I thought I could outrace the sun. I knew it was impossible, that I was always going to lose, but still I thought that somehow this time I would actually make it — that I’d reach some kind of singularity where I’d somehow be past the sun, or that I’d find a way to keep it indefinitely up in the sky above me.
There’s no “winning” in Race The Sun, a game about endlessly speeding toward the horizon in pursuit of nothing in particular, but you’ll often be lured into the preposterous notion that your run will end in something other than a crash or the disappearance of your almighty glowing foe. This is its great strength — that you’ll want to keep battling the impossible — but ultimately also its weakness, as you become conditioned to crashing and losing all the time.
You pilot a solar-powered craft across a vast landscape filled with pyramids, large blocks, and other three-dimensional shapes. Your goal is fourfold: keep the sun above the horizon, collect tris, don’t crash, and complete tasks for experience points. All this in the name of ratcheting up a big score, or simply not dying.
Tris are blue crystal things that give you extra points and increase your score multiplier. You lose a bunch of them and drastically reduce speed if you clip the environment. They are a means to an end, though — you don’t need them at all, except to climb higher on the leaderboard.
You do need to grab the assortment of powerups, though. One sends the sun higher above the horizon, another provides a one-time jump ability, and others help in more significant ways — restoring your craft after your next crash or warping you ahead to the next section.
Race The Sun divides its world into sections. You get a short breather between each one, with a small stretch of empty plains before things get hairy again. Each section is tougher than the last, adding an element of strategy to how you divvy up your use and collection of storable powerups — especially given that there’s a limited number of these to find, they’re hard to get to, and you can only hold one or two at a time.
It’s a simple game, but from this simplicity emerges great depth. And the levelling system is designed in such a way as to encourage you to always do one more run. There are three challenges to complete, like performing four double jumps in a single run, or collecting 20 tris in a section, or colliding with obstacles 10 times. The harder the challenge, the more experience it’s likely to be worth. Each time you complete one, a new challenge takes its place.
This is the only way to gain levels. You want to gain levels because doing so unlocks more cool stuff, like new powerups, decals for your craft, and other game modes. Level 11 unlocks the Apocalypse mode, which is a pure adrenaline rush of edge of your seat survival. This separates the boys from the men, so to speak — only the most foolhardy and quick-reflexed can survive for any meaningful amount of time when the world around them turns to chaos.
Rockets smash into the ground, casting fiery white energy outwards that temporarily blinds you, while tall blocks fall every which way and short ones roll in front of you. It’s frenetic, and the exhilarating payoff of a high score and multi-section survival is well worth the effort.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
You don’t get much time to master and memorize the level designs, because they change every 24 hours. Race The Sun gets entirely new levels every single day. This is the game’s big genius move. It doesn’t take long to tire of one set of levels in a game like this. But here you don’t have to worry about that — every day you can boot it up and be greeted by a new procedurally-generated world to master and a new leaderboard to climb. It’s a completionists nightmare, but perfect for the rest of us.
Better yet, you can create your own worlds and race through the worlds created by other Race The Sun players. The world creator is easy to learn and only slightly intimidating to non-programmers, operating mostly on a point and click interface where you just adjust the parameters and drop objects onto the map.
The real reason I mention this world creator, though, which would only appeal to a small subset of players, is that it’s been used to design some breathtaking worlds that blow the main game out of the water. They let you enter worlds of giant mutant bunnies, technicolor fantasies, space odysseys, and whatever other wonders people think up, using custom objects and a much broader color spectrum.
It’s just a shame that you can’t gain experience points in these custom worlds, or compete on leaderboards, or even participate in the co-op relays that are available in the main game. They really are the highlight of the show, and if you’re lucky you might stumble into a portal to one of these worlds from a run in the main game mode.
Grasping At The Horizon
Race The Sun hooks you right from the first moment. It takes the endless runner, now getting tired and old at its core, and breeds new life into the formula. You’re no longer just racing against yourself and competing for high scores; you’re also struggling against something we all battle with throughout our lives — the falling of darkness.
Unlike in real life, here you can prolong your day time for as long as you can both endure and achieve. Hit the right powerups, and dodge all the objects, and you can go on forever. You’re always looking ahead to the horizon, wondering what lies beyond, while desperately trying to not crash and burn in the pursuit of the impossible.
Whatever you read into its themes, Race The Sun is spectacular. It pulls you back again and again, frustrating and relaxing you at the same time. And it feels fresh and exciting, showing how more can often emerge from less. That less does lead to a few rough edges in the presentation and an art style that strangely shines most in player-created worlds, but that’s all worth ignoring for what’s at the heart of the experience — a soaring, high-octane, exuberant race against the sun.