By Alex Jones
For a long time, I would have argued that side-scrolling platforming just doesn’t work as a multiplayer experience (New Super Mario Brothers is a chore, for me; the other players just feel like they’re getting in the way). Speedrunners, though, has changed my mind.
I’m not about to claim that Speedrunners doesn’t make you hate your friends. It does, but it induces the kind of rage that makes you scream at the screen, rather than the apathetic “let’s play something else” that often arises after a bothersome NSMB session. For the uninitiated, Speedrunners is a fast-paced multiplayer platformer-racer, which is currently on Steam Early Access. four players leg it around a circuit, often filled with spikes, lasers and various other traps, with the only aim being to keep up. The camera follows the front of the pack, and if you fall behind and are left off-screen, you’re out. Once one person’s gone, the edge of the screen begins to close in, making it increasingly difficult to stay on-screen and alive. The last man/personified-deer/voodoo-cat-lady standing wins a point; first to three wins the round.
Gameplay trailer for Speedrunners.
It’s a simple concept, and one that’s (almost) entirely skill-based. Each character has a really fluid set of moves, allowing them to double-jump, wall-jump and grapple onto certain ceilings. All three are essential for many of the levels. The latter lets you pull off Spiderman-esque swings through the air, useful as a means of speeding up and as a way to reach high platforms. It’s fast becoming one of my favourite multiplayer titles. For me, it’s now an absolute no-brainer for parties - it’s stuffed with content (including a constant stream of user generated levels) and it hasn’t even had a full release.
It did get me thinking, though, that a Mario-themed Speedrunners would be incredible. Mario’s moves are ingrained into my brain after years of platforming and the chance to use those skills to wipe the floor with my friends is hugely appealing. Mario’s a mighty fine wall-jumper, and Speedrunners’ items are heavily inspired my Mario Kart collectibles: the rocket is a Red Shell by another name, the placeable boxes are substitute fake-item boxes – so the transition into that world might not be as jarring it would first appear.
I can understand why Nintendo hasn’t made something like this before; a highly skill-based, ultra competitive mode might not gel with the broader New Super Mario Bros audience, but there’s a whole swathe of gamers – myself included – reared on the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 who would no doubt love the chance to pit their skills against each other.
Until Nintendo teams up with tinyBuild Games to make Super Mario SpeedBros - and let’s be honest, that’s about as likely as a Leisure Suit Larry/Waluigi crossover - Speedrunners is a damn good substitute.