‘Runers’: What’s My Motivation?

Shoot better and better and better. Then, shoot some more.

You say, procedurally generated, top-down, rogue-like dungeon shooter. I say, The Binding of Isaac, Edmund McMillen’s little gem of a game from 2011.

I also get a little bit excited, as that game drew me in like no other on its release. A bullet hell shooter game inspired by the aesthetics of The Legend of Zelda with a whole load of grotesque imagery tossed in to liven things up, The Binding of Isaac is difficult, and I put in over 100 hours on it because it constantly surprised me with new ideas and new horrific, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, situations and encounters. I still haven’t unlocked everything in The Binding of Isaac, and I still have only beaten it a few times. However, the way that the game requires practice and patience in order to explore its repulsive and fascinating world just kept dragging me back in for another game.

So, when I heard about another procedurally generated, top-down, rogue-like dungeon shooter in development, I was at least somewhat intrigued. Runers has a fair amount of similarities to the Binding of Isaac in terms of its gameplay and even somewhat in its commitment to a retro gaming aesthetic. In this case, those aesthetics are less inspired by the 8-bit Nintendo era than they are by the arcade era, though. Runers reminds me vaguely of the arcade classic Robotron with the simplicity of its sprites and even the simplicity of its gameplay. You spend most of your time circling and circling around rooms full of monsters firing away at those creatures, which vaguely resemble something-or-other.

The gameplay is “arcadey,” as it is fast and furious. It, however, also borrows from RPG conventions, of course, since it is a rogue-like. So, you level up as you go, growing more and more powerful — that is, until you die, in which case you have to start over from scratch.

What distinguishes, Runers from The Binding of Isaac is its crafting system and its character classes. Before each game, you choose a race and character class that will determine some of your abilities for the game. Also, you get to choose your initial shooter powers from a variety of spells, mostly of an elemental nature. Finally, throughout the game, you collect runes that you can upgrade and combine (the game’s crafting system) to create more powerful ways of shooting stuff and in slightly different ways.

Like, The Binding of Isaac, this all means that while you need to improve your character with new abilities, much of the player’s success in the game hinges on both good finds as well as simply practicing the basic fundamentals of combat, so that you can survive longer and longer each play session, hopefully allowing you to explore more and more of the dungeon as you descend through it.

In a sense, both games are highly repetitive experiences that are based on the expectation that the player wants to master the act of surviving and shooting in this context. Unfortunately, while I found myself wildly motivated to play The Binding of Isaac over and over again, this motivation was largely spurred on by McMillen’s unique sensibilities and provocative imagery. I wanted to continue to play The Binding of Isaac repeatedly because its themes of religious perversity and the loneliness and terror of the game’s titular protagonist drove me to continue to explore McMillen’s house of horrors. Runers‘s stark arcade aesthetics, though, and its vaguely conveyed plot (a sentence or two about what you are seeking in this dungeon accompanies the opening of each new level) just fail to motivate me to explore this game’s world for any length of time or to practice the skills necessary to become successful at the game.

The Binding of Isaac is a challenge, a challenge rewarded by the strangeness of its world and the ideas underlying it. Runers is merely a challenge that seems to expect players to be rewarded by that challenge itself. I fail to see how it rewards anyone for playing it besides simply asking them to continue shooting stuff better and better and better for the sake of shooting stuff even more.

RATING 5 / 10