Take the speed-and-spike pit formula of Sonic the Hedgehog, the wall-jumping indie mayhem of Super Meat Boy, and add just a snippet of racing-game DNA. Splice it together with a thumping electronic soundtrack, and you've got Rush Bros. Sound great? Well, yes, but here's the thing: it's not.
Rush Bros. is built around a great premise. It's a 2D platformer crossed with a racing game. Play it in arcade mode to learn the tracks, then race friends in splitscreen – or race people online. The premise is simple: two brothers, who are DJs, are also deadly rivals. They must sort out their differences by racing, because that makes perfect sense. Tear through the tracks, collect keys to unlock gates, beat the other brother to the finish line.
As the DJ connection suggests, the game allows players to customise the soundtrack by selecting a folder with their own MP3s in it – which, ostensibly, changes the gameplay according to the beat of whatever tunes are being played. For instance, a spike might bounce up and down in time with a bassline, or a sub in the background will throb to the bassline. It all sounds wonderful in theory, but in practice it simply doesn't add up.
The most important thing missing from the game is a sense of speed. In the early Sonic the Hedgehog games for Mega Drive - which remain the best of the speedy-platform genre - Sonic moves with a sense of momentum, weight and speed. In Rush Bros., the characters get around at more of a brisk, floaty amble. Further reducing the sense of speed is the fact that the gameplay isn’t strictly a left-to-right, as most speed-based platformers are. Levels involve running all over the place to find keys to unlock gates, in order to progress to the end. Even collecting a speed-up power-up doesn’t seem to make the game any faster - it just makes it less controllable, and with this game’s problematic controls, this is far from good.
The developers suggest players use a controller, rather than a keyboard. This improves things for players who have controllers, but for those that don’t, the keyboard controls are terrible. There’s a wall-jump mechanic central to the gameplay, and it’s bloody difficult to use. To make things worse, - the slide-jump - crucial to getting around some of the later levels - is discoverable only through trial and error.
There’s lots of this sort of thing around. For instance: on the first level, which is ostensibly a tutorial but doesn't help much, there's a trap that needs to be jumped in order to trigger a switch. Once this is done, the only way to get out of the trap is suicide. Maybe it's a way to teach players about the checkpoint function, but as the game generally just dumps players in the vicinity of where they died anyway, it looks more like bad game design. Then there’s the fact that clicking “next level” after finishing a track actually chucks players back into the main menu.
Multiplayer is similarly frustrating. Players must either host a game themselves, play locally in splitscreen, or allow people to challenge them in Arcade mode. The objective is to race to the finish, while trying to find keys to open gates and find powerups. One gifts your controls to the other player, and another turns your opponent’s screen upside down. It might sound hilarious, but in practice it's just annoying to both parties.
The game is visually enticing but oddly inconsistent. The background of Rush Bros. is all throbbing speakers and intricate glowing neon. For instance, and early level, “Aquarium”, looks much like an aquarium would if a very expensive sound system was dropped into it. The foreground, where players do the exploring, is usually a variation on the theme of “black with shiny bits”, reminiscent of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, but without the visual consistency that made that game so lovely to look at.
The 'spin your own tunes' mechanic held a lot of promise, but it doesn't deliver much more than aesthetic changes. The first problem is that importing music is seriously unintuitive. The second is that it has very little actual effect. Some spike traps move a bit differently, and the background throbs to the beat. That’s about it. Taste will inevitably vary, but a redeeming factor is that the game's default soundtrack is quite enjoyable.
If only there was more to say. It cries out to be liked, but it does nothing new, and what innovation it does attempt is executed badly. Rush Bros. should have been a psychedelic rave, but it's more like a shattered glowstick, stomped into the mud on the morning after.