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Shockway Rider is a futuristic action game where the player is attempting to pass through twelve dangerous districts, a feat known as going Full Circle. Traversing these districts involves riding the Shockway, a series of rapidly-moving sidewalks of various speeds. Along the journey, the player will encounter and combat hostile denizens.

During play, three parallax scrolling lanes can be seen - the topmost is the slowest moving, the middle is midspeed, and the lowest is the fastest. The player can hop between these lanes as they please, or as combat (or avoidance of combat) demands. While travelling on the slow-moving top lane, the player can also jump off onto the non-moving platform. While on this platform, the player is only able to walk left and right to the edges of the screen, but cannot force the screen to scroll any further to the right; the only way to progress through a district is purely on the Shockway.

Each district has to be completed in a set time limit. To assist the player in their task, it is recommended they stick to the lowest of the three onscreen lanes as much as possible, due to this being the fastest moving path.

Enemy Shockway riders will appear frequently, attempting to stop the player from completing the Full Circle. Enemies will either come at the player from the sides of the screen, or they may be dressed as a regular member of the public, only revealing themselves to attack. The player can pick up various projectiles to fight back with. These can be thrown in front or behind to take out enemies on the same lane, or they can be hurled across to take out riders on other lanes.

Other hazards appear while riding the Shockway. If a player spends too long on one lane, a deadly bouncing ball will approach the player, forcing them to jump to another lane. As soon as the player does this the ball will instantly explode, leaving that path clear to jump back to. Stop signs will also zoom towards the player and must be avoided, as contact is instantly fatal.

A bonus mission is given at the start of each district, which involves completing a set task a number of times. These missions range from simply picking up bottles or mailbags to taking out innocent members of the public. Each time the player satisfies the conditions of a mission – a mission can be completed more than once during a district – a bonus life is awarded.

Shockway Rider also has a practice mode, allowing the player to attempt any of the twelve districts.

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