You’d think a guy named “Guy” who goes poking around ancient booby-trapped temples might have learned by now: Bring a better bag of sand before filching a spooky golden idol. But then you wouldn’t have an arcade-style iOS/Android game about intrepid adventurers named “Barry Bones” or “Karma Lee” chased by a bould–I mean monster gorilla through endless stony ruins, leaping impediments, sliding beneath jets of fire and pulling off impossible 90-degree turns as deftly as Automan.
That would make this another Temple Run game, then, specifically Temple Run 2, another “endless runner” where you run, then run some more, then keep on running, and finally, well, if you’re ever not hotfooting it, you’re dead — game over. Imagine an endless carrot/stick sim and you’ve got the gist: a baleful jungle beast behind you, untold El Dorado-worthy riches lying in wait ahead.
So off you go, doing pretty much the same thing you did the last time around, swiping up to leap obstacles and down to slide under overhangs, tilting left or right to navigate ledges, grab lines of coins or dodge snags. But Temple Run 2 looks far prettier, benefiting from a full game rewrite, no longer limited to foggy jungles, blocky objects and lurching animations. Here you’ll soar through (and over) what feels more like a labyrinthine mountain sanctuary high above the mist (or are those clouds?), catching glimpses of distant rock formations as you sprint past scalloped towers or leap rivers and waterfalls.
Eventually you’ll chance upon Temple Run 2‘s new underground sections, hopping into a mine cart Temple of Doom-style and careening down subterranean trackage, tilting to lean the cart left or right and swiping down to dodge wooden beams…just as you would running above ground. In fact that’s Temple Run 2‘s first letdown: The mine sections play like any other section (unless you count the occasional dead ends, which the game telegraphs so reliably it’s hard to crash). Why not change things up a little, say expand the swipe-grammar with diagonal challenges, or at least make the track more roller coaster-like?
The same applies to the zip-line, which, cool as it is to wing over bottomless gaps in the trail, is still just a zip-line. You jump on, you lean left, you lean right, you mop up coins and that’s all there is to it — you don’t even have to dodge anything. It feels a little lazy design-wise, frankly, like a team bereft of new ideas, playing it safe and supplemental. How does adding two new area types and sprucing up the graphics justify slapping a “2″ after the title?
That leaves the new character-specific abilities to carry the game. As in Temple Run, coins allow you to purchase ability upgrades that give you more bang for your buck, say increasing coin value after you’ve traveled so many meters, or unlocking additional characters (and their respective power-ups). But while any character can grab random power-ups like the shield (protects from obstacles) or magnet (tractor-beams nearby coins) during a run, each character comes with one preassigned power-up that you trigger by double-tapping the screen after you’ve collected enough coins to fill a yellow meter.
In theory, this gives you dedicated backstops depending whom you choose to play, but even that turns out to be illusory: You can swap abilities between unlocked characters, rendering the point of having different characters moot. What happened? Why not leave each character with a unique ability (or two)? And while you’re at it, why not slip in a relay-race mode where you swap different-specced characters on the fly?
But now I’m Monday-morning designing something developer Imangi Studios probably wants to keep simple. That’s fine. I just wish we’d been given a different simple the second time out. We’re talking about the sequel to a game with over 170 million iOS and Android downloads, after all.
If you’ve never played Temple Run, skip the original and play this. It’s the better version, and fully navigable without spending a penny. If you’ve already played Temple Run, well, Temple Run 2 costs nothing but play time. And if you do want to buy your way to a high score, the optional in-game purchases dovetail elegantly with the gameplay (they’re easily ignored if you don’t). I just wish Imangi had reached a little deeper and extended the frontiers instead of merely making them prettier.
Version reviewed: iOS / iPhone 5
Score: 3 out of 5