Title: Run Box Run
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 11/03/2022
After a lengthy hiatus, Atooi is back! The makers of fun games like Chicken Wiggle, Xeodrifter, and SFG Game of the Year winner Mutant Mudds Super Challenge takes their platforming talents to the competitive space, with an online focused game in which you take control of a box trying to outrun other boxes. A mix of Jackbox here, and a bit of Runbow there, this game obviously doesn’t have a plot at all.
That being said, considering how the only other recent game from Atooi was Pictooi (An interesting looking Picross clone), how does this runner do as the first big release from the company in quite a while, especially as one of their first online focused games?
Run Box Run is a game with a presentation that’s… Uh, I can’t quite explain it any other way but boomer. Yes, boomer, because this game is a culmination of every recent hip trope in modern party games, carefully extracted to what I swear must be the most stereotypical bullet point list of what the kids are supposedly into these days.
You got a weird art style that consists of basic backgrounds and the titular player boxes, who are these squares with horrifying eyeballs fixated on them. At first glance it looked a bit like Runbow, but without the clever character designs, animations or varied stages seen in that game. The main menu is clean and easy to navigate at the very least, but inside the game itself you have incredibly dull looking levels with not much in terms of visual appeal, and the animation on the characters are very basic. Not that being basic is always a bad thing, but once you enter the trivia duel phase and see the boxes react with little more than a rotation effect, it gets beyond basic in a cute way like Totes or Mutant Mudds, and something that feels outright cheap and without a soul.
Equally boomer is the game’s sound design, which is just all over the place and doesn’t match the quality of any prior soundtrack Atooi has ever put out, not even closely. The good news is the title screen allows you to toggle the BGM with the press of a shoulder button, so you can completely obliterate the score and play with just the sound effects, which are also quite silly. Still, I tormented myself by doing some games with the sound fully on, and uh, yeah, this soundtrack is just awful. Obnoxious chipmunk-pitched voices back the instrumentation in Run Box Run, and even when they don’t, the score is just incredibly dull and boring, not carrying any of the same energy that got me pumped in Super Challenge or Xeodrifter. The bright side is the spectator theme appears to be the closest to that old style of Atooi score, but even that sounded a bit more “off” from that tradition.
As for the sounds effects? Well, you have generic sound effects and the hi-pitched voices for whenever the boxes jump or do any action, which can be incredibly funny in the waiting room if you spam the jump button underneath a platform, but that’s much of a chuckle as they got out of me. When a box loses a round, they can scream “OH NO!” in a super high-pitched voice, so basically imagine Alvin and the Chipmunks in box form making grunts. Actually, don’t, because that would be nightmare fuel.
Run Box Run is a party platformer for up to eight players, tasking everyone to rush to the finish line using simple platforming! And yes, you just move and jump here, and the controls on that end are fine, feeling pretty tight and not giving me any trouble during the sessions I managed to enter.
You also have the option to use the shoulder buttons to throw out random catchphrases and emojis, which are the absolute peak of the boomer feeling of this game I alluded to earlier. Cringe phrases like “I LOVE CHEESECAKE”, fart jokes, random flags, weird name calling like WIENER that I haven’t seen anyone my age legitimately use in years, pollute the pool of chat messages you can hurl at the other players, and they’re all picked at random, grouped depending on which button you press. None of this is funny in the slightest and feels like the most “HOW ARE YOU DOING FELLOW KIDS” dialogue in a video game I’ve ever played up to this point, and once you see the tenth “I FART IN YOUR GENERAL DIRECTION” prompt you just roll your eyes.
Of course, being a multiplayer focused game, you’d hope for a variety of modes, maybe running against bots, or local play, but shockingly, Run Box Run has none of these modes. At all. You just have an online mode with everyone, and joining or hosting your own private room, which uses passwords. Presumably, the latter is meant to be used so that if you’re streaming this game your viewers can easily join, but that would require someone to buy this game on Switch or qualify for the owners discount, making it far less easy to do than say, Jackbox.
What really gets me here is that this game does not feel like one that needs online to function at all: there absolutely could and should have been at least a local four player mode, since I could see families having fun with their kids on the couch if that were an option. But with this online setup, you have to not only have up to four switches to play this game, but also four paid copies of the game since the Switch ecosystem does not lead to easy game sharing to that extent, just to play in the same house together. This is honestly an awful design decision and again, would have been much easier if this were a free to start game or had a download play app akin to Pac-Man VS. So thus, online lobbies it is for you, boxboy!
And well, having given the online lobbies a shot on two days, (the game’s launch and the day after) I can safely say that this is probably the most content-lite game Atooi has ever put out in any incarnation, and has next to nothing going for it. It literally depends on if people show up, since you can’t just have bots fill in the remaining gaps. On launch day, I waited a good half hour, and only ran into one other person in that timeframe. So the game started, we went to the races and collected diamonds along the way, (they’re scattered throughout the stages akin to Mutant Mudds, and come into play if you have more than two players) only for the other player to die in a pit of spikes, crown me the winner, and kick me back to the lobby. For two players, that is the entire game, and even if you reach the goal, the last player standing will just die, once again leading you back to the lobby.
But wait, I eventually got a third person! And this actually felt a bit more fun. It was a bit more competitive here, and I was able to rush to the exit right when another person did, leaving to the third person to lose, and take me to the trivia round for a final showdown. Except that didn’t happen because the game softlocked, leading my box and another poor soul in a creepy void, doomed to scream about stinking and cheesecake until the end of time.
So I try again, and… Get another two person lobby. See the problem with this game? Eventually I just hang up my hat and try again the next day after work. I shockingly get a three person lobby again, and this time it felt a lot more snappy and quick! I was pleased, perhaps the game just needed more eyes on it, that’s all. This time the intermission did work, and yeah, it’s just a simple “answer this trick question the fastest” deal. Those diamonds come into play if you have more than ten, which allows you to rush in an answer before the other person, but otherwise they don’t amount to much. Fail to answer or answer too slow, and you’re eliminated. For three player games, this is where they end, but if you have more than three players, it just loops between platforming and trivia until one box is remaining to claim the crown.
Again, that’s the entirety of this game, and while the level layouts are different, they’re pretty cookie cutter and don’t amount to much. Just dodge spikes and cut corners and you’ll have an average time, but eventually you’ll get burned out and I eventually quit after seeing literally everything there was to offer in around twenty minutes of actual play or so, with thirty+ being spent waiting in dead lobbies. I later learn my Friday night fun wasn’t by sheer luck, but rather due to happening to play the same time as a youtuber was playing a sponsored stream of this game, so if that wasn’t going on, it would be more waiting for organic activity that may or may not come, and if that’s the bulk of your “gameplay” due to the lack of content, (while you do have a crown counter and can rack up wins, there’s no leaderboard to see how many crowns you have say, compared to your friend list friends, the rest of the world, etc) then what’s the point? None, that’s what.
Honest to god, what blows my mind the most about this game is not the lackluster presentation or the online focus, but the fact that somehow this game managed to be conceived, announced, developed, and released without so much of a public glimpse on the state of Hatch Tales, a game more in line with what Atooi usually makes that was crowdfunded four years ago. You’d think with them making side projects over their next big project, they’d do something fun and simple like Totes the Goat, but instead here we get a game so barebones, I saw everything there could possibly be in under 20 minutes (after spending 30 mins or so just waiting in dead lobbies), and didn’t have much fun in the matches I was able to have? It honestly feels like this is a stealth fundraising attempt to get more money for the actually good game people want, since I struggle to fathom why anyone would think making an online multiplayer only game with no local or bot options was ever a good idea.
At the very least, there should have been an offline practice mode, bonus features, unlockables from the crowns you get, some sort of ranking system… Anything but a generic looking, cookie cutter platformer that barely has more than one other person in it unless you force others into playing this. For years I considered Strikers Edge the go-to example for online focused games that lacked depth, but Run Box Run takes the cake, since at least Strikers had multiple modes and offline support!
Ultimately, I can’t help but feel that Run Box Run is a sad, sad game that feels like some execs in a board room really wanted to capture the lightning Among Us and Jackbox created for the multiplayer market, only to forget that being memey and goofy wasn’t what made those games blow up, but their simplicity and accessibility. At $5, there’s absolutely no way in hell I can ever recommend the game at that price, since it’s thinner on content than the much more enjoyable Totes the Goat or any of the other Atooi games on the market, said games that will get you this for free for owning them.
Even Jackbox, an equally online-heavy game with little local options, still is way more local friendly by just allowing anyone to go to a website on their phone and join in, while with RBR, the only way that would be remotely possible is if this released free to play across multiple platforms with crossplay support, and maybe then, you could get the mythical max capacity session going. But even if you do, there’s not much to do after the fact.
Not to mention that since technically this is a paid game, you have to use a Switch Online subscription to even play it, which a lot of people already have, yes… But considering how this is meant to be a party platformer, and there isn’t even a single local option to play with friends and family on a single switch? The only thing I can sum up this game as is just who the heck is this for? Because it sure ain’t for Atooi fans, that’s for sure, and the target audience they’re trying to go after sure as heck wouldn’t focus on this game over the cheaper, more populated options out there, especially with how they have more replay value. Ultimately, Run Box Run is just an experience I felt empty inside playing, and outside of tight jumping controls, there’s not much else I can compliment it for. Just as soulless as the boxed vessels you play as.
I give Run Box Run a 2 out of 10.