Don’t Run With a Plasma Sword Review

Who’d have thought you could end up with something this exciting if you just tossed a bunch of old sci-fi tropes into a blender? When Earth comes under attack by everything that ever stepped off a UFO in 1950s cinema, one plucky hero must drive them off — not because he’s all that special, but because he’s the only one who decided to pick up a lightsaber and defy the warning label, which reads: Don’t Run With a Plasma Sword (Out November 30, $0.99 Sale)!

Best described as a mashup of side-scrolling runner and action platformer with a little RPG sprinkled on top, DRWAPS has the player jumping, sliding, and swinging a really cool beam saber through 28 levels — or endlessly, if that’s your thing. Even the level-based campaign has a bit of an infinite runner feel thanks to the way stages are seamlessly stitched together. The added benefit compared to the infinite genre, of course, is that the seasoned player never has to slog through low-octane segments to reach the intensity he or she experienced before the running dude fell into the drink or took too many hits from his extraterrestrial foes.

The star of the show in DRWAPS is clearly the game’s experience and upgrade system, but even ignoring that for a second, XperimentalZ Games’ latest has respectable depth. Levels are highly branched and littered with trinkets regardless of which path the player takes, so there’s an incentive to head for the rooftops or loftiest cliffs after a Game Over at street level. An interesting variety of temporary power-ups are on tap, and the game has a way of moderating challenge by adjusting the player character’s running speed — an excellent run tells the game to up the ante, while a non-fatal hit slows things down a notch. Best of all, the player has to deal creatively with enemies as new types of villains step into the hero’s path.

All this would make DRWAPS merely draw even with the best auto-scrollers; the upgrade system is where it goes beyond the call of duty. Taking out enemies and collecting stars nets the player varying amounts of experience points, which can be traded in for brand spankin’ new abilities, levels in the game’s Endless mode, and costume recolors for the hero. Advanced moves purchased in the upgrade menu include an air dash attack, dive attack, and slide attack, and these can be further upgraded if more points are pumped in. Generous experience bonuses are awarded for reaching certain distances in the game’s Endless modes, and any accumulated during a failed run remain in the player’s total despite a Game Over. I only wish there was an experience counter to go along with the distance tracker, as it’s difficult to tell just how close you are to affording the next desired upgrade if you happen to go back and replay a conquered stage for extra experience.

The cool additions to the hero’s moveset are a double-edged sword in one respect. When designing the levels the developer may have underestimated just how much players love to go bonkers with things like air dashes and double jumps. An untold number of deaths are likely to result, because an aerial maneuver executed from a rooftop leaves the player blind to what lies below for a dangerous period of time. DRWAPS‘ levels are definitely designed with a conservative approach in mind, and this takes a little wind out of how awesome the special moves are otherwise; no doubt it’s a design challenge inherent in constructing levels that can be completed regardless of what upgrades the player has purchased. On balance, once the hero’s full moveset is unlocked the player has more leeway to pull out of an unintended dive into a bottomless pit. More importantly, I feel level design and enemy placement satisfactorily take into account the difference between the hero’s default jump attack and air dash attack, which is important because the latter replaces the former once the upgrade is made.

I found DRWAPS‘ interface perfectly reliable in any case, and while the button placement will take a bit of adjustment for gamers weaned on consoles, they’re conceptually intuitive enough that they become second nature in a few minutes. Crucially, the touch area assigned to each button is way larger than the button’s visual size, so I didn’t have a single missed button press in all my playthrough.

Designing DRWAPS‘ boss battles may have been the dev team’s most tedious chore, but it was certainly time well spent! Idyllic already flirted with combining boss battles and auto-scrolling gameplay in a way that got me excited, but DRWAPS brings the concept home. Every seventh level in the campaign confronts the player with a boss that executes a heavily scripted series of attacks to be memorized and exploited. These are a great throwback to the days of ye olde Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog, but more importantly, they provide excellent breathers from the pitfall-strewn regular levels.

The sudden breaks in DRWAPS’ roadways and their overall tiled feel leave something to be desired on an aesthetic level, but the multilayered parallax backgrounds are delicious in motion. DRWAPS being decisively challenge-oriented, the devs struck morbid gold with the amount of work put into the hero’s various death animations. The game’s title theme eerily pops and cracks as if it’s being played on an old record, but some compelling techno awaits in the stages themselves. Don’t worry if the game boots up without any audio — DRWAPS has a rather unorthodox way of beginning its audio presentation with the intro comic. DRWAPS’ 28 level campaign can be counted on for a good four to six hours on average, with more play time tacked on if you care to visit its Endless mode or replay finished levels to unlock all the upgrades.

iFanzine Verdict: As an auto-scrolling runner with heavy platforming elements and a pseudo-RPG experience system – and yes, a plasma sword – DRWAPS is the kind of genre mashup gold that we need to see more often in the App Store. The complexity of the player character’s moveset leaves this one of greater interest to hardcore gamers than casual players, but otherwise it comes highly recommended if you’re seeking an action, platforming, or running game with satisfying depth, and don’t mind that all the mayhem comes at you at a frenetic pace.