Rush Bros Review (PC/Mac): “Thumping Beats with Some Static”


Platformers have come a long way since the early days of Super Mario Bros, essentially the grand-daddy of all platformers created since its inception. Many platformers have tried new things to extend this experience for the modern age, and Rush Bros, from indie developer XYLA, aims to add a musical twist to the platformer formula. Bumping tunes do more than just add ambiance, playing a central role to the gameplay. However, is it enough to keep Rush Bros from being considered a Mario clone? Let’s find out.

The premise of Rush Bros is pretty simple – you play as one of two unnamed DJs who try to race their way through each of the game’s 40+ levels within the shortest time period possible. The thing that sets Rush Bros apart from other platformer games isn’t so much because of new mechanics as it is the effect music has on the level you’re playing. Rush Bros’ levels are full of contrast and color, and pulse to the beat of the music track currently playing. Even more importantly, however, the various traps and obstacles present in each stage will move and shift along with the beat. This is an interesting, fresh addition to the action platformer formula, and theoretically adds a lot of gameplay value to the game. Portions of the stage require significantly more coordination and strategy when a row of razor-sharp swords blocks your path while moving erratically, or when a series of pegs pop out and launch you backwards, hindering your progress. You can use the game’s excellent built-in soundtrack, or even import your own music files to play to. The only issue with this is that the result is somewhat inconsistent – at times, the traps won’t follow the beat of the music, instead seeming to speed up and slow down whenever they feel like it – even when the default soundtrack is playing. Hopefully this is something XYLA will be able to fix down the road, because at present it causes the game’s core element to sometimes take away from the experience.

You’ll have no shortage of hazards to dodge in the games’ 40+ levels.

Rush Bros features slick, intuitive – if otherwise unremarkable – controls. The game supports USB controllers, and even goes so far as to recommend it, and for good reason – it really seems to be the way the game was meant to be played. Running and jumping is standard fare for platformers, but Rush Bros. also borrows from established games like Super Mario Bros 2 and Mega Man, allowing you to high jump (by holding down until you flash, then pressing jump) and slide to gain a quick burst of speed. You can even climb sheer vertical walls Mega Man X-style by moving against them and pressing jump. The game certainly gives you plenty of tools to beat each stage, though you’ll usually find the high jump unnecessary unless you get hit with a slow power-up in multiplayer – more on that below. Whether you’re playing solo or competitive multiplayer, there are several power-ups scattered throughout each level that can greatly help your progress, from increased speed and the ability to double-jump to low gravity, and even slow, screen flip, and inverted controls to hinder your opponent. Slow proves to be almost game-breaking at times, as some parts of the stage require a running leap to get over and will be unassailable until the power-up wears off – unless you’re lucky and can use a high jump to best the obstacle.

As previously mentioned, Rush Bros includes over 40 levels to play through, which is more than enough to keep you occupied for some time. There is a clear progression in difficulty as you try out each new level, and you’ll need to navigate increasingly winding paths and more dangerous traps to reach the finish line. Keys will appear in later levels that will be essential to opening certain doors, and these serve to introduce a back-tracking element to the game as you’ll need to retrieve a color-coded key to open its corresponding door found earlier in a level. The traps present in each level will kill you if you come into contact with them, but you’ll harmlessly respawn at a checkpoint and can continue play, unless you’re playing Survival mode, in which you need to make it through the entire level without dying. All in all, Rush Bros’ level design is nice, if a bit simplistic, and each level sports a unique, vibrant theme that helps set them apart from each other. You’ll even find an homage to the original Super Mario Bros. if you advance far enough. However, Rush Bros suffers from a big problem in its scale of difficulty; some of the game’s later levels go from being challenging to downright frustrating as certain traps require pinpoint precision to make it through, and some springboards, normally placed to help you advance in a level, are present only to undermine your progress and shoot you backwards. It’s not an exaggeration to say that by the last few levels or so, you will be extremely distrustful of most jump pads as you won’t be able to tell if they’ll advance you or shoot you straight into a spike trap without trial and error. Worst of all, you’ll occasionally be sent back to the beginning of a long, difficult puzzle section if you die even once. There were a handful of times this became so frustrating that I almost wanted to quit back to the main menu. It’s not enough to take away from the game’s overall quality of gameplay, but it’s something you’ll definitely have to face at least some points in your play-through.

The action really ramps up in Rush Bros’ multiplayer mode.

Rush Bros features a single-player component, allowing you to play through any of the game’s levels to try to beat your best time with the fewest deaths, and also offers Survival and Fast Forward modes on tap. However, you’ll have significantly more fun playing the game’s competitive multiplayer mode, pitting you against an opponent through split-screen or internet multiplayer to see who can cross the finish line first. The game supports cross-platform play between PC and Mac, ensuring you’ll have no end of opponents to play against. The intensity ramps up tremendously when you can see your opponent keeping up with you, or even surpassing you – and the addition of negative power-ups like slow and screen flipping add a whole new dimension of play. Sure you can take the straight path and keep your speed up, but it just might pay to take a small detour to grab a power-up that flips your opponent’s controls around. Beating a stage gives you the chance to hit the switch on a massive trap to humiliate your opponent, making victory all the sweeter. There’s just no denying that Rush Bros is significantly more fun when played with a friend.

Music is definitely the name of the game in Rush Bros, and it’s certainly not lacking; the game’s soundtrack is padded with bumpin’ hits from Israeli trance band Infected Mushroom, and it not only compliments the gameplay extremely well, but stands on its own as a rockin’ soundtrack to listen to when out and about. The game sports a tantalizing art style that harkens to the roots of its music – sharp angles, dark shadows and neon lighting evoke images of techno clubs at night, and these images pulse and distort with the bassline of whatever music’s playing, adding even more intensity to the experience. The game looks good overall, but there’s a certain lack of polish that’s present at times as well. Specifically, when the game’s camera zooms out, a few jagged edges will appear on previously-smooth sprites, and it’s fairly noticeable. The keys you’ll find in levels are also drawn with a lower level of quality than its surroundings, and it’s definitely a bit jarring, though not to such a huge degree that the game becomes unpleasant to look at. With a little more polish and attention to detail, Rush Bros’ aesthetics could definitely graduate to the next level.

Rising Lava. Made out of spikes. Your worst nightmare.

Rush Bros is a fresh new take on the platformer genre with just a few polish issues. The central gameplay mechanic is fun and interesting but somewhat inconsistent; the graphics are vibrant and beautiful but appear jagged and incomplete at times; and the single-player game is competent but simply can’t stand up to its multiplayer version. All of that being said, Rush Bros is a decidedly entertaining game, and at its indie price is definitely a good amount of fun for money invested. XYLA is on to something here – and with a little post-release love, Rush Bros could become one of the bigger Indie hits of this year.

Rush Bros is available on Steam for PC and Mac for $9.99.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

Special thanks to Plan of Attack for providing us with review copies of Rush Bros!

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