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 don’t hit the strict time limit then you won’t be progressing. The name is also partially related to the characters in the game’s story. The narrative follows a family consisting of Emily, Rosie, and Lyle, and each of them is running away from something.
I won’t 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 family’s 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 what’s going on in that particular family member’s life. It’s a sad tale, but there’s 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 you’ll 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, it’s this jumping one that doesn’t work as often as I’d 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 wasn’t registering that I was letting go of the button in time, and I’d be stuck behind the first door, completely ruining the level. You also vanish for a brief moment as you’re jumping between doors, and this is particularly frustrating if there’s another obstacle coming up that you can’t tell how far away it is from your character. Sometimes I’d materialise in between the doors in the void, as apparently I hadn’t been pressing in the right direction.
Most of the other mechanics work completely fine though, and although you’ll rarely complete a run on the first try once you’ve 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 you’ll 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 I’d 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 you’ll 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, you’ll have to be going full speed to complete each level, and that means you’ll 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, there’s 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. It’s a game with simple, yet challenging mechanics, but could do with more variety and tweaking. Sadly, the two don’t 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 don’t work that well. Story and gameplay are disconnected.