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Finding evolution among Temple Run clones

by Phil Hornshaw

Temple RunLast year, Temple Run hit the scene and it immediately took off. Developer Imangi Studios had a pretty brilliant idea – take the endless runner genre, one that was full of titles that were pretty much the same, and take it from two dimensions to three.

The result was a game that saw a big spike of popularity. Unlike the side-scrolling brand of runner titles, in which players go from left to right avoiding obstacles, Temple Run puts the camera behind the character and has players jumping and sliding over obstacles that are coming at them. It wasn’t much of a shift in perspective, but it was enough to make Temple Run resonate with players. The viewpoint also allowed Imangi to throw in new obstacles, like turns in the path, and add tilt controls so players can move back and forth along the road as they run.

The fairly simple concept took off, and has spawned imitators. Of course, with all imitations, there are those of varying quality, but lately a few have appeared on the scene that offer some interesting riffs on Temple Run.

Temple Run actually has a clone of its own, or rather, a branded version. Somewhat similar to what Rovio Mobile did with Angry Birds Rio, Temple Run: Brave ties into the Disney film Brave and features elements and characters from the movie. All the controls from Temple Run are the same, but Imangi and Disney threw in one or two cool elements, like targets that players have to shoot with a bow as they pass. It’s not much, but it does put a unique spin on the idea.

Rip-offs – or are they?

PITFALL!For the 30th anniversary of its classic game Pitfall!, Activision did something strange: it altered the side-scrolling jungle-exploring action game into a Temple Run-style runner. And at first, Pitfall! looks like a pretty lame rip-off, with microtransactions thrown in.

Spend a little time with Pitfall!, however, and it becomes apparent that it does add to the Temple Run model rather than just crib from it. Though it starts with a similar run through the jungle, before long, Pitfall! moves into some cool new settings like a small village or outpost, a cave, and an underground mine shaft. The mine shaft puts the player in an Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom-style mine cart, complete with dangerous lava and broken tracks. Another section has protagonist Harry hopping on a motorcycle. The end result is a game that’s actually fairly dynamic, despite sticking closely to the Temple Run formula.

Then we have TheEndApp. At first, this seemed like little more than a re-skin of Temple Run with a post-apocalyptic theme. Players run through city streets, avoiding obstacles by jumping over or sliding under them. You collect rolls of duct tape rather than Temple Run’s coins.

But TheEndApp has since stepped up its game with an update that throws in additional modes, diversifying the experience quite a bit. Like Pitfall!, it also includes multiple environments, and in addition to the endless play that makes Temple Run so fun and addictive, TheEndApp includes a level-based mode that gives that feeling of conquering the game. It took a bit of tweaking, but TheEndApp is similar without being the same – and it also provides a lot of fun.

Greater elaboration

One of the coolest takes on the 3-D runner formula Temple Run popularized comes from a developer that hadn’t made anything like it before. Simultronics hit the App Store last year with Tiny Heroes, a fun and clever strategy game. It reused some of the assets to create One Epic Knight, a Temple Run-like runner that adds a whole lot to the picture.

One Epic Knight maintains Temple Run’s skeletal formula of the behind-the-back camera position, the hard left-and-right turns, and the obstacles to be jumped over or slid under. But it also expands on it greatly by actually increasing the size of the area. Instead of tilt controls to move left or right, One Epic Knight features three “lanes” through which players can switch by swiping. Avoiding obstacles becomes about lateral movement as well as vertical.

Then there are the items. Shields protect you from obstacles, swords let you cut down enemies (yup, there are enemies), magic crystals give you super-speed and giant turkey legs make you a berserker. You can have more than one of these power-ups at once, and while running far and collecting gold from the ground is important, the real way you score points is not by avoiding obstacles, but by smashing through them. You’ll want to grab a shield and a sword and start plowing through stuff in order to build up multipliers.

So more or less instantly, One Epic Knight becomes less about avoiding hitting things and more about strategy and planning. Sure, there are big obstacles that must be avoided, but it’s not just a game about reflexes. Thus, it moves away from the core formula to create something new.

All video games have their basis in iteration. Great titles throughout gaming’s history have taken elements from one another, remixed them, and created something new. In the case of Temple Run, lots of developers have seen success and started to bring their own ideas to the table, which means more cool games that are similar to what we like, but different enough to add to the conversation.