Mr. Run and Jump Review

Run ragged

By Paul Hunter

Atari has been lowkey releasing some of the best arcade games in recent years with their Recharged series of classic games remade for the modern era. Hit '80s games like Centipede and Black Widow were brought back with mesmerizing new neon visuals, enhanced gameplay and new modes to make these timeless titles even better.

At first glance, Atari's latest platformer release Mr. Run and Jump looks like another reimagining of an Atari 2600 game, but it's actually a brand new title from the veteran developers at Graphite Lab. It uses a neon tube aesthetic similar to the Recharged series and features simple two-button arcade controls. And wearing its 2600 inspiration on its sleeve, it's also extremely, brutally hard. If you're a fan of challenge platformers like Super Meat Boy, VVVVV or N++ then Mr. Run and Jump should definitely be on your radar.

Let's head into the Realms of Color to see what this game is all about, here are four things I liked about it...and one I didn't.

Liked: Feels Like a Real Atari 2600 Classic

Mr. Run and Jump does an amazing job at leaning into its Atari 2600 inspiration. The story begins with our titular hero in a monochrome, blocky world that looks like a pixel-perfect Atari game facsimile. As Mr. Run, you'll then run after your canine pal Leap the Dog who's dashed off after a mysterious anomaly catches his eye. The pair eventually get sucked into a vortex that spits them out in a strange fluorescent world that's far more dangerous than it initially seems.

It turns out that you'll eventually explore six vibrant worlds, collectively called the Realms of Color. Each world is based on a single colour and theme, including Violet, Blue (industrial), Green (jungle), Yellow (desert), Red (lava) and Dark. Each area follows a similar pattern: your pooch Leap runs away and you'll need to chase it through three levels, plus a fourth boss 'challenge' level that dials the difficulty up to 11.

As someone who grew up with Atari, I love how everything about Mr. Run and Jump reminds me of those nostalgic times. From the game title reminiscent of classics like Mr. Do! and Mr. Gimmick to the back-to-basics gameplay focused on running and jumping, Mr. Run and Jump is pure retro arcade action bliss.

Liked: Precision Platforming

Here's a shocker for you: The gameplay in Mr. Run and Jump focuses entirely on running and jumping. To complete stages you'll need to use all of Mr. Run's abilities, which include jumping, double jumping, crouching, rolling, long jumps, high jumps, air dives and wall jumps. What's great, and I didn't realize this at first, is that every ability is unlocked from the beginning—there's no gradual progression. You're fully powered from the minute you press start.

Levels begin manageable and I had little trouble completing the first world (Violet) along with capturing the 100+ Orb Shards scattered within each. At first, you'll be asked to do simple platforming like jumping spike pits, dodging slow-moving skulls and wall jumping between spikes. Each stage consists of multiple rooms with one hitting killing you and instantly sending you back to the beginning of the room. The Violet world had a few tricky platforming segments, but it's a zone mainly out to teach you Mr. Run's moves. Every few rooms your eyeball buddy Mr. Watch and Learn will give you a short tutorial and then you'll get to practice your new move. The pacing is excellent and by the end of the first world, I was comfortable with Mr. Run's entire moveset.

Once you hit the second world (Blue) though, the difficulty spikes up huge and it only gets worse from here on in. I don't mean this lightly: Mr. Run and Jump is easily one of the hardest platforming games I've played. I had little trouble completing games like Cuphead and Ori and Blind Forest, but those games don't hold a candle to this game. I would put Mr. Run and Jump's difficulty squarely between 'masochistic' and 'flat-out impossible'. There will surely be speedrunners and elite-skilled players that'll be able to complete this game, but for the average person, it'll be a brutally punishing experience.

Thankfully, the developer threw us regular folks a bone with a Dynamic Assistance option that adjusts the difficulty in two ways. Firstly, if you die repeatedly in a room you may be given an invincibility star that should get you through the troublesome room or at least most of it before the power runs out. Secondly, you may from time to time find mid-room Checkpoint Flags that lets you restart there. In the menu, you can tweak how often cheats appear, from frequent to occasional to turning them off entirely. And just because you have cheats on doesn't mean you have to use them, it's usually fairly easy to ignore stars or flags if want to beat levels the old fashion way.

Not long into the adventure you'll need to string together Mr. Run's moves like a combo system to overcome the ridiculous challenges before you. In one smooth maneuver, you may need to string multiple wall jumps, air dives and long jumps together with pixel precision and impossibly-small margins of error. This is especially true for the three challenge rooms that appear in each stage and ratchet the already absurd difficulty even higher. The same is true for the final boss stages where the deadly 'Void' chases you similar to the boulder levels in Crash Bandicoot.

While I found the latter half of the game to contain borderline impossible challenges, I still had a blast testing my skills to see what I could overcome. There were many instances where I grabbed the cheat to save my sanity, but it was fun to revisit stages afterwards to try and beat them with cheats disabled. One big reason to beat levels with cheats disabled is because once you grab a star all of the collectible Orbs get greyed out—and you'll need all 120 Orbs to access the final level.

Liked: Enemy Designs, Variety and Pacing

A major highlight of the game is how much effort went into all the enemies you must contend with. Since each coloured realm you visit is an entirely new 'world' they all come with new enemies, variations on past enemies and fresh challenges. This forces you to rethink strategies and more often than not requires you to learn new move combos to overcome the new enemy patterns.

A bunch of the enemies remind me of other retro games and that's part of the fun. You've got bouncing skulls like in Montezuma's Revenge, downward slamming blocks (with faces) ripped right out of Super Mario Bros. and tube LocoRoco-like creatures that bob up and down like pistons. Seeing recognizable enemies in these unfamiliar worlds was nice and really brought me back to simpler times when a basic skull or everyday mosquito were common enemies in video games.

While the enemies follow common tropes, they're anything but ordinary. Each foe has its own personality whether that's the pistons that dart up and down to a rhythmic beat or the bugs that fly around the room in a set pattern. Even when you think you've learned an enemy the game constantly throws curveballs at you. For instance, the Thwomp-alikes all start with a medium size but soon enough you'll find triple-size or baby half-size variations that require new strategies. In another example, the Green jungle stage introduces hidden creatures that lurk in the ground and try to eat you, and then a stage or two later they'll start hiding in the walls, too. Mr. Run and Jump does a phenomenal job at pacing the reveal of new enemies or tweaking the existing ones with new attack patterns.

Liked: Psychedelic Graphics

Mr. Run and Jump is the best-looking modern Atari game I've played yet, and that's saying a lot considering how pretty games like Centipede Recharged and Breakout Recharged are. The fluorescent colours give off nostalgic Tempest and Geometry Wars vibes and really suit Atari's goal of combining modern and retro aesthetics.

I really enjoy how each world is based on a single colour, from neon Yellow to glowing Red and more. Stage backgrounds are appropriately themed, with the Blue industrial level featuring tall vertical rooms and industrial piping, while the Green jungle level contains all sorts of vegetation and glowing tree outlines.

Soundtrack-wise, Mr. Run and Jump also excels with its range of theme-based tracks that get you in the speedrunning mood. The introductory Violet world has a laid-back tune to match the challenge level, but once you hit the later Yellow and Red realms the song pace picks up significantly.

Didn't Like: Two Buttons

For a game where precision controls are so crucial to success, I think it's a miss that all of Mr. Run's moves are mapped to just two buttons. I get the rationale: Since the game is trying to replicate a classic '80s arcade experience, it makes sense to have two buttons like most games from that era. But having crouch, roll, long jump, high jump and air dive all mapped to the same button sometimes causes errors that can derail a combo. A simple option in the menu to remap moves to specific buttons would have gone a long way to improving the gameplay fluidity.

The Verdict

I'm having a blast playing Mr. Run and Jump even though it's totally kicking my butt. The challenge is supremely steep, but players who love hard platformers or speedrunning will surely enjoy this polished gameplay experience. From the superb neon-infused graphics to the excellent enemy design, there's a lot to like about stylish retro arcade adventure.

Final Score: 9/10 - Amazing

Mr. Run and Jump details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Atari VCS
Developer: Graphite Lab
Publisher: Atari
Genre: 2D Platformer
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

A key was provided by the publisher.