Mos Speedrun Review

By Adam Ma on October 22, 2011

There's nothing like a good retro-platformer title to try and relive the glory days of gaming. It was a time before complicated cutscenes and quick time events moved in to distract and impress the player with special effects. Most major companies have been a bit lazy in re-releasing older titles with the hope of cashing in on gaming nostalgia, but a lot of modern developers have seen the value in such classic gameplay as well. Simple controls and easy to understand game mechanics win over a lot of gamers who are used to complicated AAA titles, and Mos Speedrun is no exception. Developer Physmo has worked hard to try and create a game that will bring back some of the simple (but frustrating) joy that was the 8-bit era, albeit with a modern day twist. And the good news is that they succeed. The bad news is that Mos Speedrun ends up being a little too retro for its own good.

The premise of the game is fairly simple and easy to jump into. Players take control of a character that looks a little bit like a bug with a sweatband on its head, and they have to run from one end of the level to the other as fast as possible. There are secret collectables to grab, coins to snag, and enemies to avoid from start to finish. With the ultimate goal of finishing a level as fast as possible, players are not only encouraged to hone their jumping and running reflexes (mostly because these are the only two controls players have in game) but are also encouraged to play each level multiple times.

Part of this is due to the fact that each progressive level becomes less linear than the last, offering multiple routes or ways to navigate around. The trail of coins scattered across each zone create a good indication as to where a player should be headed, but since the goal isn't just beating a level, but beating it as fast and efficiently as possible, it generally helps to give each world a second or third try. Enemies always move in the same pattern, as do traps and environmental hazards, and to better encourage players to perfect their speed, Mos Speedrun includes a ghost runner that will perfectly copy your last moves in the level. From start to finish you'll be able to see each move you did up until the very end (be it death or successful completion), which certainly helps in better planning out where you need to jump and what obstacles need be avoided.

It's an equation that's made a lot more fun by the level of creativity the developers put forth in level design, as players will find themselves running and jumping across some pretty smartly created tricks and traps. Exploring the levels for secrets is fairly rewarding, with enemies being placed in fairly smart locations to ensure that players need to pay attention to their timing when traversing the various worlds. It doesn't hurt that many of the levels incorporate some fair classic 8-bit mechanics like underwater bubbles, bouncing lava, or adorable (but dangerous) insects.Unfortunately while the level design is very cute and creative, the gameplay suffers from such a lack of depth that one gets the impression the developer hindered itself by trying to stay so true to a 'retro' feel. There are no power-ups, enemies can't be killed, and for a game that revolves around completing a course as fast as possible, you would think that there would be more mechanics available to play with than just 'move' and 'jump'. Memorizing a level only goes so far for entertainment, particularly on the PC version of the title where 8-bit graphics alone aren't that great of a selling point.

Why not take the time to add in a few bonuses for players to get that extra bit of challenge like extra enemies who fly around not in a single predictable path, or a power-up that makes you run faster than normal? The lack of depth to the game is crippling in such a way that while the core elements of the game are amusing, there's little incentive to go back and play it all again. Once a level is beaten only a perfectionist is going to want to go back and get every other little facet, and frankly that kind of tedium is something that works beautiful on a mobile platform where time killing is the goal, but on the PC it has quite the opposite effect.

The visuals in Mos Speedrun aren't exactly award winning, but Physmo did a great job in creating a 2D character and world that stands out from the rest. The enemies are a little generic in their design, but that aside anyone who plays Speedrun certainly won't be confusing the game with anything else. What is disappointing is the soundtrack, which consists of a single song put on infinite loop. It's not a bad song, and hearing it the first few times is a lot of fun, but after a while it begins to grate on the player the same way that listening to Nyan Cat would wear down any normal person after ten consecutive minutes. Just like how the main game seem to miss that extra bit of detail when it comes to enemy design/power-ups, the lack of a real soundtrack is a pretty big disappointment.

Final Thoughts

Mos Speedrun is a game that has quite a bit of potential, but for some reason chooses to sell itself short. For what its worth the game is quite fun in short bursts, but it feels like a timer-based 8-bit platformer trying far too hard to stay true to some unknown retro laws that state a game can only have so many elements before straying from some guideline. Perhaps Mos Speedrun is best left on its handheld or mobile phone platform where maybe our expectations for such games are left quite low, but on PC Speedrun feels a little too slow compared to what it could be. Even still, anyone looking for a quick bit of fun shouldn't be too disappointed by the experience that Physmo has drawn together. If nothing else it lends a bit of hope that should they take the time to get really creative, a sequel might just blow us all away.

Fun and fast-paced.
Level designs encourage multiple play-throughs.
Ghost runner is pretty cool.
Music track loops far too much.
Feels a bit restricted on the PC.
Lacks any power-ups or something to make it stand-out more.
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