Thursday Appdate: Running with Friends

Friendship may or may not be magic, but it helps you accomplish an awful lot in the realm of gaming. In Zynga’s library alone, if you’ve got friends, you can match words, you can hang, maybe scramble a bit, share of game of chess; your friends are fairly versatile when it comes to recreation. Today’s App Store update comes with a recommendation from your friends (if you happen to count the editors among your friends) that gives you and your pals a new activity to enjoy — fleeing for your lives. Meet Running with Friends, a new endless runner from Zynga that utilizes your Facebook friends list and runs with it.

As with any endless runner, a simple premise and an escalating series of hazards are on offer: you and your pals have decided to attend the running of the bulls in Pamplona, but rather than enjoying the perfectly safe activity of running in front of a dozen savage animals with sharp horns, a full-scale riot has broken out. Bulls are everywhere — on the streets, in the sewers, piloting mopeds — and tour buses and police cars are running amok, hastily erecting barricades in and around the scaffolding and crumbling infrastructure of Spain. The first kilometer or so of Running with Friends will just throw a few bulls and barriers at you, but you can eventually expect to be trying to avoid tumbling barrels of TNT while leaping atop moving buses while the bridge is out. Pamplona through Zynga’s eyes is not a very safe place, is what I’m getting at.

The level of polish on display in Running with Friends is considerable: if you’ve been with Friends in the past, you’ll be familiar with the adorably big-headed avatars, which have made an elegant transition to 3D here. The music is a suitably fast-paced mariachi/salsa number, and the sheer variety of environmental hazards — vehicles, obstacles, and bulls galore — is quite impressive, keeping players on their toes. Many endless runners can lull players into a routine once they’ve learned how to handle the basic challenges, but Running with Friends keeps the tension high by keeping the surprises frequent.

So, that’s the running — but what about your friends? Running is a free-to-play affair, and a social game to boot: in traditional Friends fashion, you play the game by challenging a fellow traveler from your Facebook friends, and you trade off rounds until each of you have completed three runs. Scores are totaled by combining the distance you cover (which encourages you to be careful) and the stars you’ve collected (which are typically found by taking risks). In addition, a leaderboard mechanic is in place, showing you who’s got the best score across your entire list — and these high scores appear in-game, too, in the form of passing your friends on the street as you overtake their personal bests. Winnings convert into in-game gems, good for new avatars (including pirates, mummies, and kitties) and power-ups.

All in all, Running with Friends takes all of the clever social features from the Friends series — asynchronous gameplay, Facebook integration, and easy matchmaking — and pairs them with a very polished and enjoyable endless runner. It’s free and it’s right here.

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