Mainstream endless runners are getting pretty tiresome, for the most part: your Temple Runs and your Sonic Dashes. Underneath their glitzy graphics, they’re fairly repetitive and mainly ask players to simply aim for the next long string of coins. That’s why I was so interested in what Sunbeam Games (the new home of Metroid Prime and Halo 4 designer Jason Behr) would come up with after their Kickstarter was funded early last year. The end result was the new endless runner for all ages Buddy & Me, which is hands-down one of the best mobile games I’ve ever played. It just came to the Play Store this month, and Droid gamers are in for a treat.
Your avatar is a little boy (or girl, in a hopefully fast-approaching update) who has a recurring dream: every night, he wakes up to find that his room has been transported into a magical forest. His/your imaginary friend Buddy is always there—a giant, fat, furry orange creature who flies alongside you as you run through a series of platforms and tire swings to collect “star seeds.” These win you points and fill up a meter that, when activated, allows you to ride on Buddy’s back through the sky. This gives you the opportunity to collect more stars, power-ups, and some flying blue “angel bunnies” while the two-minute timer is paused. You can choose which path to aim for in order to gain different rewards; if you want extra time right away, grab blue stars. Green ones will give you a speed boost, and gold “x2” stars double every star seed you get for a short time. Bunnies are arguably the best bonuses, not just because they’re worth lots of points and increase your time, but because they’re so damned cute! They sing gently to refill the clock and chidingly pick you up when you fall off a platform. I can’t even handle it.
Before we go any further, though, we have to further address the intense cuteness factor present in Buddy & Me. I realize that this level of preciousness can often be choking, even nauseating, but in Buddy & Me it becomes endearing. In contrast to the detailed environments, your character, the bunnies, and Buddy have very simple and lovable designs. Some may take that as a mark of a low-quality game. But though they’re simple, don’t take the designs to be simplistic. Everything serves a purpose, as you’ll see when gliding down from the top of the screen by using your jacket for a parachute, all the while aiming to bounce off Buddy’s absurdly plump stomach. Dude eats too many star seeds. (Personally, I’m not super keen on parts of the Buddy design—his nose and snoutless face bothers me for some reason—but I can’t say that long-eared pudgeball isn’t adorable.)
Of course, I’ve only been talking about game aesthetics so far. What’s under the hood is even more impressive. As the AI builds new random sets of jumps and obstacles for you to navigate, it also analyzes your moves and adjusts the difficulty to match them. This ensures that no run is ever too easy to be interesting for veterans, nor too hard to force a rookie to jump ship. And while you may come to recognize how star seeds are placed in sequence most of the time, you will never know exactly what the screen will look like in five seconds. Adaptability and reflexes beat obsessive level analysis every time.
Even so, what keeps me coming back to play Buddy & Me again and again isn’t its creative gameplay—it’s how flat-out gorgeous this game’s design is. The scenery is lush, lovingly rendered from hand-painted art, and has far more depth than we’ve come to expect from the average 2D sidescroller. Exiting from the forest briefly, you’ll see one of several breathtaking vistas as the timer pauses to allow the bunnies you’ve collected to sing gently, adding five seconds to the timer per bunny. It’s not just about the break from running and jumping or the extra time, though. The real reward here is exploration—seeing a lovely, painted dreamscape before getting back to your obstacle course.
What I’m getting at here is that Buddy & Me doesn’t do anything wrong, and it gets more things right than almost all of its competition. It’s simple, nuanced, breathtakingly beautiful, and still growing—Sunbreak plans to add a girl character once they’ve fully implemented functionality for “The Boy” and a full range of Buddy’s assists, including shooting the player across the stage like a cannonball. But even if it never updated again, Buddy & Me would still go down in my book as one of the best endless runners ever.
Is it Hardcore?
Buddy & Me doesn’t just look good–it looks incredible, with gameplay to match for all skill levels.