Next-gen 3D runners on iOS

Many people have played Temple Run, but there's a new generation of 3D runners that might unseat the king from its throne atop the genre.


Earlier this year I wrote a blog post comparing older running games to new ones, to see how the genre that works so well on the touch screen was evolving. But even since then running games have gotten much deeper, with more 3D entries than just the popular classic Temple Run (iOS|Android).

I'm a big fan of these types of games because they're so easy to pick up and play for a short time and I'm never too worried about turning them off when it's my turn at the DMV or my bus has reached my stop -- there's always another run.

This week's collection of iOS apps (the first one of which is also available on Android) is all about 3D running games. The first lets you ride a mine cart as you explore a dangerous obstacle-filled mine. The second lets you use your jetpack to fly through the air while avoiding enemy fire. In the third, you run in a futuristic world where you'll use the floor, walls, and ceiling to go for the greatest distance. Obviously, these games haven't been updated for the iPhone 5's larger screen, but hopefully that will happen soon.

Rail Rush
Early on the game is pretty easy, but before long you'll be swiping and leaning at breakneck speed. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Rail Rush (99 cents for iOS or Android) is a 3D endless-escape game, but instead of running on a path, you ride a mine cart through dangerous mines and have the inexplicable ability to bunny-hop your heavy mine cart from track to track.

The game starts you off easy, as you'll travel relatively slowly down the track. But your mine cart quickly picks up speed as you tilt to lean your cart and grab gold nuggets, and swipe horizontally to switch tracks as obstacles get in the way or your track simply ends. There are also barricades on tracks that you'll need to swipe up to jump over, and other obstacles that require you to swipe down to duck. As your mine cart starts moving faster, the obstacles come at a feverish speed and I often found myself swiping one too many times or tilting when I should have swiped. With all its swipes and tilts, Rail Rush gets chaotic very quickly.

Leaning to grab nuggets is important because you can use them to buy upgrades for your cart and defensive add-ons that let you make extra mistakes without dying. Cart items include upgrades like the Wood Ram, which adds a ram to the front of your mining cart to bust through obstacles. You also can buy left or right spikes to bust through objects that are placed on one rail of the track, which usually force you to lean to get around them. Other extras you can buy include items like a stick of TNT that you can throw to clear away obstacles for a limited distance in front of you. There are higher tiers for each of these types of items and they'll definitely come in handy when you're going for big distances.

As in the other games in this collection, you have can buy characters that have their own skills to offer on your run. New characters are expensive, so it's going to take a lot of rides to earn enough nuggets. And as in most games these days you can buy more nuggets for real money if you want to get an advantage with extra upgrades.

Rail Rush is a great time-waster, but it takes fast reactions if you want to go the distance. If you're looking for a real test for your hand-eye coordination, check out this game.

Jetpack Junkie
To stay in the air longer, grab the floating batteries to add to your power supply. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Jetpack Junkie (99 cents) is another 3D runner, but lets you use a jetpack to blast into the air while you avoid a continuous onslaught of shooting enemies and obstacles.

Taking a page from the mega-hit game Jetpack Joyride (iOS|Android), Jetpack Junkie gives you the ability to run on the ground or fly into the air for a limited time. The amount of time you can stay in the air depends on your current jetpack power, but there are many batteries to be found for a quick boost of energy. The only problem is while batteries are plentiful, so are bullets and missles flying at you from the game's many enemies, as tanks, mounted guns, heat-seeking missiles, and laser-blasting aircraft are constantly en route. If the endless bullets aren't enough to take you down, the game's fixed obstacles have a way of sneaking up on you. While playing this 3D runner I was reminded of "bullet hell" shooting games given how much time I spent avoiding bullets, but in great-looking 3D.

As you progress, you'll also pick up coins that you can spend on upgrades in the Loadout page or on new character models (runners) between runs. In Loadout, each of the upgrades has five tiers and costs more with each additional tier. You can add to your overall life, get a HealBot for constant health regeneration, make your jetpack's batteries last longer, pull coins toward you with the Magnet, or add more power to defensive shields. As for Runners, you get a free in-game download to see your options, and each costs a lot of coins with different skill sets for each runner. It won't take too long to earn enough for your first regular upgrade, but it will take a lot of runs to really maximize your runner's skills for the serious long-distance scores, and even longer to get a new look.

Like Rail Rush, Jetpack Junkie has an in-game store if you want to buy stacks of coins for real-world cash. The emerging theme I'm noticing is these games all like to make you spend some cash to get that early upgrade, when doing it the hard way will take a lot of playing time. I suppose it will work on some, but I had plenty of fun without spending any extra money.

I have one tip that will help you early on: when you turn a corner onto another street, make sure you engage your jetpack for a little altitude. Jetpack Junkie has a way of putting obstacles right after turns, and if you're not careful, they'll eat away at your health quickly.

Jetpack Junkie is a great way to kill some time, but it's definitely not easy. If you want a serious challenge in your 3D runner, this is the game to get.

Amazing Runner
You can run on the lower path or swipe up to gather coins while running upside down. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Amazing Runner (99 cents) is a 3D running game that offers a little something more than your average 3D runner by letting you run on all sides of the screen, but it has one major problem.

Made with the Unreal 3 Engine, Amazing Runner looks fantastic as you run on futuristic-looking roads suspended high in the air flanked by neon high-rises. As you run, you can tilt your device from side to side to move around on the road. You won't just run on one path in Amazing Runner either. You can swipe sideways to run on walls, upward to run on the ceiling, and in a circular motion to run through corkscrews. You also can tap on the screen to attack evil robots that block your path.

As is the case in all of these games, you'll need to collect coins as you run that you can spend on upgrades, temporary power-ups, and new characters in between runs. Some power-ups will give you a boost while others will do things like suck coins toward you with magnets. You also have the option to buy coins with real money if you want to maximize your loadout or pay for expensive new looks by changing characters. It's not just the characters either, everything is priced pretty high and it's clear that the game is set up to part you from your money, but you still always have the option of earning things the hard way. It's just going to take a lot of runs.

Amazing Runner is a beautiful, fast-paced, and challenging game that offers enough new ideas to make it one of the more unusual runners in the genre, but I found one major problem. In testing on both my iPad and my iPhone I noticed a huge bug on the iPhone where swiping in circles through corkscrews simply doesn't work. I tried several times and fell every time while going through a corkscrew. On my iPad, I could navigate a corkscrew without any problems, so I'm hoping this is something the developers can easily fix. As is, I can't currently recommend this game for iPhone users until there is a fix.

If you like running games, Amazing Runner uses every side of the screen, adding to the challenge of simply going the greatest distance. If you're an iPhone owner, hold off on downloading this game until the developers can provide a fix for corkscrews or you are going to be one frustrated runner.