In the brief moment a flaming boulder flattens me like a pancake, I think to myself, Should I even bother trying to recover? As my unicorn horned-character sits momentarily dazed, my opponents — three hooting and hollering roommates — race past me. I could hit the taunt key and let myself gracefully lose the round, brushing my flowing, purple mane in the brief blink before I’m eliminated. Although giving up is tempting, I’m not out yet.
Rapidly depleting my blinking boost meter, my pink-clad character rockets forward, and after some particularly deft jumping, sliding and grapple-hookery, I’ve made it near the head of the pack. Snagging an item box, I get the familiar fireball. I launch it behind me, bowling the three of them over and disabling them long enough for me to knock them all off the screen and out of the game, leaving myself the last runner standing.
It’s hard to not laugh at Steam game SpeedRunners, win or lose. Whether playing as a guy in a unicorn leotard or a chicken suit, the game’s lighthearted atmosphere makes it hard to get mad. However, the tight controls and satisfying acrobatics give it plenty of competitive appeal. Available through SpeedRunners’ careful balance between cutthroat thrills and Mario Kart-esque randomness allows for glorious comebacks and serious skill without hampering the simple fun of crowding a bunch of friends around the screen.
Somewhere between classic Mario and Mario Kart, SpeedRunners is an interesting cross between platformers and racing games for up to four players. Instead of completing laps, players are eliminated as they fall too far behind and slip off the screen. This means curbstomp matches are generally out of the way quickly, but the neck-and-neck races adrenaline junkies live for can last much longer.
Between two equally skilled opponents, the random items aren’t impactful enough to unfairly tip the scales, but they can spice up an even race. There’s little more satisfying than throwing a wrench in a rival’s plan with a well-laid time bomb.
The grappling mechanics in particular benefit the most from experience. Certain ceilings allow the dashing daredevils to swing Spiderman-style, redirecting momentum and just generally being cool as hell. Skilled players can use the carefully crafted maps to their fullest, zipping through at breakneck speeds.
However, there’s a simple, spontaneous joy to SpeedRunners that anyone can appreciate. When everyone gets launched into spikes by a time bomb — bomber included — it’s magical. When a guy in an oversized shark suit misses the ledge and goes sailing offscreen, it’s just goofy fun.
All of the various modes help keep the party fresh. The SpeedRoulette adds modifiers that change play drastically; SpeedRapture makes missiles rain down from the sky; while SuperSpeedRunners turbocharges everyone to ludicrous speed. Additionally, SpeedRunners has a level editor integrated with Steam Workshop, allowing for easy creation and sharing.
The two weak points in SpeedRunners’ package are a lackluster time trial mode and barebones options. The time trials have a number of generally uninteresting single-player maps to run and perfect. However, AI opponents and online matchmaking more than make it up to any solo player. The options menu, however, doesn’t have much to make up for its lack of graphics settings and limited controller requirements. As of now, Speedrunners is only compatible with keyboards and wired Xbox controllers, but external programs such as JoyToKey can help mitigate that.
Speedrunners is still in Steam’s Early Access program, but it’s worth its price now, even if it’s lacking a final layer of polish. New content is still being added monthly, including new levels, runners and features. Though technically unfinished, it’s a perfectly competent, fast-paced party game that doesn’t throw skill out the window.