Rush Bros.’ potential of music blended with platforming falls short of its promise.
I am a huge fan of music and rhythm games, especially ones that seem to be far-fetched from the definition of “normal,” which is why some of my favourites include titles like Bust-a-Groove,Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, and Gitaroo-Man. Knocking around on Steam is an indie title calledRush Bros., a game that advertises itself as a “pulse-pounding, music infused Platform Racing Game.” We have had music fused into other games before, such as the brilliant Rez and its on-rails shooting or Audiosurf and its addictive “ride the music” gameplay. Rush Bros. is a game that hopes to successfully fuse music with challenging platforming that is trying to compare to the wickedly, amazing Super Meat Boy, so how does it do?
Amazingly, the developers have managed to construct a set up for the game. It goes like this. Two big star DJs, named Bass and Treble, used to be a duo act, until one day they decided to split and become independent artists. Both DJs have become highly successful following their solo route, so to determine who the better DJ is they decide to have a race against each other. It’s probably not what you might expect when two DJs try to prove they are the best, but if we went with logical answers, then we would end up with a DJ Hero rip-off.
Let’s begin by breaking down Rush Bros. into its two core gameplay features, the platforming and the music. Rush Bros. is very similar in design to other challenging 2D platformers, but unlike those, Rush Bros. lacks any real objective in single player. This is due to the time trial focus. It’s a racing game crossed with a platformer, with the single player acting as nothing but a time attack mode – think a practice mode – so that players can keep the deaths to a minimum and improve their times. Even the remix modes of fast-forward (speeds up the game) and survival (one life to beat the level) don’t add much to the solo experience. Seriously, the single player’s existence is to let players train to get used to the game’s 43 levels, so they are prepared for the multiplayer challenges.
A platformer needs controls that are easy to grasp, and Rush Bros. delivers that, since you only need a button to jump and a button to interact with leavers. DJs can also do wall jumps by holding a direction against the wall and pressing jump, and can slide to get under obstacles by simply pressing down while moving. The first couple of levels start off easy, are small in size and filled with basic traps, like spikes and pits, to ease you into the way the game plays. Rush Bros. moves at a thunderous pace, and you’ll soon hit levels that throw in awkwardly positioned springs (think Sonic the Hedgehog), hidden keys to unlock doors and complicated level designs that require the use of memory to get through them without a hiccup. The level designs themselves are mostly well thought out and will truly test your skill, but if you’ve played any indie platformers in recent years, then you won’t find anything new mechanics. One particularly frustrating feature is that you cannot control the height of the DJ’s jump, meaning you have less control for precision jumping. This becomes supremely irritating when you try to complete some of the devilish jumps towards the end of the game. Jump controls are personal preferences, so if you don’t mind that concept, then it won’t irk you as much as it did me.
On to the musical integration, which to be honest is a bit of a mixed bag and doesn’t work as brilliant as I had hoped. Music, more specifically the beat of the song that is currently playing, affects certain characteristics of the level. For example, obstacles that move up and down or the jump spheres that are used to gain extra jumps over large gaps will pulsate or transition with the beat of the song. When this works, it’s fantastic, because you mould into the groove and can gracefully get past traps by timing with the music. A key feature is being able to change your music on the fly with the shoulder buttons of the Xbox 360 pad, which I might add is much better to use than a keyboard. This switching of music adds a layer to the game. A fast song will help you get through easier sections quickly, but might prove too hard on a trap that swings with the beat. Switch the song to a slower paced tune and this gate will move slowly. It’s like the music is helping you get a better time, and I really like that fusion of song and gameplay when it worked. Sadly, this doesn’t work nearly as well, as I felt that a few of the songs included, which are all very good when it comes to speaking about the quality of the soundtrack (it’s a mixture of dance and trace) didn’t seem to be picked up by the level, with beats apparently off timing to the song, which is a shame, as you would think they would make sure their own songs would be the ones to show off this implementation.
Your own library of MP3s and OGGs can be used for the soundtrack, but more often than not, my unique taste of Japanese metal, Korean-Pop and video game soundtracks weren’t exactly the best music to test this with. I couldn’t see much difference in the activity of the traps and obstacles in the level, with only dramatic changes in tempo, such as going from a thrash metal song to the slower beat of a hip-hop tune, affecting the level to the point it was clear the song was shifting the speed. I do wish the music had more of a drastic change on the game’s level design, like Audiosurf or Vib-Ribbon (remember that PSX game?) as I feel that would offer fun for the lacking single player portion of the game. Instead, what you get is very trivial alterations to traps – when it works – that I wouldn’t exactly call astounding.
Multiplayer, which is both locally and online, is where the game feels alive, and is clearly the focus (and best part) of Rush Bros. It’s so easy to jump into a game, because you can either be playing the game in single player and enable challenges from other players or search for people playing the game. Drop-in multiplayer is a smart idea. You can be practising to your heart’s content, and then out of nowhere someone comes to play with you and within a few seconds you are racing against another DJ on a level of your choosing. Music can also be your own, so you don’t have to be playing the same tune as the opposite player. Power-ups add an extra flavour to multiplayer. During solo time, you only get the double jump and double speed power-ups, but in multiplayer the game drops in items that can mess up the other DJ, such as reversing the controls or zooming in the camera to restrict the view of the level. It’s a blast to play, and while multiplayer seems to be a contradiction to the time-attack idea – due to the interaction of another player, which has to be there, or the multiplayer would then be glorified time-attack – I am willing to let that slide because it’s a joy to play.
The neon aesthetic art style turns Rush Bros. into a very good looking game. It fits perfectly with the idea of a musical DJ blasting out his tunes in a club or to some trace inducing music video. The backgrounds are splashed with colour and giant sub-woofers vibrate to the tune of the music. The art itself is crisp and sharp, although, characters are very simple looking and lack any sort of real animation, but it fits with the rest of the art.
Rush Bros.’ potential of music blended with platforming falls short of its promise and its unsatisfactory implementation of custom music and inadequate single-player content hurts the overall product. The core game itself and the platforming is still respectable enough to warrant a check though. For £6.99, the game isn’t asking much from you, so if like the genre and have drained most of the options out there when it comes to stimulating platformers and don’t mind a game that is tailored towards leaderboards and multiplayer, then you’ll have some familiar entertainment with this loud and noisy platformer.