Some game genres are so refined that there is little call for innovation. JRPG’s, online FPS, Visual novels have swarms of near identical games that keep their fans happy. Autorunners are a new breed of such game that rose up with touchscreen mobile devices. The characters run along the levels automatically, building momentum and the Player just needs to tap at the right moment to leap over obstacles. The gameplay is addictive and simple with little need to add additional bells ‘n’ whistles to make a successful product. However the new autorunner The Golden Arrow adds in something that has been lacking from the genre. A story.
In most autorunners there is only a loose attempt to explain why the character is running from left to right. The iOS adaptation of Mirror’s Edge brought in story elements from the console version of the franchise. rComplex used comic book panels between levels to show a man running from his own inner demons. The Golden Arrow treads a new path, and unveils its backstory through a narrative design that’s as elegant as the gameplay.
Players control a monster who is on the run from a monster-hunting princess. As is the case with the genre, the monster runs automatically from left to right slowly gaining speed. An infinite series of platforms makes up the terrain and the monster has to leap over the gaps between the platforms, while avoiding obstacles that will reduce momentum if struck. The only input that comes from the Player is tapping the screen to jump, or holding their finger on the screen for longer jumps. Eventually, no matter how skilled, the Player will make a mistake and send the monster off the end of a ledge or into a wall.
There are a few variations thrown in; the monster can run through little stars that provide a temporary speed boost, and occasionally platforms will suddenly change height, or drop new barriers unexpectedly. There isn’t anything particularly novel about all of this, but the balance of difficulty is excellent, and players are rarely placed in unfair situations where it is impossible to react to a deadly peril.
What really makes The Golden Arrow keep players enthralled is the quest to learn more about who the monster is, and why the princess is chasing it. This story is revealed in little bursts. A sentence or two of a fairy tale written on unlockable scrolls that will appear after players have run a set distance as the monster.
The text is an enchanting story of a princess who is driven to hunt monsters, even as her relentless pursuit drains the joy from her life. The writing is haunting and poetic, providing an extra motivation for players to keep at the game just to find out what happens to the obsessed damsel.
The Golden Arrow is all the more remarkable in that it is the work of a one-person design team. Jenna Hoffstein of Monster & Glitch created this product by herself and every aspect is remarkable. The 8-bit graphics convey the fairy tale setting, the bleep-bloop music changes as players reach milestones, and the story is a moving tale of a woman who sees only one path in life, oblivious to all other possibilities. An excellent metaphor for the autorunner gameplay. The Golden Arrow is available now for iOS.