Axon Runners cruised on into the App Store today with some pretty sharp graphics, but does its tired corporate sponsorship from Coke Zero drag it down? Check out our review below to find out.
Axon Runners is a futuristic racing game where you steer a young rebel through various courses on a hoverboard that can latch on to many different surfaces. Your goal is to pick up as many orbs as possible throughout the course while minimizing your number of wipeouts. You control your racer with slow swipes to steer left and right, and jump sideways and vertically with quick flick gestures. Jumping is actually the only way to increase your speed, and you get more points per orb the faster you're going, so be ready to bounce around a lot. You can also discharge some of your velocity in an energy blast which can collect orbs a bit further ahead from you. As you play, you unlock new boards with varying abilities and new outfits, while a few are reserved for in-app purchases. You have attain a certain score on each level in order to continue on to the next stage, and even then, your rating is given on a scale of five stars. There are only 10 levels in the story mode, and another 6 in the hard mode, so five-starring each level will be the main challenge for hardcore players. The developer promises that a second chapter and additional challenge levels are on the way, at least. Here's hoping they don't hold the content hostage with in-app purchases.
The game models and textures are all very sharp, fit the setting, and though the audio is a little more subdued, the soundtrack is solid and appropriately electronic. The achievements are actually kind of clever, and hook into Game Center. Game Center also handles leaderboards, in addition to some pretty decent in-game stat tracking.
The difficulty curve on Axon Runners is pretty steep; you'll end up going pretty fast, and the steering is very sensitive. Crashing into obstacles happens a lot, and the ragdoll physics that follow aren't even that entertaining. Sure, the reset time is instantaneous, and there's no limit on how often you can wipe out, but every once in awhile, you'll spawn directly in front of an obstacle which is pretty much impossible to avoid the first go-around, and occasionally, you'll glitch right through the map and be in one of those classic eternally-falling situations like I did at one point.
My other contention is that there's a long, convoluted plotline involving trying to rescue their friends from some alternate digital reality or something that just doesn't get delivered very well. I'm thinking they were just trying to do too much in only 10 levels. The cutscenes between levels feature some really high-quality art, but the dialog scrolls by too quickly to be able to really catch what's going on. A few more levels to pace the story properly and some better timing controls on the dialog captions would have really gone a long way.
Lastly, the game is pretty much bought and paid for by Coke Zero, which means you'll see at least some kind of in-game poster every time you play. Sure, at least that means you won't have to deal with relatively trashy Google ads, and the Coke Zero mentions are relatively infrequent, but considering the game already costs $3.99, I'd rather not have to deal with any advertising at all.
If you can get over a few of Axon Runners' consistent roadbumps, the game can provide a fun, fast, and unique racing experience. It has some really great art to it, and a neon future vibe to it. The storyline, though ripe with potential, feels rushed and blows by between levels far too quickly to really catch what's going on. At its current price point, I can't really recommend Axon Runners, but give it some time for a maintenace patch or two and maybe it will be worth hopping on the hoverboard by the time the next chapter is available.