My girlfriend plays free games on her Android, but isn’t much of a gamer beyond that. She says that console games are “too complicated” for her, so she mostly leaves me be while I play whatever I want.
So as I’m playing TRON RUN/r, she’s sitting next to me on the couch on her phone, not paying much attention to what’s happening on the TV screen. After awhile, the constant thumping techno music and bloops of the Tron universe get her attention, and she watches me for a couple minutes.
“Isn’t this one of those running games for phones?” she asks.
“Yeah, kind of.”
“So how is this any different from those games?”
It’s been several hours since we had that conversation, and I still don’t have an answer for that question. If TRON RUN/r had been released as a free game for iPhone and Android, it would be easy to recommend. As a $20 console game, it’s hard to justify why this game exists. TRON RUN/r is not a horrible game, but it’s horribly suited for the Xbox One.
If you’ve ever played Subway Surfers, Temple Run, Despicable Me: Minion Rush, Spider-Man Unlimited, or literally any one of the dozens of endless runners available on smartphones, you know what to expect from TRON RUN/r. The game is divided into three modes: Disc, Cycle, and Stream.
In Disc levels, you jump, glide, wallrun, grind rails, and throw discs at enemies to reach the final goal. And it’s… fine. TRON RUN/r controls very well. Once I got the hang of the controls, I couldn’t really blame any of my deaths on cheap level design, although the levels do seem to be a bit more difficult than what you’ll find in other endless runners. It also seems much harder to get high enough scores to get three stars on every level.
To help with this, there are power-ups and companions that can boost your score and shield you from enemies. These can be useful for some of the trickier levels, but most can be completed quite easily without them.
The Cycle levels should be where TRON RUN/r shines. The lightcylces were the most memorable part of the original Tron, and they’re well-suited for a game like this. Sadly, the Cycle levels are a lot less fun than the Disc ones. While still basically an endless runner, you’re now on a very tight timer, and you have to go through gates to pick up 2 seconds here or 6 seconds there. Unless you get a power up and a companion, it can be very easy to fail these levels. Even with the extra help, getting high score is much more difficult than on the Disc levels. Sadly, nothing about the lightcycles feels that unique. You can’t cut off other racers and take them out with the solid light trailing you like in the movies. If the game didn’t have the Tron logo on it, this could feel like any generic endless runner with a futuristic motorcycle. It’s a missed opportunity.
Finally, there’s Stream mode, where you play an endless, randomly generated level that mixes both Disc and Cycle gameplay. I actually preferred this mode to just the pure Cycle levels. The way cycles are designed in this game, they’re just better in short bursts. Maybe if both gameplay types had been combined, the game would have turned out a little bit better. At the very least, it would have been a better use of the Tron license.
Regardless of which mode you’re playing, loading times are strangely lengthy. It takes a good 15-20 seconds to get to the next level, particularly in Stream mode, which is just unacceptable in a game like this where speed and action are its biggest hooks.
But the biggest problem with TRON RUN/r (aside from the atrocious loading times) is that it’s hard to stay interested in a simple running game while sitting in front of a TV for hours. If you’ve seen one TRON RUN/r level, you’ve pretty much seen them all. That’s not a huge deal if you’re playing a game on your phone for a few minutes while waiting in line, but on a console, it just doesn’t work very well. Worse, the game doesn’t really have any unlockables like in other endless runners for phones. There are a few different characters to choose from, and you can pick what color light you want to come from their clothes, but all of the customization options are there from the beginning. Adding in a bunch of other Disney characters (or maybe even Marvel and Star Wars characters) to unlock wouldn’t really fit the tone of the game, but at least it would give players some motivation to keep playing.
The computerized world of Tron has always been visually striking, going back to the original movie when it came out back in 1982. TRON RUN/r is no exception to the series’ high visual standards. Sanzaru Games has crafted a fascinating bright neon world in the Unreal Engine 4, at least for the Disc levels. Maybe because of the speed involved, Cycle levels are a little plainer, but they still ooze that recognizable Tron style.
As with every other aspects of the game, the problem with the graphics is that there’s just not enough of them. You’re stuck on rails, so there are only a limited number of things to do, and there are only a half-dozen playable characters with minor customization options, like palette swaps. TRON RUN/r is all dressed up with nowhere to go.
The soundtrack doesn’t feature many songs, but some of the included tracks are remixes from respected electronic artists like Autechre, Bibio, Darkstar, and Joywave. Plus, there’s new music from Giorgio Moroder, which is always nice to hear. The songs fit the Tron universe well, and even helped me feel more focused on the various levels, but all the songs are also oddly forgettable. None of this really feels like the best work of the artists, or stuff you’ll want to track down online and listen to later. It’s too bad that Disney didn’t spring to include Daft Punk’s awesome Tron: Legacy soundtrack (or the remix album). Sounds that accompany destroying enemies and barriers also fit the Tron world well, but again, nothing really stands out.
The base game has 16 running Disc levels and 20 Cycle levels, plus the endless mode. That may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that each level only takes a few minutes to beat. You can easily get through TRON RUN/r in a day. A couple dozen extra levels are included in the season pass or the $30 deluxe edition, but then you’re putting an awful lot of money into a game that probably won’t hold your attention. Going for high scores on the levels and endless mode might encourage a few people to keep playing, but I don’t see many people putting more than a couple of hours into it.
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg