Conceptually, Rush Bros sounds like a game that was made specifically with me in mind. An amalgamation of rhythm games and speed running platformers, the game combines addicting, pulsating music with frantic, time-trial gameplay. As an avid lover of music and platforming games, I had hoped Rush Bros would scratch an itch that few games manage to scratch. Instead, I left Rush Bros with sore eyes, a sore head and a feeling one can only equate to having one’s hand stabbed with a blunt screwdriver.
On the surface, Rush Bros looks rather promising. The background art is stellar, and occasionally resembles similarly beautiful platformers like Rayman Origins or Limbo. Brilliantly painted alien flowers pulsate in the distance whilst the player navigates angular, jagged levels filled with spikes, saws and turrets, at high speeds. The problem is: when the backgrounds resemble a complex abstract painting and the foregrounds resemble neon, drug-fuelled geometry classes, there is too much going at once for the player to cope.
It also tends to be too difficult to discern whether an object is hostile, solid or even real; different objects are thrown into the mix without so much as an explanation as to what they do. Sure, spikes and saws are pretty self-explanatory (and omnipresent to the point of maddening ubiquity), but some platforms that I leapt into with reckless abandon turned out to be objects that hurt my character, despite the fact that they looked very similar to non-hostile objects.
The horrible mix of harsh, contrasting colours, poor guidance and loud music make for a sensory overload that feels punishing in the worst of ways. Although the game’s default soundtrack is serviceable and at times boasts some catchy club/dance/dubstep tracks, there aren’t a great deal of songs on offer to keep things fresh for long. Interestingly, the game’s main unique selling point is the ways in which the music affects objects in the game. Supposedly, spikes and other obstacles are meant to move in time to the music, making for a cohesive gameplay-to-music experience. Unfortunately, obstacles rarely sync up to the music as they should, and even when they do, environments still feel relatively static despite their overblown nature.
Rush Bros also gives the player the option to add their own playlists to the game; a useful feature considering the limited default playlist. Naturally, I decided to upload the fastest thrash metal I had in my library to the game, to see just how fast things could move. While it was funny to watch the environments flail around to the sound of Sylosis, or to run through an entire level accompanied by Childish Gambino, the music sync up on custom playlists is even less reliable than usual, to the point where moving spikes would occasionally stop completely, or move so erratically that their paths were completely unpredictable.
I wish I could say that Rush Bros was at least mechanically sound, but it suffers from glaring errors that make for a punishing and (literally) painful experience. I was informed on start-up that I would get the best experience by playing with a controller, although when I did I experience some pretty awful controller lag. Even when I switched back to keyboard controls, though, anything resembling precision platforming was out of the question. My character would regularly keep running after I had finished pressing the corresponding button (much like the “Ice” effects you’d find in other platformers), meaning that all too often I’d be sent cascading into spikes through no fault of my own. There are a number of collision detection hiccups that often meant I would simply not be registered as landing on a platform or obstacle. I had to back out of some of the game’s levels because my hand was in agony from the endless repetition of fighting against unreliable controls.
This is where the game’s main faults lie. I can hardly see what’s going on thanks to the erratic visual style, I cannot predict the paths of hostile objects because the music does not sync up, and I can barely control my sprite because the controls and animations are so inconsistent. Separate from level design, the game manages to be frustratingly difficult by virtue of its own nature.
Regarding level design, though, Rush Bros suffers from immense repetition. Whereas Super Meat Boy justifies its difficulty (and never ending saws) with its short, concise levels, most of the stages in Rush Bros feel like endless slogs through familiarly ugly territory. I often had to backtrack through stages multiple times, rendering what may have once been an enjoyable experience frustrating and dull. Although the game’s checkpoint system is usually quite forgiving – almost anything resembling a challenge will have a checkpoint before and after it – there are frequent areas wherein I would fall downwards to an early part of a level and die, only to be taken to said earlier checkpoint instead of the one from which I actually fell (making for more monotonous back-tracking).
There are occasional sparks of brilliance in Rush Bros. On some stages the art style was reigned in to the point where it was no longer hard to look at the screen, and others featured the odd gem of an obstacle or challenging area. Occasionally, the music and gameplay managed to sync up into a cohesive, flowing experience that actually delivers on the game’s promise and potential. Unfortunately, these fleeting moments made up about 20 seconds out of a 5 hour game.
Rush Bros also caters for multiplayer fans who wish to speed-run against their friends competitively. There were exactly zero online players whilst I was reviewing the game, and split-screen play simply splits the hard to swallow visual style into two smaller chunks, making for an even messier (albeit shared) experience.
Ultimately, Rush Bros is a game that should work, but through poor design and execution ends up being a frustrating mess of ugly visuals and inconsistent (if not broken) gameplay. The game doesn’t accomplish the very thing that makes it unique; the mash-up of fast paced music and platforming gameplay. Rush Bros is like attending a really bad night club; it’s bright, ugly, you don’t know any of the songs or the right moves, and it’s full of mistakes.