Shine Runner: $1 Gaming Done Right

Rarely does a mobile game inspire me to write a review. Let’s be honest; mobile gaming isn’t a gourmet meal; it’s a snack. Usually a sweet, rich snack that never quite tides you over until dinner – and usually makes you a bit sick to your stomach – but it’s cheap (or free) and is readily available – like all good bad-for-you snacks.

But, to quote the old expression – even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Sad, some of you reading this don’t get what this means. But I digress …

First, I’ll be happy to admit that I’m NOT a mobile gamer, typically. I rarely play games on my phone; preferring to keep my battery alive for More Important Things(tm). But on my Asus tablet? All bets are off. After all, it’s a luxury device and not something I need or use for work. If I want to kill the battery off in a marathon gaming session – so be it. As a classic gamer, I spend a large part of my tablet experience playing emulators of classic game systems; NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Atari 2600, Colecovision – you know, the stuff most kids wouldn’t be caught dead playing today.

Thanks to NVidia’s dip into tablet technology, many tablets (and even some phones) come with advanced gaming video chipsets known as TEGRA. This comes in two versions; Tegra 2 and Tegra 3. My previous tablet, the Asus TF101 had Tegra 2; my new tablet, the Asus TF300 has Tegra 3. This offers “console quality graphics” to tablets – but of course, they cannot add “console quality controls” to tablets and that’s one of the biggest issues with mobile games … horrid controls. While Sony Xperia devices (with real physical controls) has taken a stab at fixing this issue, others have figured out how to link up their Bluetooth compatible controllers to their favorite tablets. Unfortunately, most games do not take advantage of these controllers.

These days, for a mobile game to stick out and warrant my time and energy, it needs to address the issues of controls, time slicing (short burst play without being too superficial) and of course game play (… remember that? The KING of gaming?) As a bonus, it should be cheap, ad-free, nag-free and have no hidden “buy now” screens that only pop up after you’ve played the game for an hour.

Now that we have my thoughts on mobile gaming out of the way, let’s talk about Shine Runner.

Shine Runner is an action racing game that has you racing against the clock to smuggle redneck goods between way points in a swamp. Wow, I can’t believe I just wrote that – and I still play the game. The goal of the game is to make money; and you’ll do so by buying goods LOW and selling them HIGH after you smuggle them to the next location. You do this in one of those cool CSI: Miami swamp boats that run at high speeds over swampy wastelands. As a bonus, there is no speed control and no brakes – it’s “balls to the wall” breakneck speed the entire run; all you get to do is steer.

Boat Racin’ Madness

As you drive your swamp boat (third person perspective), you’ll encounter random bags of money strategically placed on your route. Grabbing these is one of the keys to success since you’ll need bank to buy the goods you’re smuggling. There are plenty of obstacles in your way that will slow you down; shanties, crocodiles, fishermen and even police boats that try to impede your progress. All of these will increase the route time, which costs you money earned on each run; the faster you get to the next point, the more money you are awarded (this is above and beyond the goods trade cash). But it takes money to make money, so the bags and the route time are your core cash crops and you’ll need them to succeed.

Each trip takes you between one of five way points; each one ran by a more stereotypical redneck than the last. Unfortunately, they are really all just the same location wrapped in a different skin. This is one area where the game could improve; but we’ll talk more on that later. Once you arrive, you’re shown your cash flow, a list of redneck items that are available, their prices and whether the price has gone UP or DOWN since the last location you visited. You BUY or SELL your cargo (limited to 50 total items), then take off to your next way point.

You get ten “days” to play for a high score of booty. Each “run” takes a game-day; but in real life, each run takes about one actual minute – meaning that, with trading such, you can play an ENTIRE game in about fifteen minutes. The game also auto-saves each “day” – so if you get pulled out of the game for whatever reason, you can resume when you get back. Game developers take note; EVERY game should be like this.

Most “racing” games favor the “tilt to steer” mechanic which, quite frankly, sucks. Sure, it’s fine on a little phone, but heft up a modern day tablet for 15-20 minutes of steering and you’re bound to get a little tired. Plus, I’ve found that most games are too sensative for steering type controls and so you end up over-compensating the whole time – making it less of a game and more of a challenge to learn the controls. Game developers take note; mobile gamers don’t like to LEARN anything. If we fight the controls instead of playing the game? You have failed.

The controls on Shine Runner are rich. They default to “touch the sides of the screen to steer”, but also offers the tilt play mentioned above AND a means to use Xperia Play controls/Bluetooth controller. Since there is no “gas” or “brakes”, it really is a “two touch” game – and that works great. Game developers take note; control options = more fun. Some people LOVE tilt to steer. Others prefer the game pad. Always allow a physical mapping to your controls – even if they aren’t Xperia Play compatible. Choice is good.

That’s not to say that the controls don’t take some getting used to. You have to learn to drive without speed control – and that is harder than it sounds. It will take time to get used to the drifty controls of a boat, too – if you’re used to car driving sims. In the end, though – the controls are top notch, totally mobile driven and were obviously well thought out and tested. I appreciate that.

It is a graphically impressive title; especially if you have Tegra pushing out the graphics. The developers thoughtfully put in a “slider” to let you choose between “graphic detail” and “Frame rate”. The best part is – turning down the graphics won’t piss you off because you’re driving so damn fast, you won’t have that much TIME to appreciate the scenery. Even turning down the graphics all the way renders the game totally fine – giving you the fastest thrill ride for your buck (literally). If you are rocking a Tegra 3 and a good processor – crank that baby up and ride that ride with a smile – you’re going to get water effects and other niceties (like water splashing on the “camera” occasionally). Certainly not required – but bless the developers for putting them in for those of us that spent all our summer fun money on a shiny new tablet.

So time slicing is good, controls are good, graphics are excellent … is the game … FUN?

Hell yeah it’s fun. The illusion of speed is incredible. I loves me high speed arcade style racing, and this is it. Water craft are just a bonus. Throw in crocs to hit, trashing environmentals, ramps (both intentional AND unintentional), tunnels, police boats – there is so much going on – and all the time the clock is ticking.

No game is perfect … so where does the game fall short?

A Deal … Is a Deal

The trading portion of the game feels tacked on – to give you an excuse to run around the swamp. Prices go up and down at random. “Random” events like “crawfish shortages” or “excess Tobacky” surpluses stack the deck against the player really reaching for a high score. The locations you travel to don’t seem to have any real bearing on prices or product availability. The game would be MASSIVELY improved if the dealers carried DIFFERENT products and you were nudged to visit CERTAIN ones at certain times to get better deals. It would be cool if dealers asked for certain things and gave you some sort of time limit to acquire them; that sort of thing. As it is – it is too random and your scores are too varied to make this a “serious trader” game or even a “high score attack” game to challenge your friends because there is a bit too much luck needed. But they could easily remedy this with a few touch ups.

The game map is a bit basic – in terms of how many dealers there are and how long it takes to get between them. You can’t go from one side of the map to another without hitting a “way point” in between – it would be cool if you could go from A to C without hitting B – and give yourself a TWO minute trip instead of a ONE minute one. Offer incentives. Add more destinations that are more than a single “day” trip.

Finally, any racing game can make use of powerups and weapons. Even something as simple as scooping up a gator and using it as a projectile weapon would be fun. Boost pads hidden inside of structures. Don’t spoil the two button mechanics though. That works … and works well.

So there you have it. A mobile game done right, priced at a ridiculous $1 and is actual fun as hell to play – in the short bursts you’re likely to have with your mobile device.

I encourage game developers to use this game as a shining (ha, get it?) example of a mobile game “done right”. No virtual d-pads, no complicated controls, no dragging out the experience; with lots of controller/graphics options. No more Cut the Angry Ninja Birds Fruit with A Cabalt Jetpack knockoffs. A fun, clever IP that gets an overall glowing review from this dedicated gamer.

Get it from Google Play.


About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+