a refreshing breath of fresh air in a genre that hasn’t seen many good releases recently, and while it’s not the size and scale of a triple-A title, it has a lot of bang for its buck and it’s got some nice features and charm that hasn’t been seen in the market recently.

If you’re not a fan of quirky humor, Ring Runner isn’t for you. If you’re a fan of weird people, weird words, Dvorak keyboards, or references that would go over other peoples’ heads, you’ll enjoy Ring Runner’s writing and humor. It’s not for the more serious people, as pretty much everything has some degree of tongue-in-cheek interactions, but the truth is that it doesn’t really detract from the feel too much; that space is filled with crazy and wild people is actually sort of refreshing in a genre which has increasingly moved toward a hyper-rational version of humanity’s cultural future (though, coincidentally, few of the characters are humans, though most are human enough to only have the differences serve as jokes).

That said, Ring Runner’s got a pretty engaging plot. It’s not entirely serious, but the characters matter, and the depths and nuances of its comedy do not preclude attachment and a rich exploration of the things that go on in the game. It’s not necessarily the best story I’ve ever played through, but it’s certainly better than a lot of what I’ve had to sit through. For a game coming from three people, you’d never expect Ring Runner to have as much length and quality as it does, and the single-player experience was as astonishing to me ten hours in as it was when I completed the first mission.

I’ll delve in a little on the multiplayer modes too. I didn’t ever really play them multiplayer (for some reason, every network I have available hates me), but you can play them with and against bots for fun and progression through gear unlocks. They’re enjoyable enough, though you’d likely enjoy them more against friends. They’re also a good place to practice strategies. However, the way that they really shine comes from the way that they all embrace the core gameplay concepts of the game.

See, Ring Runner isn’t just a space game, it’s a space game that embraces traditional RPG archetypes. It’s not a super RPG-ish game; ship customization is largely side-grading rather than pure upgrades, although the degree to which one can customize their ship means that there are plenty of good options available to fit anyone’s play style. In fact, the first several hours of the game take you through all the styles of play, which is pretty enjoyable as far as quasi-tutorials go. That said, most every class has a potential way to use some really cool gimmicks, many of which are unexplored in the short segments of mandated exploration of each class.

Part of the thing that really pulls everything together, however, is Ring Runner’s gameplay. It’s not just well designed on paper, it actually feels fun to play. It’s fast-paced and rapturous, with the ability to dive and weave through fire accented by the incredible responsiveness. I rebound my controls to take advantage of my five-button mouse (something which is very handy), and while they were somewhat clunky even with that the game still allowed an incredible amount of flexibility and responsiveness in its input. The actual combat is a carefully crafted blend of resource management with shields, health, and energy; there is also the obvious necessity of having to land and dodge hits. The difficulty is satisfying; if you dodge all of a foe’s attacks you feel like an ace pilot, and destroying anything feels satisfying. This is where the class roles come in; there are few things as satisfying as using a class’s abilities to their fullest. Suddenly popping out of invisibility to destroy an unsuspecting foe is a thrill. In addition, Ring Runner has minigames that actually embrace the standard control scheme of the game (for the most part), and actually add a good deal to it.

The art of Ring Runner is pretty. It’s a 2d game, but most of the assets are in 3d, or else they’ve pulled one over on me. The game pulls off a good number of pretty lighting and particle effects, so while it doesn’t necessarily have a huge polycount on every model it at least has a lot of care given to the looks of everything you’ll see in-game. Interestingly, most of Ring Runner’s graphical bang is procedurally generated, which is something I had to be told as it didn’t ever stand out to me as fake or artificial. That’s just how well-done the graphics are. That’s also true of everything else that’s procedurally generated; Ring Runner has come together so well that there’s no cut corners or obvious kludge.

Musically, the game is actually decent. Many indie games have problems with an original soundtrack, and Ring Runner’s isn’t exactly one that will go down in history forever as a great, but it’s enjoyable enough for a little listening. Perhaps the greatest downfall of the soundtrack is the fact that there’s just so much to Ring Runner, and while the soundtrack has some really good instrumentation at parts it’s also very distinctive, meaning that after the fifth hour or so of play you can already make out the repeated parts of the music, and that’s if you’ve been moving along at a decent pace.

So, in short, Ring Runner is an underrated indie game that I’ve actually really discovered as a great game. I look forward to any sequels (subtle hint, should the developers read this), and would heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a game that stands out among the deluge of titles out there.

If you’re interested in Ring Runner, you can find a demo download (and order page) here: http://ringrunner.net/sdl.html

One thought on “Thursday Review: Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages

  1. Kyle Post author

    For some reason this decided not to post. My apologies. WordPress’s scheduling features and my own inattentiveness conspired to team up, and then they did my several-month perfect “post-on-some-semblance-of-time” record in.

    Reply

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