The world of Tron has the potential to open up immediate success for any developer willing to tackle its unique vibrancy. The Grid serves as a clever backdrop inhabited by humans in the form of “users” and “programs”, all the while showcasing captivating visuals. But does combining the mobile-centric “runner” genre with a franchise like Tron actually work for console? It could have, but unfortunately, this may not be the game you were hoping for.
Tron Run/r is a third-person runner game where you play as a program trying to escape a virus throughout various levels. Despite a series of helpful and informative tutorial levels, the game fails to weave a single bit of story into the whole of Tron Run/r. The reasoning for outrunning deadly viruses isn’t revealed and makes the game feel incomplete from the outset; it simply doesn’t work for a current-gen console game.
Three game modes – Disc, Cycle and Stream – account for the entirety of Tron Run/r’s content, as well as some nice customisation options for your chosen program/avatar and preferred cycle. Players are awarded a Star ranking and score for each stage, which quickly accumulates when collecting yellow circles, called “Bits”, without taking any damage. Receiving damage or going too long without collecting another Bit will restart your combo and lead to a lower score. You must also juggle having only three health points per level, so death is never far away.
In the early stages of each mode, Tron Run/r is a hard game to like because its gameplay remains at a continuous pace – never increasing with your combos like a regular runner usually would, and it’s very easy going as a result. However, the game proves that its lack of speed is justified, as other hostile programs and obstacles will attempt to stop your progress and the stress quickly stacks up later in the run.
Disc mode gets players to sprint through 16 levels to reach an “upload portal”. Every so often a new obstacle, evasion technique or enemy type will be revealed and you’ll need to master dodging, gliding, grinding and sliding, as well as other gameplay elements, in order to make it through unscathed. Disc mode requires a good memory and precise reflexes, often chucking successive phases of obstacles and enemies after one another without respite.
Despite the surprisingly long length of each stage, this is where I experienced many technical difficulties in Tron Run/r. Several bugs, dominated by falling through a floor, occurred no less than half-a-dozen times in the Disc game mode. This led to frustrating bursts of gameplay, where a high-level combo would reset and I’d be closer to dying altogether.
I found no such problems with the Cycle mode, which lets players to ride a selection of awesome light cycles across digital freeways. There’s no health points at risk here and the main goal is to reach an upload portal before a countdown timer reaches zero. You’ll need to pass through coloured gates that award small time extensions, and you’ll have to contend with AI light cyclists whose pesky trail beams will halt your progress. The control scheme is a bit more complicated here, as a combination of acceleration, drifting and manoeuvring around your enemy programs is quite challenging; another sixteen stages is sure to make or break you.
Both Disc and Cycle allow the use of abilities and special robotic companions, which can be bought using your collected Bits on a per-level basis. It’s fun to mix-and-match different combinations to reach a desired score but some bonuses, like the Eliminator (who destroys enemy targets in the Disc mode), are hit-and-miss. Despite being able to rapid-fire into data barricades, its ability was far less effective when firing upon actual rogue programs, leading to some extremely close calls.
The final game mode, Stream, is a never-ending combination of Disc and Cycle elements meshed into one experience. This is a ‘one mistake and it’s all over’-type scenario, requiring knowledge of the previous two portions of the game. Even though it’s a great test of skill and endurance, it definitely feels like a waste of space. Having a library of stages similar to Disc and Cycle, as well as serving as a combination of the two modes, makes a lot more sense.
Tron Run/r has limitations when it comes to content. But, even if the problems with Stream mode had been addressed, would that have been enough? No, it wouldn’t. It’s art style makes it one of the most visually striking games of 2016 so far, but the game design simply doesn’t keep up. There’s a base game ($20USD) and a Deluxe Edition ($30USD), which offers additional levels and avatar skins, but both are priced too high for what is on offer.
Tron Run/r could have told an interesting tale from within The Grid. Graphics aside, this is a content-light runner dominated by only two game modes and a lot of repetitive gameplay. Its fun is short-lived, making it a missed opportunity.
Tron Run/r is a small portion of what could have been a great game.