Race the Sun Review: A New World Each Day

Seemingly much to developer Flippfly’s chagrin, you might best categorize its third-person “racing” title, Race the Sun, as an “endless runner.”

That title hasn’t done much to help the game, though, despite being technically true. According to a blog post from Flippfly last month, the endless runner designation — a genre seen most often on mobile devices — was part of what kept Race the Sun out of this year’s IndieCade. And it might also result in players missing out on the title altogether, since the endless runner genre is so crowded in the mobile space.

That’d be a shame, though, because if you’re prone to writing off games of the endless runner type, you’ll miss out on something simple, elegant and addictive in Race the Sun. Its speedy gameplay, minimalist design and community engagement make Race the Sun a title that’s great for killing two minutes or two hours, but expansive enough to encourage players not only to attempt to unlock its secrets and climb its leaderboards, but contribute to a growing catalog of player-made content as well.

Race the Sun
Platform: PC
Developer: Flippfly
Publisher: Flippfly
Release Date: Aug. 19, 2013
MSRP: $10
Available: Official Website

Flippfly calls Race the Sun an infinite “procedural racer,” which refers to the way the game’s stages are built. Firing up Race the Sun gives you control of a hovering vehicle from a third-person perspective, which is powered by sunlight. The whole affair gives off a strong Star Fox vibe, if you take out the shooting and the giant flying ape-head. Forward motion is your only goal, and the setting sun marks your death: should you run out of juice, it’s game over.

Of course, it’s unlikely the sun will set before you careen into a structure set on the landscape of the various “regions” you’ll cross in Race the Sun. Each area is littered with different geometrical shapes, like pyramids, spheres and obelisk-like rectangles, and they are presented in such a way as to represent a rough delineation of areas, like “kinda forest” and “kinda city.” Where you are isn’t important, though, as your speed means you need to act quickly to direct your craft clear of objects as you go, and the further you get, the more moving objects you’ll start to see in your path. It doesn’t take much to destroy you.

Race the Sun’s best feature is the sense of speed it creates, especially as you’re whipping past collapsing structures or floating debris. It’s fast and it’ll test your reflexes, but it’s a quick enough play that it easily engenders that “just one more game” feeling that can turn a quick 10-minute play session into a lengthy one. The “procedural” part also helps keep things fresh: Race the Sun’s game world is randomly generated each day, but subsists for 24 hours. You can play tons of races in a day and really get the lay of the land to increase your score, but you’ll be faced with a new challenge once the 24 hours have elapsed.

A big part of the game’s staying power is that the game is full of tiny objectives, requiring players to do things like survive for a certain distance, collect a certain number of points-increasing “tris” or turbo-powered “boosters.” The objectives themselves are generally just obscure enough that you won’t complete them accidentally, and that usually means having something specific you’re attempting during each race, even as you try to beat your own personal records (or climb the game’s leaderboards).

Completing those various objectives levels up your craft, and before long, the leveling system adds new facets to the game. You’ll start by getting improvements like a magnet that draws collectibles or the ability to store collectible “jump” power-ups that let you leap over obstacles, but even early unlocks include things like a portal that can take you to another gameplay world. The result is a fair amount of challenge to diverse the relatively simple gameplay of avoiding stuff at high speeds

And that’s about it. Race the Sun doesn’t carry a narrative or purport to be a game that’s about anything more than dodging stuff at high speeds for as long as you can manage. But it’s fun in its easygoing nature, with the ability to quickly load a new game even as the last is ending, after checking out how you fared and what score you pulled down. The game keeps daily records of rankings, so there’s competition to be had, whether against your own capabilities or those of other players.

There do seem to be a lot of other players, though, and these add a great deal to the value of Race the Sun. Players are free to create their own game worlds, and there are quite a few available. Just glancing through the top-rated worlds reveals a wide variety in locales — one, called “Apocalypse,” sees missiles falling and huge explosions as objects topple into your path. Another, “Void Original,” removes the ground below you and feels a lot like an actual Star Fox mission as players whip through an asteroid field, dodging spinning orbs and what could be construed as space station debris.

It’s a good thing Race the Sun only costs $10, though, because for as fun and addictive as it can be, it’s also somewhat limited. Yes, the worlds are procedurally generated each day, but that doesn’t make them too significantly different from one another. Yes, there are a lot of player worlds, but players can’t add challenges to those worlds. Flying fast is fun, but it doesn’t engage forever.

Still, Race the Sun does have its hypnotic qualities. Its minimalist presentation help make it kind of gorgeous, and Flippfly has nailed a set of solid, responsive controls that always make you feel as though you’re improving as you play. The challenges can definitely be challenging, and the engagement of the player community means that Race the Sun is greater than the sum of its parts. It has been made with love, and is cheap, engaging, and fun — a perfect combination for an indie game.

Pros:

  • Good sense of speed, solid controls and addictive “how far can I get” gameplay
  • Procedurally generated worlds mean each day is a fresh race
  • Challenges offer a solid curve of difficulty and rewards, adding much to the game as reward for playing it
  • Engaged player community is creating lots of additional content, plus leaderboard competition makes for a solid driver to keep playing
  • Great price

Cons:

  • Ultimately a bit thin — despite procedural generation, the game is a fairly simple concept at heart
  • Different content isn’t really that different; players are likely to lose interest before too long, so it’s best played in short bursts

Final Score: 80/100


Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.


Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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