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3-D Worldrunner Review

Developer: Square Publisher: Acclaim
Release Date: 1987 Also On: None

Here’s a game every friend I have from my youth remembers. I can recall playing this game back in the third grade. For some reason it has always stuck out in the minds of many adults from my generation as one of the most memorable games, even though most people who remember it also remember not being able to make it very far. 3-D Worldrunner is certainly a memorable game, though it gets a bad rap from Master System fans for being a knock-off of Space Harrier. This is partially true, since the programmers were aware of the other game, but also partially incorrect since, supposedly, the main reason for putting this game together was to show off the programming skills of one of the three guys in charge of the project, who would also go on to create the first three games in the now legendary Final Fantasy series. Anyway, 3-D Worldrunner has always had a place in my heart so it thrilled me to finally sit down and try to get through it. I must say, this is a pretty amazing game.

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Graphically, 3-D Worldrunner was ahead of its time. It was programmed utilizing a techinque that would later be made famous by games like Super Mario Kart, though slightly different. At any rate, the basic idea was to create the illusion of an constantly moving field that shows off some pretty impressive scrolling amongst some beautiful graphics. The worlds have a quirky design for the backgrounds and a variety of odd enemies. What’s amazing is they were able to make what is otherwise a repetitive playing ground fresh by using different obstacles and enemy positions. If you removed these, which granted would look ridiculous, the game would simply be a constantly approaching, giant checkerboard. Moving left and right doesn’t effect the look of three dimensions and the majority of the sprites have been detailed nicely. Jack, your runner, has an excellent gait that truly captures running in a way so effective I can’t say I remember anything else from the 8-Bit era that makes it look so fluid and realistic. I do have a few problems with it, however. First off, when you shoot, there is no suggestion of this, the blasts simply fly out of Jack’s chest as if he had a cannon attached to it, giving the same silly looking effect found in Space Harrier for the Master System. Most enemies look goofy and fit the theme, but some are pathetic. The bosses, for example, all look like total trash. They consist of segmented, serpentine bodies with different faces attached to them. All of said faces look pretty rushed and this is a shame considering how good the rest of the game looks. Excellent overall, but some of these minor issues effect how good this game could have been.

3-D Worldrunner has an impressive sound system. The main theme, surprisingly, is the same track over and over, but it fits the appearance of the game so well and is so well-programmed that it somehow never seems to get old. The boss music is very fitting, although they look lame and later in the game when they’re moving faster and you fight more of them the tension from this track works very well. The bonus world tune is good as well. All of the sound effects are well programmed, everything from the blast of your gun to the sound of enemies being wasted. The only problem I noticed is a small glitch you’ll occasionally come across where, when leaping off of ‘jumpers’, you almost fall into the pits and the music is programmed to play the death track, but then the game still continues with no sound. Got on my nerves when it happened, but it seemed to only be one level.

3-D Worldrunner has interesting gameplay, though it looks and almost plays just like Space Harrier. I’ll explain this more in the creativity section. Anyway, the game is an original play on the then still infantile platformer genre. However, instead of moving to the side, this game moves forwards with you constantly running, manuevering around objects, jumping chasms and so forth. There are eight levels in total with four sections each. Each time you make it to a section your time bar refills and then you continue from there if you die. Jack can collect power-ups from these pillars you run into giving you an extra hit, bullets, invincibility and so on. One of everyone’s favorite features in this game is Jack’s jumping abilities. He can leap pretty dang high, ten times that when you hop off of a ‘jumper’. Jumping becomes critical to the game later on when it gets faster and you have to leap over incredibly huge chasms using jumpers and eventually even skipping off the top of the ‘towering infernos’! 3-D Worldrunner has a great difficulty curve and by the last level it’s pretty intense because the speed increases and you have no way of slowing down Jack. You can increase his speed in the game by pressing up (he’s constantly running regardless) and slow down by pressing down, but in the final level he runs faster than you can force him!

One of the great things about this game is how easy it is to pick up and play. Beginners can jump right in, taking the time to slowly learn all the tricks and get further and further. It’s fairly long, so a password system may have been nice, but it does have a hidden continue feature mentioned in the manual, so it’s not like when you lose all your lives you have to completely start over again. The only problem I had with this game was that the boss segments seemed pretty worthless to me. All they did was add a different head to each of them and you have to fight more than one later on. Big deal. All you do is blast away at them, they hardly pose any challenge and the last one is even easier than the two that came before it. I really wish they added some variety in this part of the game because the levels themselves are so diverse in spite of the fact that you’re running on the same checkerboard over and over, minus the color changes. Still, 3-D Worldrunner is really a great game and one of the most addicting and well organized titles I’ve played from my youth. The concept and subsequent design is superb, combined with some addictive gameplay. The only problem with this category is the whole ‘3-D’ issue. This game came packaged with 3-D glasses simply to get people to buy it, they totally don’t work. Not that big of an issue, but since it is part of the game’s title…

3-D Worldrunner is unique, though it gets a reputation of being a Space Harrier clone since it essentially looks exactly the same as it in terms of design and even some parts of the gameplay, especially the bosses. Apparently the programmers were aware of the other from the arcade version and “liked it,” but said the main reason for making Worldrunner was actually just to show off the programming. It’s probably a little true, but I’d say it’s definitely obvious they lifted the idea, regardless if they wanted to just use a programming trick or not. I mean, come on, Space Harrier has the same checkerboard going on there so it’s not like they invented it. Clearly they wanted to make it because they probably couldn’t get the license. In spite of this, 3-D Worldrunner has several aspects that define it as a unique title. It makes great usage of the platforming genre while putting it into a format that requires intense concentration and skill at times, whereas Harrier was little more than a ‘move around and blast at crap without a care’ kind of game. So it does have its own features, but at the same time the influence is more than obvious.

I’ve played 3-D Worldrunner numerous times since I was young and it’s one of the few, somewhat less-known titles that everyone from my generation seems to remember, with good reason. This game is highly addictive and a lot of fun to try out now and then. In addition, for those hardcore freaks out there who actually manage to beat it without cheats, you get to play through it a second time for an even more difficult experience with the speed increased from the last level. Gives you another reason to come back if you think you’ve mastered it. The game length is a bit long to complete in a single sitting since you need to get used to the way certain aspects of the game work, not to mention a few instances where you need to memorize where objects are, so you can be sure you’ll be playing this a few days before you finally complete it. It would have been nice to have a password feature since by the time you get to the end the earlier levels are pathetic, but it’s still fun the entire way through so I wasn’t really bothered by that.

In conclusion, 3-D Worldrunner is one of the better games from the NES’ early years and a title every fan of the system simply has to own. I even recommend it to gamers from the modern area because it’s quite a challenge, especially the later levels where you need to learn to jump on pillars and the well-named towering infernos. It’s definitely not without merit and has plenty to offer, plus less experienced games can have fun as well because it’s a great game to jump into that gets progressively difficult instead of throwing you all tricks at once. It has a few minor faults, mostly the creativity factor, but I definitely recommend it. This is a title that, in my opinion, would do well to be rereleased on a modern console and the Wii comes to mind…

Graphics: 7
Sound: 9.5
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 5.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 7.8
Written by Stan Review Guide