We all love our cars. It’s difficult to imagine a world in which we had to get around without them. Whether we’re shopping, traveling, or simply cruising around for a leisure drive, our cars are essential to our daily lives. Even if you don’t drive yourself, you’ve probably availed yourself of the services of other drivers when you’re taking taxis or catching public transport.
Spare a thought, then, for those who don’t have this luxury. There are some people who could really use a car, especially those stuck in dire circumstances. One such figure is the hapless Fred, protagonist of many of Argentinian developer Dedalord’s excellent freemium games. He’s been skiing, he’s been a soccer ace, and now he’s taken up running in this new Running Fred game.
Of course, Fred isn’t chasing his new activity simply for pleasure. The Grim Reaper is on his tail (or rather, an adorable little representation of Death called Grimmy), so it’s in Fred’s best interests to escape. We’re not given context as to what Fred actually did to incur the wrath of the scythe-wielder. Perhaps Fred is immortal and Death is offended. Perhaps it’s just fun for either of them.
Whatever Fred’s reasons might be, it’s up to you, the player, to aid him in his daring escape. Running Fred takes the form of an endless runner game akin to titles like Temple Run and Sonic Dash. Each level contains multiple hazards and jumps for Fred to overcome, along with coins and treasure to collect.
Aesthetically, the game is strongly reminiscent of a PlayStation 1-era platformer like Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon. That’s no bad thing at all; that era holds a great deal of nostalgia for many people, and it’s more in the visual style than the graphics themselves. Running Fred has some pretty impressive and accomplished 3D modelling on display, but the art style is all blocky, chunky colors and simplistic, eye-catching motifs.
The sound design does its best to complement the visuals and mostly succeeds. The music in the background is fun – all ‘70s classic rock attitude and gnarly guitars – but Fred’s footstep sounds can seem a little loud. This is by no means a dealbreaker, and it didn’t stop us enjoying Running Fred as much as we did, but it might be a bit of an issue for those with a more sensitive ear.
Thankfully, Running Fred only has to succeed on its gameplay to work, and this it does with aplomb. As we mentioned, it’s an endless runner game, which means Fred takes care of his own movement. Your input is largely restricted to running, which is done with the arrow keys, and jumping, which is done via the Space bar. Movement feels quick and fluid, but a huge degree of control over Fred is granted to skilled players, making the controls at once accessible and hard to master.
You’ll need that mastery because the watchword in Running Fred is difficulty. This is, to put it plainly, not a game that messes around. Running Fred quickly becomes very hard indeed, with some jumps requiring pinpoint accuracy and some hazards needing forward planning skills to overcome. Again, this isn’t a criticism; Running Fred never feels unfair or punishing. The difficulty curve simply ramps up so quickly because the game’s controls are so well implemented that it feels confident in presenting new and exciting challenges to players quickly.
This superb gameplay is wrapped up in a wonderfully whimsical and dark presentation style that really complements the surprisingly brutal nature of the game. Fred himself (described in a rather lovely text screed as “panicus in extremis”) is a nail-biting, terrified fellow, while the reaper that chases him is at once adorable and sinister. The castles and grottoes Fred runs through are shot through with a Tim Burton-esque sense of style that will attract even the most reluctant gamer.
The best thing about Running Fred, especially for those who love it, is its abundance of content. There’s just so much to do in this game that it’s hard to know where to start. Many hyper-casual games of this nature tend towards the minimalist; they strip back their gameplay modes and offer little more than a single way to play. Running Fred sidesteps this model and instead presents three different ways for players to experience its joys.
Adventure mode is the meat of the game, and it’s here that you’ll find the closest thing to a traditional single-player campaign. Survival mode is the game’s endless variant, challenging players to get as far as they can on a single life (although more can be acquired along the way). Finally, there’s Challenge mode, which can be unlocked progressively as the player moves through Adventure. Challenge mode offers short but extremely difficult stages and is roughly equivalent to the secret levels often found in platformers of yesteryear.
Running Fred offers all this plus a chance to purchase new skills, powers, avatars, and even extra worlds with in-game currency. If you’re a fan of Running Fred – which you should be – then there’s plenty here to keep you playing long into the small hours of the morning. Running Fred is a superb example of its genre, and although its difficulty might occasionally climb a touch too high, it’s so much fun that you won’t begrudge it another try.