Endless runners are in endless supply on the App Store, primarily because they work well within the limitations of a touchscreen input system. Having your on-screen avatar hurtle onwards means one less control dynamic to accommodate. But this design mechanic doesn’t always make for enthralling gameplay – it can be woefully simple and one dimensional. Speed Of Time proves that a simplistic racer based on the endless runner blueprint can still make for a remarkable gaming experience.
Orange Parallax has crafted a spartan gameworld for Speed Of Time, with a subdued colour palette and sharp, clean lines making good use of Apple’s lovely retina display. You play as a Photon – effectively a semi-transparent orange ball – rolling at breakneck speeds down an endless rollercoaster track, hitting ramps to shoot through hoops, gliding through the air, and then wafting gracefully back down to the ever-winding track. In still screenshots it may look dull, but in motion it’s a thing of beauty.
Capturing the essence of speed isn’t easy, developers usually resorting to cheap shortcuts which often prove ineffective. Speed Of Time pulls it off with elegant simplicity, with an ideal combination of tense sound effects, a serpentine track which weaves and banks at random, and silky smooth gameplay at 60 frames per second. The track widens and narrows, dips and peaks, and demands sweat-browed concentration to keep the Photon from rolling off either side into the abyss. Holding onto the centre line (painted orange) acts as an accelerator, while hanging to the left or right lanes will slow you down – sometimes essential, as things can become a little frantic at full speed. Steering is handled by tapping on the left or right side of the screen, and pressing both sides at once acts as a handbrake when things get hectic.
Life on the track is stressful at times, in direct contrast to the feeling of hang-time euphoria when you hit a ramp and are flung into the stratosphere. Without a track to adhere to, being airborne is peaceful and a relaxing change of pace. You control your Photon in mid-air too, and the calm of the air makes the speed of the track even more apparent when you touch down again. You’re always racing against the clock, and gliding through the big black hoops buys you time to keep racing, so you’ll need to find a balance between speed and control to earn that Leaderboard place.
Where Speed Of Time disappoints is in it’s lack of spectacle. The presentation is purposely muted, and it works, but when you’re aiming for that “one-more-try” vibe you need to turn up the heat with some fanfare when we break a previous best score, crack a new top speed and so on. Instead, when you fail (and you will fail) a run, you’re dumped unceremoniously onto the sparse post-race report with very little in the way of praise or derision for your efforts.
Other than that, the price may be a hurdle some might not overcome – $0.99 isn’t a lot to ask, but there are similar games out there for free. There’s little to fault about the gameplay itself, though, and it is this pulsating, high-speed track drama which is the heart of Speed Of Time. By now you will have played your fair share of endless runners, and if you’re reaching a state of genre fatigue then this could be the perfect game to rekindle your iOS-based racing passion.