CyberConnect2 might be my favorite Japanese game developer. Not only is it the studio responsible for the Naruto: Ninja Storm fighting game franchise, the .hack role-playing games and the spectacular Little Tail Bronx series, its first stab at mobile gaming is a fresh new spin on the crowded endless runner genre.
CyberConnect2's Shadow Escaper is an endless runner with a couple of different twists. For one, the single-player mode is broken up into one minute rounds, during which the character you select (there are two to choose from) must flee from the relentless pursuit of vengeful angels. It's standard running fare—jumping, dodging, sliding and collecting — all wrapped up in a pleasing anime-style bow.
Once the minute is up your character transforms into a powerful demonic being. The energy you've collected is used to blast your pursuers into oblivion with a single timed tap. Points are awarded and the next round begins, faster and more perilous than before.
When you finally succumb to the angelic assault, the energy you've collected can be spent on upgrading your character or purchasing power-ups to ensure your next run doesn't end quite as abruptly.
It goes a little something like this.
The other twist occurs when you tap the "Survival" button at the top of the screen. This changes the game from Shadow Escaper to Shadow Survivor, a timed endless running social tournament between you and any friends you might have on the GREE mobile gaming network (I've got none, so my opponents are all AI, and they suck).
Here the goal is simply to get as far as possible. The pathways are narrower, the obstacles more extreme and the angles even more relentless. I managed to capture my best run on video. Want to see it? Here goes.
Should you find your way to the top of the leaderboards before the weekly timer runs out, you'll be awarded with power-ups and costume points, the latter used to unlock outfits with special bonuses for each of the game's characters.
I love the competitive aspect of Shadow Escaper, taking the endless running game into new territory, way beyond a simple friends leaderboard. My only concern is that I am at the top of the leaderboards with no friends—why should I add them if they're only going to lessen my chances of winning?
It's not a problem-free game—in fact when I first started playing I feared it was completely broken. The accelerometer controls were extremely wonky, warping me from one side of the path to the other, sticking me to the sides. It wasn't until I realized that the game was configured to run with my iPad held at a specific angle (seated with the pad in my lap) that I began to enjoy myself. It needs a calibration option. It also needs an offline mode, but I don't see that happening.
Despite those issues, Shadow Escaper is a strong mobile debut from one of my favorite developers. CyberConnect2 may have picked a packed genre to start in, but they've really hit the ground running.
I will not apologize for that.