With as easy as it is to get games on the App Store, the scrolling shooter genre is becoming just as saturated as any other these days. As a result, you really need something different to stand out from the crowd. On the down side, Front Runner doesn’t really offer that “something different”. Thankfully, it’s still pretty fun to play, especially when you encounter the bosses (either for real or when they show up to taunt you). There’s no new ground broken here, but it treads the old ground well enough.
It’s been a while since I started playing this game, so I don’t honestly recall the story, but from what I gather you’re a funny looking red dude that plays a mean trumpet and is trying to rescue an alien named Daisy. In story mode you’ll have to beat 21 levels of bad guys, complete with three boss battles. There’s also a survival mode that you unlock by completing story mode, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. It’s not that the game is overly difficult, because you’ll pretty much fly through all the levels of each stage with little challenge except the boss levels. It’s just that there appears to be a nasty glitch that prevented the last level from ending even though I defeated the bad guy, and I didn’t feel like tackling it again.
There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to the level design in this game. The enemies start of pretty sparse, but as the levels progress the screen will soon be flooded with adversaries. When you take them down, some will leave notes for you to pick up. These notes are worth either 1 or 5 points, and at the beginning of each level you can use those points to upgrade weapons and your ship. The ship’s speed and shields can be upgraded, and each weapon can be upgraded for power and rate of fire. What I really like about the system is that you get to keep whatever points you collect even if you don’t finish the level, so this ends up being one of those games where it won’t be impossible to fully upgrade all your weapons. And trust me, there are times where you’ll need it.
One thing I find rather interesting is that once you’ve completed a block of seven levels, you can go back and play that level set again. Your score will start back at 0, but it’s a chance for you to actually better your score from the first time around and earn achievements that you couldn’t earn before. Don’t think this is necessarily going to be an easy way to earn extra points for upgrades, however. I decided to test this out for kicks, and you don’t earn a whole lot of upgrade points on the first set of levels. Guess the developers didn’t want you to “cheat” your way to victory!
Your only option for controlling the game is to drag your finger around the screen. Normally this is the option I prefer for scrolling shooters anyway, but in this case it starts my list of “what I don’t like about Front Runner”. Your ship is pretty small, and unless I use my pinky, I’m covering the ship a good portion of the time that I’m playing. This makes it rather difficult to dodge just in the nick of time, which is often required when lots of bullets are flying around. Second, while it doesn’t happen very often, sometimes achievement notices will pop up, blocking the action. That’s not very cool in my book.
Finally, I’d like to mention the errors. I usually leave this part out, but in this case they were significant enough for me to bring them up. The game pretty consistently crashes after about 10 to 15 minutes of playing. Thankfully it’s usually between the shop and the next level, so at least I don’t lose anything. Then there was the bug at the end of the last level. This one I think happened because there were notes that I could not pick up, and it was like the game didn’t know that I had completed the last level. As a result I was stuck and had to shut the game down, and even though I had beaten the final boss I now have not completed the game yet. That is definitely not cool.
Graphically the game is quite charming. There are only a few types of adversaries, but each one looks quite different, and the end bosses actually have some personality to them. Some of the objects appear to be clay moldings like in OddBlob or Platypus, but the overall style doesn’t seem to match that, so I’m not really sure if they’re 3D models or just good old fashioned pixel art. Whatever the case, it looks pretty good. I really like the look of the protagonist as well, but sadly you don’t really get to see him except for in the title screen.
The sound effects for the most part were just okay – there really wasn’t anything new to be heard here. I did, however, crack a smile every time a villain would come out and wag its tongue at me. I was actually somewhat disappointed in the soundtrack. Especially when compared to several of the scrolling shooters I’ve played recently, the music was generic and bland.
I’m really torn on this one. It’s not very in-depth (most gamers should easily beat the game in an hour or two), and the bugs are a bit annoying, especially whatever caused me to dump on the last level before I could win the game. There’s not really anything new about the game compared to others of its type either. Still, I did have fun playing it and the bosses are quite amusing. Everything points to me giving this a Not Recommended, but instead I’m just going to caution you strongly that you might experience some stability issues with the game.