The auto-runner didn’t begin life on mobile devices, but since touchscreen gaming has rise to prominence, tablets and smartphones have established themselves as the definitive platforms for them.
Although some consider these games to be watered-down platformers, auto-runners has evolved in many ways since becoming a genre in its own right. Many developers have put their own stamp on this concept, applying it to shooters, puzzlers and other categories with great results.
One thing is for sure, the auto-runner is an idea that has legs and more of them are sure to race onto the app stores in the future. In the meantime, though, here’s our top 10 that you can download right now.
Canabalt is to auto-runners what Doom is to the FPS. This was the spark that lit the genre’s powderkeg and paved the way for countless imitators, not to mention innovators who have built on the concept.
Featuring retro-style noir visuals and a thumping soundtrack, the game casts players as an unnamed man fleeing at pace from an unknown threat across the rooftops of a procedurally-generated cityscape.
Sometimes the best games spring up from the simplest of ideas, and this was one of those occasions. Canabalt will make you wonder how a game that uses just one virtual button can possibly be so intense.
Countless auto-runners have followed in the footsteps of Canabalt and legged it onto mobile, but Vector 2 is a cut above most of the competition. Nekki’s dystopian sequel puts is own spin on the concept by adding parkour and dark, science fiction-themed backdrops to the mix.
The action is fast-paced and dynamic and offers more substance than many were expecting. Moreover, the stages are procedurally-generated, just like Canabalt’s, to keep the sense of deja vu at bay.
Jetpack Joyride took Canabalt’s blueprint, strapped a jetpack onto it and blasted it to infinity and beyond. You’ll race through a lab, swerving missiles and high-fiving scientists as you go, and eventually find yourself riding on the back of a mechanical dragon and a bird that craps coins.
The game is as bonkers as it sounds, and it deserves plaudits for expanding on the auto-runner concept in meaningful ways. Many of these games are limited in terms of content but developer Halfbrick Studios added variety to its procedurally-generated backdrops and begged repeat play-throughs by setting the player all kinds of challenges to complete.
When Gameloft landed the rights to Spider-Man, the studio merged the Marvel Comics property with Temple Run-style gameplay to create a story-driven auto-runner where you can do whatever a spider can via a series of screen swipes. If you’ve played Temple Run, you’ll know exactly what to expect, but this is a robust runner in its own right and the storyline will hit all of the right notes with the Marvel diehards.
Virtually every platforming icon from yesteryear has been given the chance to head up their own auto-runner, so it was only ever going to be a matter of time before Sega’s speedy mascot Sonic starred in one.
As a matter of fact, he’s appeared in more than one, and his hit sequel Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom has proven a worthy addition to the genre. This is a competent 3D runner with plenty of content, and the best thing about it is the way it evokes fond memories of Sonic 2’s bonus stages.
Another platforming icon who has made the jump to the auto-runner genre is Ubisoft’s Rayman. With its gorgeous cartoon visuals and increasingly-sophisticated gameplay, Rayman Jungle Run has as much depth as some of the flagship side-scrollers found on home consoles.
Whether you’re leaping, floating or soaring your way across its colourful backdrops, Rayman Jungle Run is never less than a carnival of platforming fun, and the way it drip-feeds new abilities and challenges throughout will keep you hooked. Give it a whirl. If it strikes a chord, there’s plenty more Rayman on the app stores to sink your teeth into, with Fiesta Run and Adventures offering more of the same.
There have been times when glitches have resulted in the creation of entire video games, and titles like Pac-Man 256 make you thankful for this anomaly. Developers Hipster Whale and 3 Sprockets created a standalone offering around the infamous glitch which caused the original maze-running classic to glitch out when the player reached level 256.
The concept alone is ingenious, but the way the studios spliced the Pac-Man formula with traditional auto-runner elements is what makes this such a great fit for tablets and smartphones. Here we have living proof that you can teach an old gaming icon a few new tricks.
It would be more appropriate to dub Alto’s Adventure an auto-skier, rather than an auto-runner, and it’s just as accurate to call it a definitive take on the genre. You won’t find many runners as polished as this.
The core gameplay comes to life thanks to the addition of stunts and other challenges, which expand the formula by ensuring that Alto’s Adventure is about more than just covering as much distance as possible.
Into the Dead 2 is the perfect example of a sequel that builds on the original’s framework and improves everything about it. While the previous game was an addictive zombie auto-runner with FPS mechanics, the second instalment is all of that and so much more.
Developer PikPok has thrown a fully-fledged campaign mode into the mix, with an engaging story, tonnes of weapons to wield and upgrade, and multiple endings for added replay value. Meanwhile, those who prefer racing through an endless zombie apocalypse without the missing daughter in peril can do just that in the daily challenges and events.
Mario on mobile! What a time to be alive! When Nintendo brought its dungaree-clad mascot to mobile devices, it took many of the concepts from his more recent 2D adventures and repackaged them for smartphones. This was done by reverse engineering Super Mario Bros as an auto-runner, but it lost none of its magic along the way.
Although it can be played one-handed, Super Mario Run feels like something close to the full-fat Mario experience. The graphics look beautifully polished and the gameplay flows nicely. The only real difference is that you can’t backtrack, though Nintendo has thrown in extra features to compensate for the necessary streamlining.
Toad Rally, in which players race against the ghosts of other users online, and the chance to build your own mini Mushroom Kingdom outside of the mainline campaign add stacks of longevity, and there’s bound to be further content updates in the plumber’s pipeline.