FOTONICA doesn’t even try to come up with an excuse as to why you are sprinting at breakneck speeds through a surreal vector landscape. Instead it tells you “running at 140mph is fun, see if you can handle it” and lets you get on with the task. Of course, it is not the first endless runner build around the concept of speed, but by taking the action to a whole new dimension it certainly stands out from the rest of the pack.
The combination of the first person perspective and crisp, vector style visuals provide FOTONICA with a very distinctive look. The complexity of the visuals can be adjusted, so at the lowest setting it looks like one of the old vector arcade machines, while at the highest setting the environments actually look more like wireframe models. If you play on the more simple visual setting you’ll miss out on the mountains, buildings, forests, railroad tracks and roads, but since there is less visual clutter it can also help you to do better and react faster. Each level is set in utter darkness with only the glowing vector lines drawing you in, giving the game a sense of desolation. The white lines turn a golden yellow if you reach high speeds, but the minimalist use of color certain helps with the hypnotic sensation of speed. Even the vector shapes of your arms that are visible as you run and jump can be disabled if you find it too distracting.
While the environments might look complex to navigate you only ever have to worry about using a single button. Forward momentum is maintained by holding down the button and releasing it causes your runner to jump. While in the air you can wait for your runner to decent or hold down the button to speed up the process. The latter is vital in some cases otherwise you will overshoot the nearest platform and end up plunging into the void. Deciding when to speed up your decent or when to jump are often the most important decisions you have to make in FOTONICA and a single miscalculation can cost you your speed at best and lose you the level at worst. This means that some trial and error is involved until you have mastered the levels, but restarting after you lose is an instantaneous process and the levels are not long enough to make restarting a chore either.
The arcade mode features eight different tracks that are unlocked in linear fashion. This can be frustrating if you are stuck on a track and want to advance, but since there are four different difficulty settings the game should be accessible enough for most players. The arcade levels feature multi-layered designs, so it is possible to end up on lower platforms, either by accident or intentionally. While keeping to the uppermost platforms might sound the safest you’ll miss out on the red dots that are spread out across the different paths and provide you with a score boost. Apart from the arcade mode there is also an endless mode with procedural levels although these don’t feature higher and lower paths as in the arcade mode. Since the game is so easy to control it can also be played in split-screen via the Versus mode which supports up to four players. No matter which mode you choose the game is great for playing in quick bursts whenever you feel like killing some time or want to take another stab at the online rankings.
The audio of the game is just as minimal as the visuals and it features a very fitting electronic music soundtrack. The tracks are a little mellow for my liking as I would have preferred something more adrenaline pumping to complement the breakneck speeds, but with a decent pair of headphones the audio is quite immersive. For longer playing sessions the more understated tracks are also easier on the ears. There isn’t much sound effects aside from the pounding of your footsteps and the occasional grunts of exertion from your runner. The latter can be either male or female, which is a rather neat touch. One sound that you’ll learn to hate is the jarring impact from smacking into the side of a platform after coming up short on a jump, something which can happen frequently enough that it has its own achievement.
The arcade style gameplay and simple controls might make it seem like there isn’t much depth to FOTONICA, but it is easy to become hooked by this game. About the only complaint we have is that there are so few levels, but considering the amount of hours we spent playing the game it certainly offers enough value for money. If you are looking for a pure arcade experience with a unique perspective and streamlined controls then FOTONICA comes highly recommended.