Developer: Zynga Inc.
Price: Free
Version: 1.51
App Reviewed on: iPhone 5

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Playtime Rating: ★★★★½
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

IMG_0410Zynga is well known for many hit games, including CityVille, Words With Friends, and now Running with Friends, a familiar-feeling 3D endless runner. Can they manage to differentiate this new game enough from other Temple Run clones already in the App Store, or are they too late to the party to make an impact?

The newest installment in the “With Friends” brand is set in what could be seen as the original endless runner: the running of the bulls. Each round starts with the gate being pulled back and the player’s cartoon caricature running for their pixelated lives. With the constant bovine threat bearing down from behind, it is the player’s job to swipe and slide across the screen, navigating onto any of the three tracks, all while trying to dodge interference from all directions.

Whoever was in charge of the run portrayed in the game needs to be fired for being the most ineffective event planner in history. Instead of having a clear runway, barrels, squad cars, random pedestrians and even bales of hay are strewn about with reckless abandon. And that’s just the start of the madness. The longer a race goes on, the crazier the distractions get. If having bulls pop their heads up through manholes isn’t enough, eventually players will have to dodge, and this is NOT an exaggeration, bulls riding mopeds. So much for a hyper-realistic running of the bulls simulator.

IMG_0417In each semi-successful run, there are gems that are unlocked. These can then be cashed in for random power-ups before each race. And what would a “With Friends” game be without the opportunity to embarrass every Facebook friend on the planet? The core competition draws from this group of like-minded gamers, with the added opportunity to be matched up against random strangers as well. Unfortunately, those that are looking to take part in any local “couch play” are going to be disappointed. Why this feature was left out is a bit unclear, but who’s to say that it won’t be patched in down the road?

Running with Friends is enjoyable, despite my initial misgivings. Even if players are biased by their aping of other endless runners, its charm, carefree personality and immense variety don’t take long to disarm even the most reluctant of players. It may not re-invent the genre, but sure goes a long way towards reinvigorating it.

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