Sometimes we tend to lose sight of what makes a great game. There are development studios that deal in multi-million dollar budgets, interminable design meetings, focus groups counted in the dozens, and back breaking development schedules to create mega-sized games that often end up being complete flops in the market. At the other end of that spectrum, there are games like Flippfly’s Race the Sun, a simple little game that is trivially easy to learn how to play but nearly impossible to master. These dichotomous traits are so perfectly balanced, however, that no matter how frustratingly fist-pounding it can be, you simply can’t walk away from it.
The controls are as simple as the premise. You have three choices: turn left, turn right, or don’t turn at all. No direct speed control. No up or down movement. It’s like being in the driver’s seat of a Toyota with a stuck accelerator pedal and a broken emergency brake, albeit a hella lot faster! You can’t stop, you can’t even slow down, but you have to avoid each and every solid object in your path. Oh, and you’re also being graded on how far you can get before the inevitable flaming collision with an obstacle.
It starts out fairly easily, although you probably won’t think that upon your initial exposure to the first stage. As the number of fatal collisions mounts, the beginning stage will start to look familiar, and with familiarity will come some perception of things slowing down to a manageable pace. This is good, because every collision results in a reset to the very beginning. As you get better and progress further on each attempt, the level of difficulty will ramp up a just the right pace to keep you trying. It won’t take too many collisions with falling/moving objects and other devious traps to make you nostalgic for the relatively simple earlier stages.
Not to worry, though. You will cover a lot of familiar ground in the early stages of every attempt, but one will want to be cautious about becoming too familiar because…. the world changes every day. You may hang it up for the day thinking that at least you won’t struggle with the first few stages the next time you play, but such is not going to be the case. It will all be different the next day. While that can be a little frustrating to those blessed with good memories, it does serve to keep the game fresh day after day after day. If you don’t like that, you at least have the option of creating your own world which will allow the less adventurous to avoid the stress of a daily reset of their surroundings.
Now and then you will get good/lucky enough to avoid a run-ending collision, but that luck/skill will only carry you so far. The other side of the game's premise is that you are scooting along in a solar powered vehicle that is (by definition) dependent on the sun for its power. The only problem is that the sun is setting. When its gone, so is your motive force. To be honest, I never found myself anything but relieved when photon starvation ended my run since I tended to view it as some measure of success, but had I been concerned with my score I would have paid more attention to it.
There are ways to prolong the session though, in the form of pickups that will both speed up your craft (not a fan of that myself - it was too fast already!) and cause the sun to rise a bit higher in the sky. There are other pickups that perform different assist functions such as the ability to leap over an obstruction, along with the ‘Tris’, which are the most common of all. Collecting ‘Tris’ increases the bonus multiplier for every piece of land you are able to cross before crashing. On the downside, it was often the case that an attempt to grab one of the pickups put my ship in a very precarious position; there were a lot of times when I would have been far better off not trying to grab the pickup at all. These are decisions that have to be made in a split second, though - there is no time to assess the odds of survival. All you can do is trust your instincts.
Or, I suppose, the instincts of others. There is a social media tie-in with Twitter and/or Facebook wherein you can post your progress in a session and have someone else pick up where you left off. Frankly, this may be the only way that you ever get to see the end of a race, and that’s not nothing. The results of these relay races are posted on an online leaderboard to allow for international, anonymous adulation or derision, depending. Those scores get reset every day too, so in either event your pride/shame will be short lived.
Race the Sun is tangibly a darn fine game available for a small price, but carries with it an important intangible win as well: this game proves that it is still possible for a tiny little player in a market dominated by megalithic, well-funded giants to put out a stellar product at a relatively minuscule cost. One can hope that others take notice and dive in to help reinvigorate the idea of the grassroots game development studio.
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