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RELEASE DATE (NA): September 1987 GENRE: Rail-Shooter/Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

My video game is trying to kill me!

A long, long time ago, there was a fresh video game company on the prowl. Founded in 1986, Square would later become one of gaming's top developers and publishers, most notably for its now legendary Final Fantasy series. But Final Fantasy definitely wasn't their entry point into the video game world; in fact, the team behind Final Fantasy had several games under their belt by the time their staple RPG came to fruition, including King's Knight, Rad Racer, some weird thing called "Cruise Chaser Blassty", and yes, even The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner.

The storyline was, as in the case of many random games, tacked on. Horribly tacked on. So much so, it's only mentioned in the manual and not even touched upon in the actual game, perhaps for the better. There's trouble in Solar System #517 (probably also one of the designers' apartment number), where some alien named Grax and his "Serpentbeast" brothers have invaded. Of course, they brought along about a million annoying little shrimps as well that will get in your way. Nowhere specifically is it mentioned in the manual or game, but on the back of the box, you're referred to as "WorldRunner" (as well as "the wildest of the space cowboys"). Other sites will call him "Jack the WorldRunner", but for the purpose of this review, I'll call him WorldRunner. WorldRunner is assigned the duty of visiting eight different planets and ridding them of the evil infestations. Of course, he's not smart enough to land his craft right at the Serpentbeast's lair. Nope, he dismebarks far, far away, and then has to RUN for miles. That's how you get things done in Solar System #517, yo!

You spend most of your task running forward through each world, which is classily decorated with colourful checkerboard motifs on the ground. WorldRunner will need to leap over large chasms, as well as avoid the many nasty baddies that now roam the plains. He can move left or right indefinitely (the terrain loops horizontally), and he can also jump short or long distances, depending on how long you hold the A button. Usually, WorldRunner can also speed up or slow down when you press the Up button. This gets to be a pain in the neck if you overshoot or UNDERshoot a jump across a giant hole. And believe me: there are more chasms on these planets than there are crusty insects in a forest. Not a humorous analogy, I know.

At the end of every world is a boss battle against one of the Serpentbeasts. With gameplay similar to Space Harrier, you get free reign to fly around the screen and fire away at will as the snaky beast also flutters between the background and foreground. They don't ever fire projectiles, but just one touch from any part of it will force you to restart at the beginning of the last stage right before the battle. It's a nuisance, exacerbated only by the way that most Serpentbeasts have clones of themselves for some reason, and you encounter them one at a time until they're all gone. Heck, the final boss has to be destroyed SIX times. That's...excessive. If I can do it once, isn't that good enough?

I had played The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner before, but only during this last play session did I finally figure out how to get power-ups. Maybe I should have checked the manual. You get power-ups by literally RUNNING INTO COLUMNS. I never knew this; I thought you just had to NOT plow face-first into them. It turns out that items often pop out when you ram your skull into a random column. How about that? This is one of the few instances of self-harm actually paying off. Anyway, stuff pops out. A missile gives you unlimited ammo until you get hurt or die (the only weapon in the game), a potion will let you take an extra hit, and a giant atom will make you temporarily invincible. I say "temporarily", and I mean it. That invincibility is over in two seconds flat. If you see a heart appear, grab it. That's an extra life, and you'll need those for certain because this game is incredibly unforgiving. Oh, and if a mushroom pops out, steer clear because that thing will kill you instantly, no questions asked. It's the antithesis to Mario logic.

Run, Lola, er, I mean, uh, "WorldRunner", run!

There is an arbitrary time limit for boss battles and even for individual stages that really doesn't help you in any way. Ah, yes: thank goodness they literally put the Continue Code in the manual, or else no one on Earth would have ever finished this game. At the Game Over screen, hold A when you press Start, and you can restart your quest at the last world where you perished. Even with this little amenity, I'm sure most players will likely give up eventually because this game becomes extremely difficult by World 6. That's where they introduce hopping across columns to get over chasms that was far too wide for even WorldRunner to jump. And it's an often disastrous chore just to get on TOP of one and then keep the momentum up to hop across multiple columns. You'll die dozens of times before you become even moderately skilled at this feat (and nowhere in the manual does it describe how to do this, or even that it's possible.

World 7 is no slouch either, as it doubles the speed of your character, forcing to react to obstacles and foes twice as quickly. Once World 8 arrives... well, let's just say it was made by Lucifer himself! It's not a bad idea to make an appointment at the hospital for upcoming heart failure in advance. I, however, am a sucker for punishment, and I continued through to the end, regardless of frustration, headaches, and urge to commit heinous acts of evil's bane upon the world. It can be completed in about an hour or so; I took over five hours (two of which were for the final world alone) with only one sandwich break, but I finally conquered it. Use me as an example, kids: if you persevere, you can achieve anything, even if it's a useless task like completing The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner.

And yeah, it's in 3-D, sort of. It was originally developed for the Famicom 3D System, a short-lived accessory for the Famicom that consisted of special glasses that actually connected to the console and received signals via an adapter. The player could switch between 2D and 3D in all but one game for the Famicom 3D System by pressing Select. There was no equivalent add-on for the NES, but this feature was still kept in. By pressing Select, the screen changes from its regular view to a dual image of red and blue. As a result, new copies of The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner came with a pair of 3D glasses. If you don't have the glasses, don't even bother with this mode as it's deadly on the eyes and could possibly give seizures to anyone, even if they are NOT an epileptic.

Aside from the unique 3D aspect, the game isn't all that impressive graphically. Enemies and other obstacles repeat themselves hideously throughout the game. The backgrounds, though comical enough, are static and don't change or animate one bit throughout a stage. Not even WorldRunner himself is particularly detailed, although I am somewhat fond of Jack's victory pose after each world's completion: after putting his hand in the air with cringing fingers, it looks as though he's ready to ask you to turn your head and cough. Music also gets repetitive, especially since every world uses the same overly cheery song for the running and the same boss battle music every time. Just because it was made by the almighty Nobuo Uematsu doesn't mean that I want to hear it for hours.

Of course, I have to give credit to the manual writers. They somehow managed to make this game even more hilarious than it was originally intended. I just love the names they gave for enemies. "Robot Head." "White Willies." "Dog Face." "Mean TV." Oh, and my personal favourite, "Venus Die Trap." Lydia Dickinson, eat your heart out.

Looking for a game that will give you mental and physical indigestion simultaneously? The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner is just that game. The last few worlds are so painfully difficult that you may not even maintain the drive to see the journey through to the bitter end. I don't think I ever want to touch this game again. At least I can cross it off my list and move on to more enjoyable experiences like eating a skunk and getting run over by a 1996 Toyota Camry. Ah, the sweet relief...

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