Back in a simpler time, there was a 16-bit game called Dashin' Desperadoes. Developed by Data East and released on the Genesis, this action game featured two cowboys embroiled in an epic footrace. Across multiple levels, these two cowboys did everything in their power to get to the finish line first, including sabotaging the other player.
Over the last two decades, I have been pleading with developers to come up with a next-generation version of Dashin' Desperadoes. The classic 16-bitter not only worked as a solid racing game, but also a fun platformer. It combined two genres into an irresistible mash-up, and it always seemed poised for a comeback. At least, that's what I thought before I played Rush Bros.
Dubbed a "music reactive side-scrolling platformer," Rush Bros. is the next-generation iteration of Dashin' Desperadoes. You take control of a DJ who is on a footrace against a competing DJ. Through more than 40 stages, players test their skills racing through harrowing platforming sections to find the finish line. Can you do this before the other DJ? I hope so, because the second-place player is blown up at the end of the match.
At first glance, Rush Bros. looks and feels a lot like many other recent 2D platformers, such as Super Meat Boy or N+. The controls are tight, developed with pinpoint-accurate jumps in mind. Our DJ hero is also able to jump off of walls and perform a slide for a boost in speed. Outside of picking up power-up items and occasionally pulling levels to open doors, there isn't much else to Rush Bros. gameplay.
The concept is the same for every level: Get to the finish line before the other person. If you don't have a second person, the goal is to better your previous time and memorize the increasingly complicated stage designs. Our DJ hero will face a lot of familiar platforming obstacles, like deadly spikes and bottomless pits. Some of the more dangerous objects react to the beat of the songs, a unique gimmick that is only hinted at in Rush Bros.
Although the concept is simple, there's a surprising amount of variety in the 40+ stages. The game starts out with a number of simple stages, the type of thing that eases the player into wall jumping and avoiding the various obstacles. Before long we're racing through a forest and frantically picking up keys to unlock doors. Another stage is set in a neon town, forcing players to find the right power-ups to complete the harrowing platform puzzles. And don't look now, because you'll see a number of stages intended to play homage to games like Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog.
While some of these stages are admittedly exciting to race through, their novelty runs out after the first or second attempt. Because they never change in any fundamental way, I found replaying stages to be an unfulfilling endeavor. Things get even worse when you play these stages online. Rush Bros. is the type of game that is almost impossible to balance, as one of the players will inevitably know the course better than the other.
The game seems keenly aware of the balance issues, as there are power-ups littering the stages. Some of these items help the player, such as double jump and a speed boost. However, there are a few items that are intended to hurt your opponent, including one that reverses the other player's controls and yet another that slows the action down. Unfortunately, these items often have an unexpected consequence. Instead of helping the player who has fallen behind, these items often allow the race leader to quickly propel themselves even further ahead.
Many of the later maps hint at ways Rush Bros. could improve the replay value. For starters, it would have been nice if there were multiple paths to the goal. It would have been nice if each stage randomly changed with each replay, forcing veterans racers to think on their feet. This may not completely balance the multiplayer mode, but it would go a long way to help. With a few more players at once and better item placement, Rush Bros. might actually be competitive, no matter where your skill level sits.
In an attempt to mask the lack of replay, the game screams overwhelming techno music at you from start to finish. The songs included aren't bad, but I quickly grew bored of hearing them repeat. Thankfully the game allows for custom soundtracks, saving me from the headache that is the soundtrack. Sadly, adding your own music does not change the stage in any memorable ways.
Even though Rush Bros. does not quite achieve its full potential, it does have a lot of content to see and a great visual style. With a few changes, this little platformer could turn into a truly great competitive racing game. All of the elements are there; they just need to figure out how to balance the experience for everybody. If they can do that, then Rush Bros. will be a series worth paying attention to.