words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by ThirtyThree Games for PC, Mac iOS, and Android, originally released in 2016.
Few game titles are as accurately descriptive as RunGunJumpGun, a game that is comprised solely of running and gunning and jumping (and gunning). You play the role of a scavenger who has come to the Extax solar system to hunt for precious resources known as Atomiks. The Extax System’s sun is expanding and swallowing up the planets, and the remaining citizens have gone into a full-on apoca-panic, with numerous conspiracy theories being floated that the sun’s expansion is not natural… maybe it has something to do with the planet’s warlords, or the scavenger himself, or maybe the scavenger is their only hope for survival.

RunGunJumpGun is an auto-scrolling game with only two buttons for control, but it is a far cry from the glut of uninspired auto-runners that hit the market following the success of Canabalt. RunGunJumpGun manages to do a lot with its basic configuration, continuously opening up new obstacles and new types of challenges across 120 short levels, most of which last around 10 or 20 seconds.

The scavenger’s sole tool is a giant energy-blasting machine gun. As expected, the weapon is used to destroy enemies and obstacles on the path ahead, but it is also his means of propulsion. Pressing the JUMP button causes the scavenger to aim his gun downward and begin firing a continuous stream of projectiles, pushing him upward in the process, and there is no lateral control. Levels are packed with narrow obstacle-laden passages that must be carefully navigated by engaging and letting off of the downward machine gun fire, offering core gameplay that mixes Flappy Bird with No Time to Explain.

At the start of the game, only one area is unlocked: a red ringed refinery planet called Gaxt. The main menu shows that there are about 400 Atomiks to be collected in this area, and the player must collect at least 150 of them to open up the second planet (which also has around 400 Atomiks), and 350 are required to open the third planet. With around 800 Atomiks to collect across the first two planets, opening up the later planets is not terribly difficult, but the levels themselves are often quite challenging and result in numerous player deaths before success is achieved.

As the game goes on, it becomes more and more difficult to even survive the levels, let alone collect all of the Atomiks within, but the game is structured in a way that allows players to hop around a bit if they get stuck... When the player selects the first planet, 10 levels are available and these may be played in any order (although these are tutorial-style levels, so they should be played in order).

Once 8 out of 10 levels have been completed, the next set of 10 opens, allowing the player to skip any two levels in a 10-level set and still make it to the end of the game. Completing all levels on a planet – whether all of the Atomiks are collected or not – opens up a marathon mode where players can run through the entire 40-level stretch in one shot, gaining points for each Atomik collected, and being penalized for each death, and these stats may be uploaded to an online leaderboard.

The first set of 10 levels offers generous checkpoints as the player feels out the controls and begins boosting over spikes, dashing upward quickly, and blasting fuel tanks that block his path forward. While the player can only fire ahead or downward, downward firing takes precedence when both buttons are held, and skilled players can sustain upward mobility and forward firing by holding both buttons and occasionally letting off of the JUMP button to send few projectiles forward. After the tutorial, checkpoints are absent in the remainder of the game, with deaths sending the player back to the starting line with a stylish rainbow dash effect.

Levels are short, and they are very much designed to kill the player, especially on his first time through, so the player should expect to repeat most levels once the difficulty begins ramping up, and the quick restart upon death allows for short sections to be repeated a dozen or more times in the course of a couple of minutes with very little penalty. Since each level is specifically timed, and the scavenger always moves forward at the same pace, the player will experience the same obstacles, projectiles, etc. at the same point in every level. Getting killed informs the player that he needs to adjust his strategy to make it a bit farther forward (often to be killed by something else a moment later).

This is not a strictly memorization-based affair – although some good old-fashioned memorization certainly goes a long way here – as there is a lot of leeway in terms of how the player manages the controls. Holding the JUMP button for an extra half second means the difference between sliding gracefully over a saw blade or smashing straight into it. Since there is very little safe ground to walk on, the player must often do his best to stay aloft, engaging the JUMP button in measured spurts while occasionally firing forward and keeping himself from crashing down into a row of spikes at the same time.

The goal in each level is to gather as many Atomiks as possible and survive to the end of the level. A counter in the top right shows how many Atomiks have been collected, versus the total number in the level, with most levels containing 8-12, and a chime sounds when they have all been collected. Generally, each level features some Atomiks along the “main” path, while others are positioned very close to spikes, saw blades, or turrets, making them more difficult to reach, and offering an added challenge to expert players who wish to risk everything to collect a hard-to-reach Atomik. Often, the placement of Atomiks helps the player to determine the best route through the environment, leading him around obstacles and hazards, provided the player has the finesse to follow them.

In the early going, spikes and fuel tanks are the two primary obstacles, with spikes killing you on contact, and fuel tanks potentially holding you up if they are not destroyed quickly enough, causing you to be killed as you are scrolled off the left side of the screen. Eventually, you come across saw blades, most of which line the walls similarly to spikes, but some are placed directly in your path, requiring that you shoot them out of the way… and not run into them afterwards, as they are still deadly.

Turrets introduce a new layer of complexity as you not only have to avoid coming into contact with the turrets themselves but with their projectiles as well, which are fired in a near-continuous stream. This creates situations where the player not only needs to weave around rows of spikes in tight corridors but also dodge around moving obstacles and slide through between volleys.

The second planet introduces wraparound areas where you can move off the top of the screen and reappear on the bottom, adding complexity as you try to quickly decide which route you need to take. These areas sometimes offer alternate routes, with the tougher paths lined with Atomiks, and safer routes containing none.

This planet also introduces two new enemy types in the form of ships and energy generators. Ships can be tough to contend with because they fly in a sine wave formation, shooting projectiles back at you, and they match your speed so you never catch up with them. It is possible to shoot them down, bearing in mind that the tradeoff for firing your weapon forward is falling down, sometimes toward level hazards. However, you are advised to shoot some of them down, because additional ships can join the formation, eventually forming a line and filling the screen with projectiles.

Energy generators are equally difficult to deal with as they swing wide bands of electricity around them, requiring that you lure it away and then quickly change direction to avoid getting smacked as you pass… all in the span of a couple of seconds. You can also shoot these generators to destroy them, but it takes a moment for their energy to fully dissipate, so you still might take one in the face if you strike them head-on. Later levels offer smaller openings for wraparound screens, making it even tougher to deal with these enemies, as players sometimes need to pop up to lure ships and generators away before dropping back down to blast them while their attentions are elsewhere.

The cleverest mechanics are saved for the game’s final world, which features a cool take on the tried and true gravity flipping mechanic that has appeared in so many games over the years. Here, there is a line that runs along the center of the area, functioning similarly to the lines in VVVVVV that reverse gravity each time they are touched. However, in RunGunJumpGun, the area below the line is made up of water instead of open space.

If the player stays at water level, he will merely skip across the surface. The important strategy here is that the player needs to hit the water with enough force to drop below the surface, at which point, the scavenger turns upside-down, and pressing the JUMP button causes him to shoot upward, pushing him toward the bottom of the screen. This is core to many of the challenges that follow, as players must quickly burst out of the water and drop back down again, engaging and disengaging their thrust to quickly move through obstacles in positive and negative gravity scenarios, often switching multiple times in the span of a few seconds. Saw blades are particularly menacing here as they can get knocked back and float up out of the water, and then fall back down onto you.

Lastly, there are spiked windmills that turn when you shoot them, forcing you to rely on your forward firing weapon quite heavily. However, many of these windmills are cross shaped, so turning them too quickly will cause them to swing around and hit you. Your downward-firing bullets also impact them, creating situations where you start spinning the windmill clockwise to create a safe path, but then engage your thrust, hitting another arm of the windmill and causing it to turn back and smack you in the face. Enemy projectiles can also affect windmills.

Each new 10-level section is introduced with a haiku that offers a little bit of information about the solar system and its eventual destruction. In addition, each level begins with a snippet from a talking head – and there are loads of them – featuring different alien species saying things about the end of the world, spouting conspiracies, babbling incoherently, or in the case of the warlords, feigning innocence.

RunGunJumpGun was developed by ThirtyThree Games, a studio Based in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada. The studio is comprised of programmer Logan Gilmour, artist Matthew Satchwill, and composer and writer Jordan Bloemen.

The game was published by Gambitious Digital Entertainment, which also published Xeodrifter and Mutant Mudds Deluxe, as well as the Hard Reset games and Breach & Clear.