Lack of Story
XYLA Entertainment's Rush Bros. is an inspired game with a compelling idea. Music-driven platforming was a good idea on paper. Here was a game with gameplay that would take its cues from the soundtrack playing in the background. Overcoming its challenges would be as much about feeling the beat as it was skillfully navigating its platforms. When it failed to meet its Kickstarter goal in late 2012, all hope seemed to be lost, then XYLA surprised everyone by securing private funding. Unfortunately, good ideas do not guarantee a good game.
In Rush Bros., you play a DJ in a world dedicated to music. In a nod to the Super Mario series, the narrative presents two brothers, Bass and Treble, who after years of making music together split to go on their own paths. But, as a line in a still-motion cutscene explains, their greatest work is yet to come. If you want more story than that, you are sadly out of luck. Story in Rush Bros. exists purely to provide opening context and nothing more.
From then onward, the game is a 2D platformer through and through, and in that light the lacking story can be perhaps be forgiven. The core gameplay is what you would expect from this genre. Bass and Treble jump from platform to platform avoiding obstacles and gathering power-ups. The game functions quite well in this regard and even allows for wall-jumps and launching from springs and bounce-pads. Interestingly, the game also features a floor slide which quickly becomes the preferred form of movement due to the lack of sprint. At its best, Rush Bros. is genuinely fun and the unity with the game's soundtrack adds a nice layer of beat-driven challenge.
Rush Bros. takes is cues from Super Meat Boy. Levels are hard and packed with ways to die. It is too bad, then, the XYLA ignored one of the indie darling's fundamental lessons: short levels and great level design mean less frustration. Rush's stages are meant to be raced through but it is still common to spend upwards of three minutes in each. Progress is gated by locked doors, hidden keys, and plenty of backtracking which quickly cause them to overstay their welcome even with an embedded checkpoint system.
Traversing levels often feels cumbersome due to imprecise controls on both the keyboard or the game's recommended gamepad. Jumping, for example, feels loose and floaty. The length of the button press changes the height of each jump, but even the tiniest jump feels like a leap. The same can be said of left and right movement. The physics of Bass and Treble's movement seem to have a brief progressive acceleration, which means inching forward is inconsistent and uncomfortable. Walls have a frustrating stickiness to them, as well, forcing a slow downward slide which can make the difference between a win and a loss against an opponent in the multiplayer.
Worse still, death often feels unfair. In the game's later stages, traps often feel unavoidable. Flying spikes in the game's final level come to mind: indistinguishable from normal spikes and able to move faster than you can avoid. Springs are another “gotcha” that come to mind. Despite appearing up-and-down, springs will often launch you in a differently direction entirely. A wider array of power-ups might have made overcoming these challenges more interesting but with only double-jump and a speed burst on offer, they fail to make any meaningful difference. Mechanics like these are frustrating but only part of the game's problem.
Interesting concept. Some genuinely well-designed levels.
Levels are too long. Imprecise controls. Punishing difficulty