Endless runner Mansion Run is way better than its name

Underground Pixel is back at it

One of the joys of following small indie teams like Underground Pixel is getting a very close feel of their personalities and see how that taste evolves with every game release. It doesn't sound like it's been long time since our chat one year and a half ago with Kevin Drew, when he explained his passion for pixel art and the hard work starting in this industry. Fast forward to their latest release since Pastry Panic and I'm going directly to retro gaming mode.

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Mansion Run is — surprise, surprise — a simple endless runner with that 16-bit strong flavour characteristic of Underground Pixel. Like most games from the late eighties, the premise is goofy, but that's not even relevant. If your mansion has been infested by the three ghosts from the Casper movie and all the furniture is moving like the one in The Beauty and the Beast, the only option is to run.

And that doesn't mean our character Bones Wellington, a dapper skeleton with a taste for expensive treats, is afraid of ghosts. It could also be he is terribly greedy and wants to collect the bones spread across floors before anyone else does.

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Because even if Mansion Run is a two-dimensional setting, the screen is split into four levels, as in floors, that crucially assist you in dodging the furniture laid around randomly so you trip on it.

This multi-level design is a good departure from classics like Canabalt or Jetpack Joyride, where your chances of success are directly tied to what happens on the floor. Having four floors adds something slightly different to the genre and a new level of concentration; forcing you to plot in your mind the best route to avoid collision with objects. In practice, this is terribly tricky, making Mansion Run very good fun.

The very simple gameplay and controls — swiping up or down anywhere — are dressed with the odd quick time event and some hidden areas. While focusing on getting to the secret cellar or basement are a good decision to cash more bones, the real game is in dodging the furniture at an increasing pace.

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In a game as basic as this, what you really want to do is to appreciate the execution and the music. While the soundtrack will inevitably get repetitive, the chiptune sound effects are brilliant. The pixel art both in the game and the menus are of beautiful standard, making the sprites of a running skeleton wearing a suit something worth checking out, if this is a style you like.

As extra surprises you get fellow pixel characters from the iOS gaming scene as guests: the old man from Cascadia's Cavorite and the main guy from RocketCat's Hook Champ. The walls of the mansion feature famous art from the likes of Johannes Vermeer, although the girl with a pearl eating earring looks more bony than usual.

Mansion Run might end up feeling simplistic and a bit repetitive for a mainstream audience. The real joy is in the basic gameplay and the design around it. I cannot deny that I've re-played runs and runs until I get a last-second move in between sofas, looking for hidden areas or simply admiring all the details at the cost of extra lives. We've had enough endless runners anyway; this approach returning to the Canabalt route and departing from Temple Run is something I've come to appreciate.