Games have been aping Indiana Jones since Raiders of the Lost Ark burst into the cinema in 1981, but few execute on their vision as well as Relic Rush — a retro-styled one-touch game of racing through dungeons and tombs in search of treasure.
It’s pretty light on depth, but it’s so well made and cleverly conceived as to be a glorious distraction worthy of the hour or two time investment.
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Pixellated, One-Touch Indy
Relic Rush abstracts Indiana Jones to its core of action-adventure through exotic locales in search of treasure — not for fame or wealth but for the thrill of it and for the cause of archaeology. It goes so far as to reduce the quest for priceless artifacts to a one-touch auto-runner, yet still retains much of the feel of Indy.
Your hero darts across the screen, up and down ladders, over precipitous drops, and past all manner of deadly dangers without you doing a thing. Well, not quite — you have to tell him to stop every so often so he doesn’t lose his life in the process.
Your only duty is to touch the screen when the hero needs to pause his mad dash for a moment. Lift your finger and he continues unabated. Baddies and ghosts and fireballs occupy tracts of the path — a simple one-screen winding upward route that leads to yet more climbing. You have to figure out their movement patterns so that the hero can run by safely.
Death Comes Quick, but So Does Life
Touch a bad guy — or a bad thing, as is more often the case — and get teleported back to the bottom of the screen. Relic Rush is both forgiving and brutal in this way — you never lose much progress, but you lose lots of time and routinely suffer the pain of dying one obstacle short of the end.
Play recklessly and expect repeated frustration. Relic Rush requires delicate timing. It’s easy to identify the patterns at work here, but you may need a few attempts before you can turn theory into practice. Most situations allow only a split-second window of opportunity for safe passage, though, so caution can be equally damaging to your progress.
You do this on several levels/screens on the path to each relic, with four relics to each of the five worlds. The challenges vary remarkably, given the rudimentary control scheme. Clever design ensures that you have to stay on the ball at all times — you often need to worry about several baddies at a time, so that you can get a clear and faultless run.
Relic Rush wanders the full gamut of tomb-raiding environments, exploring jungle, desert, arctic, volcanic, and haunted themes. Each time, the visuals change in subtle-yet-obvious ways — clearly giving a vibe of the tropes you’d associate with the name, while maintaining a consistent pixel-art style. Meanwhile, jumps, ladders, and projectile-throwing enemies get used more creatively from one stage to the next.
Timing Is Everything
Every rush for a relic is timed. A meter at the top of the screen ticks down throughout the journey; if you’re quick, it’ll still be gold when you reach the end. If the meter runs out, you end up with lead as your prize. There’s a small window of time where you can be chasing silver, and a similarly small window for bronze. Your deaths are counted, with the number displayed beneath the badge.
It’s all for bragging rights, really — you can still progress to the next world if you get four batches of lead, and nothing much changes at all if you do better or worse. The medals are there solely as a barometer of your skill. You can repeat a quest to see if you can better your time, and compare with friends to determine who is the more talented relic rusher.
Short and Sweet
That’s basically the whole game. Relic Rush is simple, short, and shallow. But it’s great fun, surprisingly engaging, and beautifully presented. Its chip tunes soundtrack had me bopping my head as I guided my intrepid hero through caverns and jungles and past deadly beasts.
In the end, there’s a reasonable case to make that the game is too automated. Like most endless runners, there’s very little depth, and you spend as much time watching the hero brave danger as you do helping him avoid it. But it works well and it’s entertaining from start to finish.
If you’re looking for subtle mechanics or complex strategy, don’t bother — Relic Rush is about as subtle as a hungry cat and as complex to play as a triangle. But for a quick pick-up-and-play game to lose yourself in minutes at a time, there are few that do it better.