Messing with the bull.
It's easy to write off Running With Friends. For starters, its creators borrowed concepts from games like Temple Run 2 and Agent Dash, while on a more opinionated level, hating Zynga is on trend regardless of whether you religiously follow the stock market or despise free-to-play. Granted, the publisher has taken its lumps, but it continues to release exciting titles tailor-made for mobile devices, this one being a fine example.
Yes, we'll admit the formula was lifted. Swipe up to jump, down to slide and left/right to turn in those respective directions is the blueprint for several clones populating the App Store, but in Zynga's defense, its developers tweaked the experience just enough to give the game near irresistible charm.
For starters, the theme centers on the popular Running of the Bulls ritual that takes place in Pamplona, Spain. Your primary goal is to help one of these thrill seekers escape from the constantly pursuing animals unscathed, navigating through a city filled with obstacles, from barrels and parked cars to other runners, fruit carts, busses and bodies of water. Sprinkle some Spanish-inspired music, and the game has a welcome layer of personality all its own.
Beyond that, the chaos that ensues definitely rivals and perhaps exceeds the competition. Enemies not only attack from the rear but also the foreground, and you'll need to make quick decisions to avoid smacking into a wall or worse, getting crushed by two bulls at the same time. Later, you'll hitch a ride on rockets to reach new heights, ride atop a rampaging bull and cut through side streets for bonus rewards. You literally cannot remove your eyes from the screen for a second.
Zynga, of course, rewards you for a job well done. The designers threw collectible stars all over the place, and gathering as many as possible while at the same time running further results in a higher score and a sizable number of green gems that serve as the game's virtual currency.
What do you use them for? Assigning different power-ups to your character to help increase the odds, things like a magnet that inhales nearby stars, along with perks like additional stars for sliding through people and objects.
This sort of thing is par for the course in single-player offerings, but here's what makes Running With Friends so appealing: it's a multiplayer game. Asynchronous and spread across three rounds, with you alternating turns with random opponents and Facebook friends. You'll even see the latter during a run, and passing them produces a wonderful sense of fulfillment driven home by the online leaderboards, which break down into distance traveled and stars collected; perfect for smack talk.
The inclusion of ads and obvious lack of high-resolution visuals somewhat cheapen the game; always bizarre, considering Zynga's technical know-how. By and large, though, Running With Friends is surprisingly fun and worth your time, regardless of your personal feelings towards the company. That, sir or madam, is no bull.
What's Hot:Imaginative setting, fast-paced and crazy running, entertaining asynchronous multiplayer, spending gems on bonuses.
What's Not:Doesn't take advantage of Retina displays, annoying ads.