Race the Sun is a very simple game. That isn't meant as a criticism – indeed, the title's focus is arguably its greatest asset. After a successful Kickstarter, this unique take on a popular genre has made its way onto Sony's systems with almost non-existent fanfare. But, do its straightforward systems make for a satisfying experience – or should it be banished to the sun?
At its core, this indie is an endless runner, but one that allows you a bit more freedom than the usual fare. You main task, as the title suggests, is to make you way towards the sun as quickly as possible while avoiding the multitude of obstacles in your way. If you do hit one of the many obstructions, your ship will immediately smash into a puff of smoke.
Crucially, your craft is powered by sunlight, so you have to be careful to avoid the shadows cast by the aforementioned barriers. Obviously, the further the sun sinks, the larger the shadows are, making your job of staying alive even tougher. Unsurprisingly, this ludicrously satisfying and addictive gameplay works well in short bursts, making it a perfect fit for the Vita.
The levels themselves are endless and randomly generated, but only refresh every 24 hours, giving you time to learn the layout, while still providing enough variety. There are also several power-ups which help you in various ways. One gives your ship a brief burst of speed, another allows you to jump over incoming obstacles, and the third is a shield which will deploy if you happen to make a mistake. Finally, there are warp tunnels littered throughout the levels, which either transport you to the next region or a bonus stage.
Developer Flippfly has also included a selection of missions, which provide a nice structure to the title, while also giving you something to focus on aside from high-score hunting. There are a fairly diverse range of objectives to complete, with some asking you to fly set distances within certain parameters, and others requiring you to use power-ups in specific ways. As you topple these challenges, you’ll level up and be rewarded with ship upgrades, base multiplier increases, and new game modes.
Speaking of game modes, the title includes three in total. The first two – Race the Sun and Apocalypse – are essentially the same, with the latter only providing an altered colour palette and a much stiffer difficulty. The final mode, Labyrinthe, sees the camera pulled back and your ship slowed down, as you attempt to weave your way through a considerably more intricate maze of obstacles. These tweaks to the core formula make for a neat distraction, but ultimately don’t have the same staying power.
In short, there is an earnest simplicity to the title’s gameplay. This is the type of title that you could capably describe in a single sentence, which is both its biggest draw, and its biggest setback. For better or for worse, this is gaming boiled down to its very essence – an exercise in mechanical minimalism. There’s no real depth here, but when the core is so captivating and visceral, that isn’t a massive problem.
Similarly, the presentation is mostly stark and understated. Sharp polygons litter the vast and largely greyscale landscape, with the occasional power-up providing a burst of colour. The soundtrack is comprised of a few boisterous orchestral songs, which increase in intensity as you get closer to your inevitable demise. While these tunes certainly fit the action, they aren’t terribly memorable or interesting.
Someone considerably more famous and intelligent than us once said that simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication, and Race the Sun is the interactive embodiment of that idea. This is an incredibly humble game, both in gameplay and presentation, but one that is tense, satisfying, and totally hypnotic.