Oh no, the sun is dipping! That’s not a problem, usually. It happens every day and tells me when it’s time to have a lovely sleep. But in Race The Sun, night falling is death. You’re flying across the strange landscape, heading straight at the dipping fireball in a solar powered racing wing. Even shadows will suck the power out of your bird-like frame, so a sun-starved sky will slow you to a deathly crawl. Game over. All you can do to keep going is to keep up with the sun, to always keep it hovering above the horizon, never falling below and dropping you to an embarrassing, skiddy ending. I spent the morning chasing that impossible dream.
I’m a Kickstarter backer of Race The Sun, but I’ve only just got around to playing it because it recently launched for $10. It’s an endless racer set in an abstract world where you hurtle forwards at face-distorting speeds. You only control your brittle, bird-like craft’s strafing and jumping (via a power-up), using those meager controls to keep sliding around the minimal yet gorgeous world, hoping to see the next series of obstacles.
That’s the reason I play, anyway. There’s a worldwide scoreboard and ship unlocks, but I want to see what the world will do if I keep going. The first stage is a static stage which serves as a relaxing entry point to the few rules. It’s here I learn about Tris. Tris is the glowing blue cones, the basic score bling that you’re attempting to grab before you run out of juice. The other important pick-ups are the sun shaped Tris, that give you an extra few moments of sunlight. It’s the dash for additional daylight hours, hurtling myself at a sunny icon floating in front of a shard of scenery, that usually ends my run through and sends me back to the start of the race.
A few more Tris (aha!) and I’m into stage two, and starting to see that RTS has a complex sense of style. The world is shifting in front of me, making the once static, troublesome challenges really terrifying: I aim at a gap that’s part of a series of square barriers, only to see the squares roll over, moving the gap as the wall it was part of marches off. I manaage to squeeze through, now I’m hurting towards a series of walls that have blocked gaps. As I speed towards them, the blocking rectangles fall over, creating an opening.
Phew! You only have one life, so the track’s rebuilding makes each race super-tense. You don’t expect racing game tracks to start rearranging, but I really enjoyed watching the new challenges materialise. Tunnels drop in, Tris end up on of towers that I can’t ever imagine leaping high enough to acquire, and at one point I was lured into a fake doorway, smashing into the grey wall that I’d imagined was the inside of a tunnel that was swooping away from me. A Loony Tunes death. Another time I hit the jump boost just before I smashed into a shard, leaping at it in time to just glance off it. I restart, I die, I restart. Sometimes scooching a bit further in the map that shows how far I’ve gone, but mostly dying in random spots, and mostly due to my own attempts to drift into a Tris without realising the angle I’m heading at will dash me over the surface of a cruelly-placed block.
But that was all one world, and when I went hunting for more it turns out there aren’t any. At least not yet. A new world generates every day, but there doesn’t seem to be an ability to save the previous one. The single map you load up is part of a daily challenge where everyone’s times are recorded before the new world comes along. While I like the notion, and think it works really well in Spelunky, the flaw here is that the previous maps aren’t saved. At least I can’t find them, and there’s a sameyness to Race The Sun’s infinity. I don’t like games that take things away, particularly when this is the only official route to get maps.
Race The Sun tries to get around this with easily shared player levels. There are a couple of interesting ones, but they’re no substitute for the officially developed ones. I did find some template levels in the editor to play around with: Apocalypse is a wonderful proof of concept that shows abstract detritus and an orange filter can approximate the world’s end. It’s great, and even as a tossed-off example stuck in the level editor it’s a lot better than the player-made attempts. I dodged rolling boulders, squeezed through closing gaps, and was blinded after flying through the explosion a meteor left behind. The editor is clearly powerful, and while I’m looking forward to seeing what people make with it, I’d rather it wasn’t used as crutch for the lack of official content. All it needs is a few more maps, or at least a way of revisiting earlier maps. It was never supposed to be a game you spend hours in front of, but it needs more than the current slate of challenges for me to wholeheartedly recommend it. But I like it and really want some more.