SaltyPepper Games first told us the fabulous tale of Once Upon A Runner back in May, where were learned of Ella, a courageous little fire mage and her quest to dash through a series of fairy-tale inspired worlds. Now the fairy-tale has come to life, in the form of exquisitely hand-drawn characters and backgrounds, challenging levels that will test your jumping and dodging reflexes, and nefarious villains who are determined to stop her at all costs.
Once Upon A Runner is a unique entry in the field of endless runner type games, not only because of the option to switch between story and endless mode (which I imagine unlocks once story mode is completed), but because of the comic stills that are interspersed throughout the game. They convey the same feeling you get when reading a digital comic, and manage to do so without words, which is testament to the quality of the artwork. I personally think that it would have made for an amazing transition if the final comic still in each chapter of the story became animated and blended into each upcoming level, but the story is still conveyed effectively through static images.
Apart from the excellent play on the much loved ‘Once upon a time’ phrase, Once Upon A Runner is the sort of game that is appealing to a wide audience range, including children and adults alike. The game is organized into a series of levels that are filled with traps like tree roots, rocks, and bottomless pits, alongside collectible crystals which can be used to purchase special upgrades from the store. There are also magnets that cause the crystals to gravitate toward you, and shields which give Ella a temporary barrier of invincibility. This comes in handy when you might accidentally hit an obstacle, since it gives you some breathing space instead of deducting one of your three hearts, which represent your health. In the center of the page there is a yellow symbol which corresponds to your firepower, which takes a moment to replenish itself once you’ve just used it-so you definitely have to use it wisely. It’s a fast-paced environment in Once Upon A Runner, and if you play the game in Normal mode it gets even faster.
The game mechanics mainly consist of jumping and sliding using the keyboard, which is explained to you during the tutorial and is easy to master with practice. Ella, who is the adorable protagonist of Once Upon A Runner, is always running automatically, so there aren’t any left or right movement controls. However, the later levels spice things up with some fireball casting, which you control via the left mouse button, and overall the keyboard-mouse combination works quite smoothly. Only in one stage did I experience difficulty with the control system, which is the one where Ella faces the evil queen. During this battle, you have to smash mirrors with fireballs, dodge poisoned apples, and stay out of the evil queen’s magical green flames. I enjoyed the increased level of challenge at this point of the game, which is like brain food for the player who has mastered earlier levels, and creates a new type of fun. The problem was, on some occasions the controls were unresponsive, which meant I couldn’t destroy the mirrors, and there was some inconsistency when dodging mirrors where I was still receiving damage. Then again, this could be a platform specific occurrence that Android users don’t experience. At any rate, I have a new appreciation for Disney heroes and heroines who engage in battle with their arch-rival.
What makes Once Upon A Runner truly fun is a combination of the creativity embedded within the game narrative, the zany fairy-tale character adaptations, and the picturesque, eye-catching backgrounds. There was a nice humorous touch with a lot of the villains as well, such as the Big Bad Wolf (see below) who was dressed oh so flamboyantly in a soft shade of pink. While endless runners challenge the player’s ability to beat their high score and stick it out as long as they can, the decision to go with more structured levels with a definitive start and end point in Once Upon A Runner gives players a nice sense of completion. The length of each level was also just right (*insert Goldilocks reference here*), never straying into the too short or too long territory.
Another great aspect of the game is its soundtrack, which is appropriately playful and true to the general fairy-tale vibe, and equally triumphant-particularly when defeating a stage. The music for each level is different, which makes it feel like a whole new experience each time, and lends the game an extra layer of personality. If you have a passion for comics and fairy tales, and are drawn towards games with beautifully rendered artwork, then Once Upon A Runner should be right up your alley.
Once Upon A Runner is out now for Android devices from the Google Play Store for free. PC and iOS versions are also currently in the works. For the latest from Salty Pepper Games, just make a dash towards their Twitter and Facebook pages. And watch out for any villains along the way.