For the length of its opening level, SpeedRunner, the debut title from DoubleDutch Games, appears to be Canabalt with a bit of story thrown in. Stick with it, though. By the second level, you’ll realise this arcade platformer is actually Canabalt with a grappling hook – and that’s a much more appealing proposition.
Grappling hooks were made for videogames. In real life, they’re hard to come by and (I’m guessing) tricky to use. In games, however, they can be pure magic: a stylish blast of super-powered point-to-point traversal with no ropes to tidy away afterwards, and little threat of a devastating cranial injury to spoil your day. Grappling hooks have already seen honourable service in everything from Bionic Commando to the Just Cause series, and in SpeedRunner, they’re as reliable as ever.
Happily, smart gadgetry aside, the further you get into SpeedRunner, the less you’ll be thinking about Canabalt anyway. The game’s divided into levels with strict time limits, and they’re carefully designed rather than procedurally generated. These assault courses have a tendency to head upwards as well as forwards – once you’ve unlocked the climbing gloves, mind – or even loop back on themselves in a manner that echoes the iOS version of Mirror’s Edge.
There’s a lovely sense of craft to proceedings: each mission has clearly been playtested and refined for hours in order to present a seamless array of challenges, and the screen-chewing boss fights, while essentially doing little more than forcing you to keep moving in a different way, add a degree of spectacle that sits well with the game’s flat colour art work – art work which often brings to mind the sharp angles and bold caricaturing of some of Bruce Timm’s Batman designs.
DoubleDutch has just the kind of precise flair for cruelty that should serve it well with arcade games such as this, then, and it will be interesting to see whether the team can rise through the ranks of the enviable Dutch indie scene to rival the likes of Ronimo Games, who created Swords & Soldiers, and Vlambeer, the one-more-go masterminds behind the astonishingly potent Super Crate Box. SpeedRunner by itself is definitely worth at least one of your lunch breaks – and I’m already excited to see what shape its successor takes.