by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Sprinter is a name that works on two levels. It is what you have to do in the game to finish each level - if you donít hit the strict time limit then you wonít be progressing. The name is also partially related to the characters in the gameís story. The narrative follows a family consisting of Emily, Rosie, and Lyle, and each of them is running away from something.
I wonít go much more into it than that because the actual story is thin on the ground as it is and any form of exposition is almost non-existent. The game takes place across six chapters which represent different times in this familyís life. Each chapter has five levels which you have to complete in order. In between each one you get a couple of storyboard panels showing you whatís going on in that particular family memberís life. Itís a sad tale, but thereís not really any meat to grab onto.
Other than the running aspect, the levels are completely incongruous to the story. Every level is a series of corridors filled with a number of obstacles, and you simply have to get to the end before time runs out. You play from a top down perspective, looking down at what almost seems like a hand-drawn blueprint. You have to open doors, distract guards, and turn off security cameras, all of which correspond to a different button press. New mechanics get added from time to time, for example some guards will have keys that youíll have to do a more complicated series of button presses for.
Then, for some reason, you have to collect a treasure chest. Next, part of the level apparently disappears and you have to jump between two disconnected doors. While most of the mechanics in Sprinter are reasonable, itís this jumping one that doesnít work as often as Iíd like. To jump between doors, you have to be running towards the first door, hold down one button, double tap another button to open both doors, and then release the button you were holding. All too often it felt like it wasnít registering that I was letting go of the button in time, and Iíd be stuck behind the first door, completely ruining the level. You also vanish for a brief moment as youíre jumping between doors, and this is particularly frustrating if thereís another obstacle coming up that you canít tell how far away it is from your character. Sometimes Iíd materialise in between the doors in the void, as apparently I hadnít been pressing in the right direction.
Most of the other mechanics work completely fine though, and although youíll rarely complete a run on the first try once youíve completed the tutorial levels, it does feel like you learn from every mistake. Some levels look impossible to begin with, but then after repeated attempts your muscle memory takes over and carries you through to the next one. Some sections of later levels are actually impossible, which is where Sprinter adds a time slowing mechanic. When time is slowed youíll have a lot more time to think and actually perform your actions. The trick is knowing where to use it in the level, as you only have limited charges. Towards the end of the game I found myself looking at the level beforehand and planning what Iíd be doing, whereas in earlier levels I would just sprint by the seat of my pants.
Running out of time
The time limits for each level are strict, and youíll often only beat them by a fraction of a second. You can shave precious moments off your time by cutting diagonal corners, as changing directional will slow you down ever so slightly. For the most part, youíll have to be going full speed to complete each level, and that means youíll have to get good at memorising which button overcomes which obstacle. It feels good when you get past a tricky section, but in the end, thereís not much more to the game than bashing your head against a hard bit until you can get the button presses right.
Sprinter appears to have a good story, but could do with more storytelling. Itís a game with simple, yet challenging mechanics, but could do with more variety and tweaking. Sadly, the two donít really go together, so you end up just playing through these levels to get to the next snippet of narrative, rather than the two going hand in hand. Sprinter will only take you a couple of hours to complete, and you can go back and try and beat the Gold times for each level, but you may not want to.
Stark, yet striking art style. Rewarding when you finish a level.
Some gameplay sections donít work that well. Story and gameplay are disconnected.