Ahh, the thrill of the speed-run. Chasing down those fastest times in classics, such as Mario and Sonic, has grown to cult status, with those that succeed being hailed as gods of platforming. Of course, completing levels within time limits in those games is somewhat secondary to the main gameplay, whereas Physmo’s ‘Mos Speedrun’ makes it a core dynamic of the game.
Presented in a style that is somewhat of a love letter to all things retro, you play as Mos the lady bug, on a quest for coin, her letterbox home, and of course… speed. Played over 20 levels it takes you through four themed environments that borrow heavily in style from the greats of Mario, Sonic and Mega Man. Early levels require simple platforming skill, however as you progress those skills will be severely put to the test by various hazards that will require timed jumps and pin point, pixel precision!
Be it leaping across fiery pits, navigating underwater – while keeping an eye on your oxygen levels and topping up from the supplied bubbles of course (very Sonic-like)- or avoiding spinning plasma balls on moving platforms, all the classic platforming scenarios are here.
Like League of Evil, another retro inspired platformer, the d-pad controls are excellent. There may be a few instances where you’ll miss a jump, but they are rare and the majority of teeth grinding moments will no doubt be of your own doing – as so eloquently pointed out by the ‘master of losing lives’ achievement the game handed to me on level 19. Just a simple left, right and jump arrangement is all there is, though there is a level of sensitivity. Jumping, for example, allows for variation in height, with a quick tap for a small jump and a lingering tap for larger jumps. The same can be said for moving left or right, allowing you to creep sideways or move at speed. The classic floaty jumping is present here as with many platformers, allowing you to turn in mid air and guide yourself down long drops to a safe platform. An alternate control scheme that does away with buttons in favour of a two touch system is also available. Here, you tap and hold anywhere on the right of the screen to move right, or on the left of the screen to move left, with a left and right touched together to jump. While tricky to get used to, it works very well and I can see many people preferring this method, especially those who hate on screen controls.
You’ll no-doubt breeze through the first three environments. However, completing the level is only a small part of the gameplay. Each level has five achievements, with one being completion. The others include: the speed run which requires a set time to beaten; star collection – to collect all stars in a level; hidden skull collection – a single skull is hidden within the level; and finally hidden monument. Completing each of these gives you points, from which you can unlock later levels. So, while completing levels will get you so far, only returning to those levels and completing each achievement will allow you to progress further.
Mos Speedrun is a perfect balance of reward and frustration. The frustration comes from dying of course, and you’ll do that a lot. With no checkpoints you’ll scream in agony as you make a tiny error of judgement, with a pocket full coins and the finish line in site, only to be whisked back to the beginning of that level. The reward however, is not only the promise of more levels on completion, but the sheer enjoyment of replaying a level despite its difficulty, thanks to the great level design. It’s pleasure and pain in equal measure.
The 20 levels should keep you entertained for a good 2-3 hours (depending on skill level). Of course Physmo promise more levels in future updates, including downloadable ones via weblinks and QR codes (see the TouchGen exclusive level below). These cleverly launch the game and throw you into that level for a quick fix. Hopefully Physmo will release a level editor so we can all share our own creations and challenge friends, taking this game to whole other level entirely.
We are spoiled for choice with retro style gaming on the AppStore. It gives us a blast of nostalgia, whilst delivering new or improved gameplay mechanics, with the often revered classics sometimes failing to live up to the memories. Mos Speedrun, is once such game, it doesn’t exactly break any new ground, but it takes the best of the old and repackages it for a new generation. It joins the ranks of Canabalt and League of Evil as an instant classic, refuelling our primal gaming needs.
UPDATE: The game has been updated with universal support. So now you can enjoy it on the big screen, which is like playing a NES. The D-pad controls are also fully customisable. Mos herself can now be outfitted into a few costumes which include a ninja. Web levels are now saved and available from a new Web level menu, so now you can enjoy our exclusive TouchGen level forever!