1989 was a good year. The Berlin wall came down, we got Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last crusade, and Back to the Future II and III in the theaters, plus this little shooter gem was released by soon to be RPG giants Squaresoft (I know it's hard to believe nowadays, but there was a time when Square made games that had nothing to do with Final Fantasy.)
The game involves the "World Runner," who is a typical space-hero type guy named Jack as he liberates solar system #512 from the evil serpent-things that have taken over and ruined everyone's day. Although Jack must have some type of interstellar travel at his disposal in order to transverse from planet to planet, apparently his landing skills leave a lot to be desired as for some reason instead of just flying straight to the snake-monster-thing and blowing it away he decides to park on the other side of the friggin' planet, and thus has to like walk all the way through 42 different levels to accomplish his goal. He does this by running on the surface of each planet, jumping over canyons, and blowing up little cute things that get in his way.
The game is a lot better than it sounds actually. It's presented in a first person scrolling style, similar to Star Fox or Space Harrier (more on that later.) At first all you can do is jump, by bumping into certain pillars you can find bonus items, including a lazer gun to let you counterattack. You can move to the left and right as much as you want but it really doesn't matter as the scenery and objects merely loop. You are unable to actually stop moving forward, merely slow down a bit.
During the bulk of each level you can't fly but instead can do these really long jumps, and each world has a section where you have to do timed jumps over these large canyons. Later levels have springboards you have to hit in order to make it. These sections of the various levels are incredibly tough, maybe it's just me, but dang man. Some of them in the later levels allow for zero mistakes, you have to hit the springboard, dodge little evil indestructible hand-men in mid-air, and land just perfectly on a tiny strip of land as to hit the next springboard. You will bite the dust often before you get the patterns down. You only get three lives to do this with no save or password feature (but you do get the occasional 1-up heart icon.)
The graphics are very clear and cute looking, they remind me of a cross between Super Mario Bros. 3 and Snake Rattle N' Roll. Enemy types consist of little blob things and birds and such, and the aforementioned evil little hand-men who don't kill you but merely knock you into pits and stuff. At the end of each level you have to fight the boss serpentbeast. In these boss battles you get the ability to fly around the entire screen for some reason (the manual says you have a rocket pack, although you can't see it. Why can't he just use the rocket pack to fly over all those stupid canyons I keep falling in? Lame.) Anyway these boss battles aren't too hard and involve you shooting the snake as it flies towards and away from you. On the later levels you have to fight the snakes multiple times before the level is over.
The good stuff: The game has really impressive graphics, smooth scaling and scrolling, stuff that you didn't know your Nintendo was capable of. There is also a 3D mode where you can use a pair of those old red & blue 3D glasses (and it works quite well actually, if not a little headache inducing.)
The bad stuff: The bulk of the game is cake, you can usually just dodge all the stuff that comes at you. However then you get to the parts where you have to jump the canyons and the difficulty jacks up considerably. These sections become extremely hard to do by the second world or so. They're straight memorization and repetition, you just gotta do it over and over and over until you get it. One level of this frustration is tolerable, but nearly 8 out of 42 levels of this crap is too much. It's hard to find motivation to come back when a game pisses you off so much.
Veteran arcade players may note the extreme similarity to another famous scrolling first person arcade shump, Space Harrier. The similarity is not just skin deep. The game plays very closely to Space Harrier, with the one major change that Jack cannot fly but instead has an incredibly long jump. The boss battles in fact are nearly identical to Space Harrier. Whether you choose to call this a "homage" or a "rip-off," the fact remains though that 3D World Runner is a well done game in it's own right.
Graphics: Very impressive scrolling, scaling, such. The 3D effect is neato but good luck actually trying to play a whole game like that.
Sound: The usual bonks and bings, with a funny noise when you jump.
Gameplay: Like an 8 bit version of Space Harrier but you can't fly.