Behind-the-back three-lane runner games — either endless, or with a fixed presentation — are certainly no stranger to the mobile gaming environment, and — in fact — are actually a major mainstay. It can actually be somewhat challenging to produce a truly standout title when a genre has been aggressively mined-to-death, with most plausible ideas already being tried — often multiple times over — by developers of far greater talent than yourself. Despite all of that, Tuokio — a developer hailing from Tampere, Finland — has managed to bring a stage-based 3D runner to mobile users that’s not only extremely enjoyable, but has a wholly unique charm to its presentation as well.
Your mission is to guide a perpetually smiling disco ball to the end of over 100 different levels, listening to thumping Techno music along the way, all while slowly piecing together the ultimate clubbing outfit. The action will — most often — take place across three lanes of movement, of which you may freely move about by swiping either left or right (and simultaneously using two fingers will even cause you to execute a double move). It’s worth pointing out there are no railings in Discorun (out now, $1.99) which prevent you from sliding sideways off the world’s edges, which — rather than being there just to annoy you — is actually a feature due to certain levels going beyond the three-lane norm.
Swiping up — as is to be expected for games such as this — will cause your smiling disco ball to launch himself far up into the air, which can be used to collect stars and avoid dangerously placed speaker systems. Although the disco ball will eventually come down on his own — if given enough time — you can slam him back to the surface far sooner by swiping down, which is actually a key game play mechanic when attempting time-trials. While most games would normally use this as way of stringing together an uncomfortably close series of jumps, or as the means for smashing floor bound enemies, here it’s primarily used to negate the fact that long bouts of air-time will slow you down.
Swiping down — when already on the ground — is the one part of Discorun’s controls that will likely throw long time Endless Runner players for quite the loop, as it doesn’t perform even vaguely as one might expect. For most games this initiates your slide maneuver — which is used to duck under objects — but using it here in such circumstances will usually get you killed, since it’s actually a special short-distance bounce instead. Bounces benefit from not having massive air-time — which is extremely important during tricky time-trials — and thus can easily be used to jump one block high gaps without needing to slam back down, yet also tends to require far tighter jump-timing as a result.
Furthermore — beyond the basic movement controls — you’ll also come across special red and green floor tiles, which will either slowdown or additively accelerate your disco ball in turn. Naturally you’ll want to hit as many of these green tiles as possible — while avoiding all of the red ones — when attempting to complete a speed-trial, although they’re generally less significant when attempting to grab every last star littered across a stage. Whereas most other games of this variety feature jumps that always reach the same height no matter what, in Discorun the other key difference between bounces and jumps is that only the latter are significantly impacted by how fast you’re already going.
Using these controls you’ll — as previously mentioned — be tasked with guiding your smiling disco ball through over 100 wildly different levels, but — as you might have already surmised — mere survival is not your only goal here. Three different medals can be earned on each stage, and don’t necessarily need to achieved on the same run either; these include simply finishing the level — beating a goal time — and grabbing all the stars. What truly affords Discorun with massive replayability is that finishing a level within the target time — versus grabbing up every last star possible — can quickly become vastly different experiences, and are most often even categorically exclusive.
Whereas star runs will see you flinging yourself into precarious spots all because a floating star happened to be there, speed runs will instead see you taking the most efficient path possible — hitting every speed booster along the way — just to beat the clock. In this regard — thanks to Discorun’s checkpoints and infinite lives — the three medals represent three whole tiers of difficulty for each and every level: simply finish a stage (just keep at it); gathering all stars (tricky jumps ahead); and time trials (perfection only). Word of advice: those checkpoints are nearly worthless for speed-runs, seeing as how — after a collision based death — you’ll respawn with absolutely none of your momentum maintained (and this is a game where perfect runs often win by less than a full second).
Better yet, Discorun — unlike some other iOS games — is extremely aware of the time-constraints upon which the mobile gaming lifestyle generally needs to be constructed around. As a result, the average target-time for most Discorun levels is generally somewhere in the vicinity of ten-to-thirty seconds; which — as a result — means you can easily do all of the practice runs needed to master a level within a single work break. These short levels don’t ever feel empty or unrewarding — however — instead they more often feel like successful bouts of Super Hexagon, wherein a jam-packed intense session — only mere seconds long — can seem as though you’ve been at the game for entire hours.
As for how a level can simultaneously be an in-depth experience, yet still be finished within just ten seconds, I have five simple words for you: nothing but speed boosters everywhere (thankfully the level graciously contained far more checkpoints than normal). Of course — when levels like this are getting thrown at you — all I can say is that I’m really glad all of Discorun’s control-inputs are exceedingly responsive, as many of the game’s stages would probably be a nightmare to play otherwise. Never once did I encounter a roadblock where I felt as though my failures were being generated by a deficiency in the game’s controls, although I did sometimes have to remind myself of the double-lane hop.
Anyway — beyond the joy of pure accomplishment — every medal you achieve will net you a single coin; and furthermore — before you ask — no, you can only earn the three coins available per level precisely once each. You will — for the cost of five coins — be presented with three different boxes to choose from, each of which will contain either a randomized disco ball — a festive party hat — or some kind of novelty glasses. None of these will really have the slightest impact on Discorun’s game play at all, yet — should you feel like it — you are certainly free to play a globe-painted ball wearing pixel-shades and a cat-hoodie.
You can even use a whopping fifteen coins to skip a level entirely, although I’m not sure why you would since merely finishing the levels in Discorun — which is all you need to do in order to unlock the next stage — is generally the easy part. I guess you could buy a giant bundle of IAP coins — with the largest bundle available being more than 3,000 for just $20 — but I largely have to ask why you’d do that, unless really liked disco dress-up. Discorun is fully enjoyable without ever making a single purchase — thanks to infinite lives, as well as stages that never play dirty — making this feature feel somewhat tacked on at the eleventh hour (although I guess you can’t own all 249 costume bits otherwise).
Either way — Discorun’s game play matters aside — it’s high time I finally got around to discussing the other key component regarding what makes this game a blast to play: the entire audiovisual presentation. The whole stage — from the laser lights dancing in the background, the speakers blocking your way, to the very light-track that you’re rolling around on — is all part of one big visualizer, which always moves in synch with the music! Static screenshots — such as the ones seen on this review — sadly do a poor job of properly showcasing the pure joy it is to watch Discorun’s stages in motion, so I suggest you check out the embedded video to get a better feel for this particular aspect. Accompanying this is an ultra-catchy mix of Dance and Trance based Techno music, some of which — such as the victory tune — is likely to be eternally seared into your brain if you’re not careful (sadly there’s no option to play Discorun utilizing your own music).
iFanzine Verdict: Despite being from an admittedly overcrowded genre, Discorun manages to offer up tight controls — excellent level design — and (perhaps most importantly) a unique presentational-concept that has never before been tackled. Featuring levels that are extremely short — yet massively dense — even short bursts of time with Discorun can lead to an overall satisfying experience, resulting in a game that works well within the time-constraints of a mobile-gaming lifestyle. Furthermore — should you enjoy Techno music — you’re definitely in for a visual treat here, as the entire stage functions like a giant musical visualizer set to perfectly follow the beat.