Runnyk Review

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LightUP Games have a formula and they’re going to stick with it. If you’re the kind of person to pick up the odd £5-or-less game on Xbox, then you might have experienced them. Their games are colourful pixel-platformers that pilfer liberally from Castlevania, cramming its ideas into a one or two-hour long game. Super Sunny Island, Slime’s Journey and Mages and Treasures are all good examples.

Zooming in a little closer, that means some tight platforming controls, mastered over dozens of games. In Runnyk’s case, you play a maudlin Viking whose wife is dying, and you need a cure. So you’re killing dozens of enemies to save one life. We’ll ignore the ethics of that. Runnyk runs, jumps and thwacks enemies with decent precision. This is a tight little platformer.

runnyk review 1
Get ready to go thwacking with Runnyk

The platforms and enemies are contained in Castlevania-like boxes. They’re only two or three screens’-worth in size, but you can reach the edge of the level and move into the next ‘box’. That populates a map, again like Castlevania, pushing out in directions to see what’s there. Most of the joy in Runnyk is filling out the grey, unexplored boxes on the map. It’s in these regions that bosses and upgrades reside.

There’s a Metroidvania approach to how levels are locked off, too. Sometimes it’s quite literally a lock: you are collecting runes which open doors in far-flung parts of the world. Other times, areas need a certain upgrade. Yes, that old chestnut the double-jump is one of them. Get this and very suddenly the game becomes easier (especially as the designers give it a fire halo that does more damage than a normal attack). It’s OP.

Runnyk may look cute and approachable, but it’s reasonably unfriendly about how it sets itself up, and we’re on the fence about whether the lack of hand-holding is a good or bad thing. Runnyk never tells you where to go, so you’re driven by the map and what you haven’t unlocked. We made the mistake of heading south first, thinking that Runnyk was a challenging old game that chucked difficult enemies at us early. But it turns out that we had headed to the last area first. While we welcomed the freedom of challenging the area’s boss in the game’s first ten minutes, we would have welcomed knowing that’s actually what we were doing.

It’s entirely possible to surge in one direction, only to find that it’s a dead-end. You don’t have the upgrade needed. There are no fast-travel locations, so backtracking from that dead-end is done on foot. That will garner a nod of the head from Metroidvania purists, but it’s also a little archaic. It didn’t hurt much, mainly because Runnyk’s world is so small, but you will know whether this will bother you.

runnyk review 2
A wet dark forest

The flip-side of this frustration is that Runnyk invites you in and lets you do what you want. There’s a simple satisfaction in finding a secret route upwards, only to uncover an extra heart pip or a map of the region. By handing you control of how you progress, it feels so much more rewarding when, yep, you are indeed going the right way. 

There are four bosses and they’re fine – nothing cheesable, and they’re certainly not memorable. One had us puzzling out how we were possibly going to defeat them, only for the double-jump to reveal what the game expected. Again, it’s a sign of how Runnyk refuses to help you. You need to learn and accept that a boss isn’t going to be killable just yet.

We zipped through Runnyk in one sitting. Like the other LightUp games, this is not a sprawling world. The map fits onto a single game screen, and it’s possible to travel end-to-end in a couple of minutes. 

There’s not much challenge here, either – at least, not if you do the game in the intended order. That’s down to a double-jump that lets you evade almost all attacks, and enemies that rarely do much more than walk at you. As long as you time your attacks according to when they’re close, then nothing is going to threaten. Only beholder-like creatures gave us the willies, but we soon learned to ignore them.

Completing Runnyk in a single session is both a compliment and a critique. Outside of getting lost in the first ten minutes, there weren’t many bumps in Runnyk’s road. We absolutely leathered through it, and that momentum was satisfying. It’s not often that you get to play a game where you can pick it up and finish it in one go, all while feeling barely a single infuriation.

runnyk review 3
You’ll probably complete Runnyk in a single session

But it also shows how lightweight it is. There’s a decent range of enemies, but they can’t pull together to create a single threatening attack. Combat never evolves much beyond wait-and-hit, while there’s no level that made us do something differently or attempt an original approach. We will give it some credit for its collectibles: optional chests and master-key doors gave us a nudge to exhaust everything it has to offer. But the achievements top out at 1000G well before then.

We regret nothing about playing Runnyk. It’s a two-hour sprint through a Metroidvania which has had its challenge and originality filed off. It made us feel like a daring speedrunner, but in the back of our minds we were aware of the truth; Runnyk wasn’t pushing us to be better in any meaningful way.

If you fancy some fast-food Metroidvania action, then Runnyk is surprisingly digestible. If you want depth, innovation, challenge or something that makes you actually think, then you might want to get your kicks elsewhere.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Compact Metroidvania
  • Let’s you explore on your own terms
  • Reasonably tight controls
Cons:
  • Very similar to other LightUp Games
  • Lacks direction prompts and fast travel
  • A little too disposable
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Ratalaika Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch
  • Release date and price - 17 November 2023 | £4.99
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Compact Metroidvania</li> <li>Let’s you explore on your own terms</li> <li>Reasonably tight controls</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Very similar to other LightUp Games</li> <li>Lacks direction prompts and fast travel</li> <li>A little too disposable</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Ratalaika Games</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch <li>Release date and price - 17 November 2023 | £4.99</li> </ul>Runnyk Review
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