Once in a great while, you encounter one of those games that defies description in terms of other games. No matter the premise, trying to wrap your head around the mechanics of inventive new games is always a wild ride—and in the case of Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages, that ride is full of quirky, creative fun. While it has its share of problems (and what game doesn't?), Ring Runner's strong—if sometimes overly-persistent—sense of humor, in-depth build mechanics, and smooth, fast-paced, satisfying gameplay combine to create a great experience that is easily worth its low purchase price.
One of the primary draws of this game is the incredible amount of customizability. The developer, Triple.B.Titles, heavily advertises the 400+ abilities you can pick and choose between, and they aren't kidding. While some abilities are thematically similar (+5% damage on several different types of weapons, for instance), and some are passive or proc-based abilities, there's a wide variety of both active and interesting passive tools you can pick and choose to place on your ship. An unlock system presents you with new tools both through the campaign and through a research mechanic, which can be set to either unlock new parts or provide a constant source of currency to buy them. Some weapons, ships, and utilities are automatically unlocked as you progress, while others are only available by researching and purchasing them. Weapons range from normal missiles and beam weapons to some very unusual concepts: some weapons and utilities manipulate gravity, both for offensive and defensive purposes, and there's a wide variety of melee-oriented abilities (plus a whole ship class specifically oriented towards melee).
There's nothing quite like bashing enemies around with a space flail.
The control scheme is also highly customizable, and you can rebind which weapons are attached to specific controls quickly and easily in the ship designer. However, this customizability is one of the main reasons the single-player campaign can feel somewhat disjointed: throughout the campaign, you're frequently given new ships to introduce you to the various types and fighting styles of a number of unique designs. The controls of each ship are often radically different, which can leave you confused about which keys use certain abilities or weapons. Usually, when you're handed a new ship, the story gives you a few minutes to play around and adjust to the new controls, but this isn't always the case. Controllers are fully supported, and in fact may be preferred to mouse and keyboard. However, everything in the game can easily be done via either control method.
Menus can be a bit annoying: some menus are apparently optimized for controllers, and can actually move the location of your mouse cursor when closing some information windows, which can be somewhat jarring when using mouse and keyboard. Looking past this, however, the menus are fairly well-designed and functional, which is a good thing since you'll most likely spend some time in them customizing your ships.
The single-player campaign sends you careening across the galaxy, from the seediest reaches of space to the most civilized and back again. While the story can feel rather disjointed in places, the quirky sense of humor that pervades the campaign will definitely elicit a few laughs. That nagging voice in the back of your head is given a personality and a real voice here, and apparently it likes peanut butter cups. Nero, who you're introduced to at the very beginning of the game, remains your constant companion (and torment) throughout the story. Much of the humor present in the single-player campaign comes from this companion.
Story itself is also a selling point for the game. Based on the novel Ring Runner: Derelict Dreams, the story follows your journey from an amnesiac with an AI companion in your head to an experienced pilot with friends and a ship capable of (hopefully) taking on entire fleets. While it does jump around a bit too much in some places, the amusing characters and general lack of seriousness ensure that even if you aren't keeping up with everything that happens, you can still enjoy a good laugh at the dialogue. Plus, the general absurdity of what you're doing at some points in the campaign will inevitably set in, and you'll get a good chuckle out of realizing that yes, you did indeed just bash your way through a blockade using a giant impenetrable safe filled with useless money as a battering ram.
There are a surprising number of minigames scattered throughout the campaign, most of them paying homage to popular games, both modern and old-school. Everything from Asteroids to World of Goo to Missile Command is represented here, at least for one short minigame. These minigames are used to unlock Sage abilities, which are the primary difference between you and most of the surrounding AI (both allies and opposing). The variety and amount of effort put into these minigames is rather surprising, given their relatively short duration. Fortunately, they're fairly well explained, and fit smoothly into the overall story, so they don't feel as jarring as they might.
Graphically, the game is about what you'd expect from a solid top-down action game: there's a some great effects, the ship designs are interesting and distinguishable, and everything is immediately visually apparent. The game also runs extremely smoothly, for the most part at a solid 60FPS except under extreme duress on a somewhat subpar computer. In short, while not bringing a graphical revolution to the table, Ring Runner leaves little to be desired.
The audio of the game is also top-notch. The Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages soundtrack (available via BandCamp) is well-paced and fits the game perfectly. Sound effects are plentiful, unique, and fit well within the Ring Runner universe.
Multiplayer brings a host of gametypes and new playstyles to the mix. There's a well-developed MOBA-style gametype, along with a number of other coop and PvP missions. One of my personal favorites was the coop Zombies scenario, in which you and your friends are pitted against ever-strengthening waves of relatively weak ships. After developing a number of ships for the gametype, I ended up with an abomination: a stealth ship that fired barrages of homing missiles (which generated clones of myself on impact), dealing damage (which generated yet more clones), leeched shields, health, and energy, and refreshed its stealth as it dealt damage. In fact, while it sounds overpowered (and performed quite well), it eventually succumbed to the ever-increasing zombie horde, and was of very limited use in other gametypes.
Interestingly, Ring Runner fully supports local coop. In fact, there's an entire class of ships dedicated to playing with a buddy: the Dual class of ships has more ability slots than normal (though not as wide of a variety of slot types as normal ships, in order to maintain balance). This lets you load your ship down with more abilities than one person can reasonably handle, then have one person drive and fire off utilities and maybe a weapon or two, while the second player controls the bulk of the weaponry. Unfortunately, you can't do this remotely, but there's more than enough fun to be had elsewhere.
The main downside of the multiplayer is its relative lack of population. While a few games of all types were available at the time of writing, it sometimes took a bit of searching to find a specific gametype I wanted to play. Ring Runner's multiplayer is definitely an experience best shared with friends, but you may have to bring your own friends in order to get a game going.
In conclusion, Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages is an excellent game, and at least solid in every category. If you like space games, enjoy creating crazy builds to perform specific tasks better than anyone else (many scenarios have leaderboards, especially the multiplayer scenarios), have a sense of humor, or like smashing enemy ships into nearby asteroids with a giant space flail, you'll enjoy Ring Runner.