Impressions: Ring Runner

By Adam Smith on July 19th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.

Ring Runner is a top-down space shooter with RPG qualities. An ARPG set in space then? That doesn’t sound quite right because I spent precious little time clicking on things and waiting for them to die. It’s more action than RPG, but it does contain more than 300 weapons and gadgets with which to customise its ships. In short, it’s an enormous, bewildering game. In long, here’s wot I think.

I haven’t quite finished Ring Runner, which could be slightly problematic. Anything could happen. By the time it ends, it might have become a point and click adventure. It’s a game that begins with a trench run, a battered spaceship fleeing across the surface of a larger one. A massive one. That one has been battered too. More so in fact. It’s as battered as a confectionary in a Scottish takeaway. Flames paint the starscape, weird blossoms and stains, the behemoth is dying and I am escaping, weaving through turret fire and attempting to outrun the wall of death that has erupted from the dying engine core.

It’s more Uridium than Death Star assault, this initial taste of Ring Runner’s world, a top-down, old-fashioned space shooter, albeit with graphics that wring every drop of goodness out of a modern machine. They’re the rare visuals that rely mostly on subtlety to impress. Example – the gas that trails from a ship, exhausted, as the pilot adjusts its flight path, perfectly describing motion and control. While its scope is galactic, Ring Runner is a devil for details, describing its world with individual particles, drifting debris, necropolis backdrops, quips and jokes.

All of that may sound unusual or even impenetrable, but the reality is simple. Mostly. Through a series of missions, the player evolves from a runaway pilot trapped in a strange ship to a captain with a choice of equipment, hulls, armaments and approaches. The ships vary in weight and elegance but they all feel suitably cumbersome, requiring precise and strong handling (best with a controller, I found, though satisfactory without) to pull off the impressive tricks they’re capable of. The road between the stars is winding, however, and Ring Runner’s approach leads past and through all manner of unexpected destinations.

This isn’t really a grand tour of alien civilisations and lonely corners of the universe, although there is a great deal of fantastical sci-fi introduced via conversations that range from the bewildering to the comedic. Ring Runner has great gobbets of mythology that it would like to introduce you to, from junk robbers to sages and spacefaring warrior tribes, but the exploration of the unusual lore often made me feel like a stone skipping delicately across the surface of an ocean planet. There were depths and I could feel their inhabitants uncoiling toward my underbelly, but apart from a brush with the occasional flesh-frond or tentacle tip, I was untouched.

That’s the game’s intent, glib and self aware, the voices encountered are far more concerned with their comedic mode of delivery than the payload itself. There is backstory aplenty but for much of it you may have to look elsewhere. I found it refreshing to engage with alien cultures who didn’t bludgeon me with exposition warheads upon first contact, and even when Ring Runner does decide to talk at the player for a while, the action doesn’t freeze. It’s entirely possible to take down an entire fleet before its leader finishes threatening, cajoling and bragging. That’s provided you’re a dab hand with the wide range of tools that are used to obliterate foes.

How pleasant to play a space shooter that mostly avoids lasers that go pew-pew and photon torpedoes that drift like silent hunters. In Ring Runner, I grappled with ships, grabbing them with a gravity cable, spinning, building momentum and hurling them into walls of spikes or the corpses of other ships. Sometimes I would yank them toward me and then fling them into one another, a space pinball wizard capable of pinging a wingman off his companions and destroying both. There were guns as well, but often the game put me in the position of unarmed scavenger, forced to defend with the tools of the trade.

And that’s the thing. Despite its similarities to Sub Space, Space Rangers and even Star Control, Ring Runner is far more bizarre and unwieldy in a structural sense. While I was waiting for the game to open up and allow me to start spending the resources I’d collected, or to choose from the various ship designs I’d encountered and controlled, it repeatedly confounded my expectations.

After being taught how to collect scrap and switch out one piece of equipment for another, I found myself thrown into an arena, barely more than a screen tall and wide, fighting a progression of enemies. It was an entirely different experience and one the previous hour hadn’t prepared me for, in terms of pacing or plot. Not only had my scavenging and survival experience become an enclosed arena, it had become a top-down shooter in which I had no guns. Gravity hooks and the kindness of strangers were my only means of survival.

Like a giddy and knowledge-hungry child after the first day of Big School, Ring Runner has so many ideas that it delivers them in an excited babble. It’s a dense and beautiful game but it deals out its tricks somewhat erratically. It’s a conversation that rarely remains on one topic for more than five minutes – while mostly intelligent and engaging, it’s also equally exhilarating and frustrating. I want the freedom to explore this spectacular sector of space and when Ring Runner releases the shackles, it is sublime. An ARPG of sorts, with abilities aplenty and diverse methods of destruction.

The weapons and gadgets are plentiful and hugely varied, which can make proceedings overwhelming, particularly given the game’s frequent swerves from exploration and discovery to claustrophobic combat. I had the distinct impression that over years of development, every ideas was thrown at the wall and if it didn’t stick, it was hammered into place. Most of what’s here is well designed and would have stuck anyway, but discovering a favourite part and then finding it rapidly obscured by other aspects, no matter how decent, can be distracting.

Scudding between abandoned hulks in a machine cemetery between the stars is such a joy though, waiting for an ambush with a set of bizarre weapons primed and engines ready for evasive manoeuvres. At its worst, Ring Runner is needlessly erratic, restraining the player in its eagerness to change the rules of engagement. At its best, it takes the very idea of a twin-stick shooter, shakes it by the collar and shrieks, “Space is enormous and deserves more than lasers and lightshows – let us strive for the beauty and variety that the stars deserve.”

Ring Runner is available now (various stores, see ‘BUY’ tab at top right) and also awaiting votes on Steam Greenlight.

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36 Comments »

  1. KDR_11k says:

    I’m only in the arena so far, for some reason it reminds me of Hammerfight.

    • dE says:

      That’s as far as I got and it’s also the point where I lost interest. I want to customize my damn ship, especially as it is a major selling point, not be forced to use something that goes against my playstyle and leaves me frustrated. I may push past that arena in the future – but for now, Steamsale has drawn my attention elsewhere.

      • ecdryere says:

        dE,

        You can hit scenarios right away! Just unlock multiplayer, choose your ship, choose your procedural scenario, and begin customizing. :)

        • dE says:

          Question: Is the customization only for multiplayer and scenarios? As in, the main campaign won’t allow it?

          • ecdryere says:

            Customization is for both scenarios and the campaign, but the campaign introduces you to all five archetypes before unleashing you on your epic trek around The Rings. There you can choose which ship to fly, buy new ships, and customize every aspect of ever hull.

            We’re adding an option to skip to this part for folks who want to move through the game at a faster clip. If you’ve played for a couple of hours, you should be able to handle the transition without being overwhelmed; you’ll just have to explore the other possibilities in your own way. :)

          • dE says:

            Alright, thanks. As I said, I’ll get back to it eventually, was just a little bit frustrated at the arena part.

  2. strangeloup says:

    I saw this turn up on GOG and it looked like a bit of alright. Spectacularly broke at the moment though so it’ll have to wait.

    Glad to know it’s pretty decent, though! Reaction on GOG seemed positive but that’s not always much of a barometer.

  3. Keyrock says:

    Is this linear with constantly scrolling levels or can you fly back and forth to different areas?

    What I’d really like to see is a metroidvania shmup mashup. I’d pay good money for a shmuptroidvania.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Null Divide on XBLIG is a bit like that. It’s not too great but it’s a dollar IIRC.

    • ecdryere says:

      Some missions are side-scrollers, and you can always revisit them, but there’s a huge variety of mission types. You can get the game for 10 bucks right now on GreenManGaming. ;)

  4. trjp says:

    Much as I like these sort of games – they have a knack of disappointing me.

    As there’s no demo (make a DEMO) I had a watch through the video they offer – had to skip it as it’s lengthy and I saw

    MENU
    MENU
    MENU
    MENU
    MENU
    MENU
    Ah – some gameplay – oh, he passed through that object but then collided with another one – I hate that
    MENU
    MENU
    MENU

    erm – OK – moving on I see the developer selling the game for about 3 times what some stores are (that’s a bad idea) AND asking for donations as well (erm!?) – hmmmm

    Then I see ‘coming soon – MOBA mode’ and I’m outright depressed frankly – will we get a Magic Pony editiion too? :)

    Then I note there’s a companion novel – not actually a terrible idea but it uses the term “Douglas Adams-like sci-fi humour” which is basically saying “I am the greatest thing ever” when you’re clearly not – but I read a bit anyway and hit some cApiTAl letter abuse and an Oxford comma and the horrible nasty teen/fan written style of Sci-Fi which Douglas wouldn’t have been within a light-year of – and no comedy…

    Oh well

    • KDR_11k says:

      There’s Fusion Genesis, that even HAS a MOBA mode. Also raids. It’s one weird hybrid game.

    • ecdryere says:

      Hi trjp,

      The demo is coming! We’re working hard on it and hope to have it released within a month.

      As for the MOBA-”like” mode, I want to stress the “like.” It borrows elements from MOBA games in that there are lanes, waves of AI, and defensive towers to break through. But there are also cruisers and all manners of space combat. Basically, it’s scaled up version of our existing Spire Battles for those that want a little more meat in every match.

      And as for the claim of Douglas Adams “like” humor, again I’d like to stress the “like.” It’s only meant to give you an idea of the sort of tone and flavor you can expect.

      As for the menus, there are lots of options and ways to play, but in order to launch the campaign from the very first title screen, it takes two button presses. Campaign –> Begin (or Continue)

      I’d be happy to provide you with a trial of the game if you want to contact me. I hope we can change your mind! :)
      -Enrique

      • trjp says:

        In fairness the “MENU MENU” stuff was more a criticism of the video than the game – it’s WAY too slow paced for an “here’s what our game is like” video on your frontpage tho – people need biff bang pow wub wub’ – perhaps without the ‘wub wub’.

        MOBA just scares me (and other people) I think you need to handle that particular bomb with care – ARPG players run a mile from MOBAs (and vice-versa).

        I am – as you may have guessed – a massive DNA fan so when I see his name used I tend to prickle – no-one can do DNA, not even Eoin Colfer who was paid to do just that (tho his book wasn’t terrible I should add) :)

        I’m on tenterhooks for a demo tho – do let us know either here or in the forums (behind here) or on Greenlight or EVERYWHERE and we’ll be there like a shot :)

        • ecdryere says:

          Thanks, trjp!

          I understand where you’re coming from. We’ll definitely let people know when we have the demo out!

      • jrodman says:

        I like shooties, I hate mobas.

        It’s definitely one of the things that has me on “wait and see”.

    • jrodman says:

      I’m entertained by the affront triggered by an Oxford comma!

      • trjp says:

        It’s an outrage in modern dialogue – I met my old English Teacher on Facebook last year so I can’t let my standards slip now!

  5. ecdryere says:

    Thanks for the write-up, Adam. I’m glad Ring Runner was able to entertain you!

    I’m not sure if you managed to get out of The Litter Glitter galaxy (the initial galaxy), but I hope you do! That’s when the game basically gets entirely out of your way and releases you on the universe. You’ll be able to proceed through the story in a non-linear fashion, going to whichever places sound most interesting to you, and of course, customize every aspect of your ship.

    The main reason for the length of the introductory arch is that much of the game play is quite new to the genre, and we didn’t want to overwhelm players with a sudden cascade of options. Even then, much of the reactions to Ring Runner have been that you’re hit with tons of new abilities and modes of play constantly. It was a very difficult balance to achieve!

    Thanks for playing! Let me know if you ever want to run some multiplayer scenarios! ;)

    • Diziet Sma says:

      This makes me want it even more, thanks for commenting on the review.

  6. lilly_watson says:

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  7. MOKKA says:

    The single player campaign so far reminds me of a person who holds a speech at a banquet. Everybody just want him to stop talking so that they can get some food from the buffet. But the speaker, completely obliviousof the needs of his audience just continues to ramble on about things nobody is interested.

    The game itself is fun, but I think it takes waay to long to get interesting.

    • ecdryere says:

      We hear ya, MOKKA!

      We’re adding an option to dive into the meatier parts of the game with ship customization and universal exploration for players who want to move at a faster pace.

      Should be out in this weekend’s patch. ;)

      • MOKKA says:

        And I just did a Video about your game which took me five tries to record, because I wasn’t able to formulate some kind of consistent first impression (well, that and I forgot to record my voice once).

        Looks like I have to do another one then…

  8. EvilNinjadude says:

    To clarify: The first Galaxy is essentially the Tutorial. Since it’s not a stand-alone tutorial but also meant to tell a story in its own right, it’s a bit…. well, a LOT longer than the tutorials you’re used to.

    But with the latest update, you can now unlock stuff from the Get-go! Here’s what to expect:
    If you’ve played SPAZ or similar games, you’ll know what to expect. Jump right in!
    If you’re not 100% sure of how this game will play in Multiplayer or how to control your ship, check out the “Crash Course in Sagery” in the Scenarios! It’s essentially a Tutorial-style tutorial, with everything you need to know about the mechanics of the whole game!

    More confident than that? There’s an option to have it tell you BARELY what you need to know! It’s got you covered, basically.

    Tl;dr Don’t be put off by the long tutorial galaxy. It can be skipped now, and there’s a SHORT tutorial available if you need it.

    • jrodman says:

      Interesting you meantion SPAZ. That’s a game that lost me entirely during the tutorial. Someone bought it for me on steam, and I gave it back.

      • nmarebfly says:

        Gotta say, the SPAZ comparison is sort of doing RR a disservice – I got really bored with SPAZ a couple hours in once it was clear that I was going to be doing the same sort of thing the entire game. Still haven’t advanced to the galactic core in the one game I played, because the base combat in that game just wasn’t thrilling after a while. Ring Runner does not have this problem; a few hours in and I haven’t even scratched the surface. A better comparison might be Star Sector (né StarFarer, which is a great game too and worth an article once the multi-system update is out in… soon,) but RR is more arcadey and doesn’t have any of the fleet management stuff to worry about. The lack of a lateral thrust took me a while to get used to (I’ve played a ton of Star Sector at this point,) but once you have the physics down it’s a hell of a lot of fun just to noodle around and shoot dudes.

        My main complaint is similar to the others here — I see the point of having the extended tutorial section to introduce all the myriad concepts, but it still feels really restrictive. Especially the long string of gladiator fights. The last time I played I pushed through to the subatomic-level stuff so I might be nearing the end of the first game chapter, but it does feel like a really long time before getting access to the meat of the game.

        I feel like restricting access to mulitplayer (even if it is just behind a boilerplate ‘hey play the singleplayer a while’ warning) might do the game a disservice in the long run. A lot of people won’t want to grind through 3ish hours of stuff before hopping online, and if they just want to jump right into the deep end let ‘em.

  9. strange_headache says:

    Got home late from a weird evening at the pub, read the article, watched the video, bought the game and enjoying it immensely.

    Smooth controls (laid back in my chair and playing with a gamepad), nice graphics, interesting story with a bit of humor so far. Still in the arena tutorial, it’s a bit long but I’m still enjoying it. Can’t wait to go exploring!

    The soundtrack is amazing, especially the song on the main menu.

    Here’s the soundtrack:
    http://ecdryere.bandcamp.com/

  10. wodin says:

    It’s great fun…reminds me of the type of game that came out in the eighties..when games where fun allround.

  11. trjp says:

    When I noticed it was cheap on GMG and that I had some credit there from previous sale deals I leapt in – and…

    There’s good news and moderate news really.

    Goo news is there’s fun to be had and it’s quite original but there are a few things which I found hard work.

    Too much talking in the earlier parts of the game (a common flaw in space games – SPAZ talked my ears off) allied to short missions made me feel I was hardly playing it at times. You can skip dialog but not ‘show me’ events which gets tiresome when replaying missions in particular.

    Joypad controls are appalling and best ignored

    It does seem that the controls are the ‘diffculty level’ – the enemies just augment that a bit. It’s very easy to start moving and near-impossible to stop or change direction – so it’s a squirt-and-stop game, in effect.

    It’s visually VERY busy at times, often hard to see what you’ll hit and what you’ll pass through and you’ll often lose track of where the hell you are. There are times when I just felt I got through stuff by sheer luck – times when I failed for much the same reason.

    Example: The Arena in the tutorial has a complex background the SAME COLOUR as your and the enemy’s ships!!

    If you add-in the way ships move, they way they can jink around or even stealth – it’s a recipe for a headache after about 20 mins. I’m not sure it’s fixable either, it’s just the way the game has been made. Mabe if I could paint my ship LIME GREEN and stick-on some HIDs… ;)

    Lastly, the dampening/speed limiting thing on ship rotation is broken with mouse control – it sometimes glides around smoothly and other times leaps around wildly. I’m guessing it’s down to your actual ship spinning which is very realistic but also makes for too much potluck on the shootybang.

    Put simply – I’d like slightly more feeling I’m in control, slightly more clarity about where I am and what I can run into and slightly less blah blah

    • Cunning Linguist says:

      “Lastly, the dampening/speed limiting thing on ship rotation is broken with mouse control – it sometimes glides around smoothly and other times leaps around wildly. I’m guessing it’s down to your actual ship spinning which is very realistic but also makes for too much potluck on the shootybang.”

      As a hardcore shmup player this makes me feel sorry for this game, and mouse & keyboard-driven games in general.

  12. Fireflower says:

    I’ve played it for a bit now and I like it. Looks and handles nicely and the humour is a plus. :)

  13. Cunning Linguist says:

    “albeit with graphics that wring every drop of goodness out of a modern machine”

    …while the screenshots scream 90s PC game.

    • Don Reba says:

      Bloom was not invented in the 90s. It appeared in early 00s and went mainstream by mid-decade. Before that, game developers had to do with lots of lens flare.

  14. Branthog says:

    I like how the tier for backers to get the game on Kickstarter was $15, but it’s selling for $9.99 on GOG.