Version tested: iPhone
There comes a point when you wonder just how many platform games are left to play. And how much have platformers got left to give in the genre's fourth decade of existence? Such thoughts occur to an habitual browser of the iOS store, with its cornucopia of buttons-on-screen banality. Then a game like Food Run comes along and such chin-stroking is instantly forgotten, replaced by a simple and timeless joy in motion. Remember that?
Developer Kevin Ng may not be a household name yet, but his Flick Kick Football dominated pub conversations on release - a pure gem. It might seem strange to move from such a bespoke use of touchscreen controls to the platform genre, but Food Run does so while taking a massive risk: it automates everything but the jumps, and then builds the levels around increasingly subtle use of them.
You control an egg to start off with, one that is somehow more charming for its lack of a face. The production values throughout Food Run are immense, and its art style and animations bring its kooky, colourful cast of food objects alive; at the start of each stage the egg gees itself up with a little leg backwards, before setting off with a whoop of excitement. This alone raises a smile, before the outstanding circus tunes kick in and give each journey an irresistibly bouncy backdrop. Perhaps the best thing about Food Run's look and sound, however, is that it's so far removed from all the mass of pixelwork and cute animals on iOS.
Each stage is dotted with food, stars, enemies and jumps. The egg walks forward, picking up pace until it's running at full speed, and you tap the screen to make it jump, with the length of each tap determining the height. What makes Food Run great is how much mileage it wrings out of such a simple control scheme: the early stages have you learning to bounce off enemies, then it's changing direction, wall jumping, ramps, conveyor belts, great gauntlets of spikes, hidden routes and secrets.
Within this Food Run has its separate layer of collectables - you only need complete a course to progress, but each is also full of food and stars. The stars are like coins, the completist's obsession, but rescuing other food feels much more important and smartly ups the challenge by making each rescued piece follow you. Its movement will always be a split-second behind the leader egg, and later attack patterns exploit this mercilessly. A spinning buzzsaw is a particular bastard, revving up in a false start before shooting forwards and lopping off a laggy retinue. Rescuing food is relatively easy, but getting it home safe is a nightmare.
Food Run is a pleasure to play, its only frustrations coming right near the end when the increasingly complex levels and lack of checkpoints mean some annoying restarts. But in that it is hardly an unusual platformer. The remarkable thing is that Food Run feels like a real platformer, much more so than any of its competition on iOS, yet is built on such simple controls. You'll never be able to get something as good as Super Mario World on a touch-screen, but this feels as close as it's possible to get.
8 / 10