3-D is something of a cyclical technology. The most recent wave of “3-D Mania” swept movie theaters a few years ago, but before that, a cruder form of it was big in the 80s (And before that, it was also a huge part of US cinema in the 50s). This extended to video games, and in particular, the games of pre-Final Fantasy Squaresoft. As you might expect by the title, this is one of those games.
Released in 1987, 3-D Worldrunner (Called “The 3-D Battles of Worldrunner” on the title screen and instruction manual) tells the story of the Worldrunner. The Worldrunner, who is named Jack according to Wikipedia, is fighting to save the Solar System #517 and its eight planets from Grax and his army of Alien Serpentbeasts. Using his abilities to run, jump, and occasionally shoot a Laser Missile, the Worldrunner fights to stop Grax and save the five hundred seventeenth Solar System (Hopefully Grax didn’t already take over Solar System #1-516).
The gameplay can be described as “A Space Harrier ripoff”. Space Harrier was an arcade game where you flew “into” the screen and shot things, with each level culminating in a battle with a boss that was typically serpentine in appearance. You don’t fly in 3-D Worldrunner, but you do go into the screen, and all the bosses are Serpents in some form. The structure is a bit different, though. In Space Harrier, you went through 18 stages, each with a boss. In 3-D Worldrunner, you travel to 8 worlds, and each world has either 3 or 4 stages in it, and culminates with a fight against at least one boss, and typically multiple copies of a boss in succession.
Besides running, the Worldrunner can jump, and this provides the main variation from Space Harrier. You’ll have to jump over gaps, at times making precision jumps onto pillars to do so. In most levels, you can also vary your speed, speeding up or slowing down from the default speed. This provides the other variation, and makes the game more suited to speedrunning than Space Harrier. The boss battles, though, go into straight up ripoff mode, as you suddenly take to the sky, hovering about as you combat the Alien Serpentbeasts, who dart toward you and retreat before launching another assault.
I would argue that Nobuo Uematsu did some of his best work on the NES, in particular Final Fantasy II (The Famicom version of which was “Nobuo Uematsu tries his damndest to make you forget that the gameplay has a ton of problems”). 3-D Worldrunner…is not Uematsu’s best work. The main theme is competent enough, and an upbeat track, similar to the main theme of Space Harrier in that regard. The problem is that it’s just about the only song you’ll hear in the game. There are a few others, like the bonus level theme, and the one for boss battles. But in the main game, you get the one song for all eight worlds.
That is, if you get that far. At this point, I should point out that I technically used a continue code to beat 3-D Worldrunner. Knowing how hard the game is, Square and Acclaim included a code in the manual of the game (Which is why I felt comfortable using it) that let you continue at the beginning of the world you were on upon Game Overing. Ordinarily, a Game Over sends you back to the start of the game. And this is not an easy game even with the continue code, particularly later on. Dying while you have lives in reserve sends you back to the start of the stage you died in–but in a nasty twist, you stay at the horizontal coordinate you were at when you died. The net effect of this is that, if you’re caught in the wrong place when you die, it’s very easy to die again through no fault of your own, unless you readjust your horizontal position between lives (Yes, you can do that). The game is long and difficult enough with the continue code–it took me about 3 hours to get all the way through, though I did Game Over without using the code a couple times in that span. Trying to get through it 100% legitimately, without continuing, may be one of the hardest feats on the NES, albeit one I may try at some point.
Although the game is called 3-D Worldrunner, I sadly don’t own a pair of red-cyan 3-D glasses to experience the 3-D mode in all its glory. You can access it by pressing Select, but doing so without the glasses is a quick way to eye strain.
I like Space Harrier, so I like 3-D Worldrunner. If you don’t know or don’t like Space Harrier, though, this game is mainly a curiosity, harkening back to Square’s pre-RPG days before they found their way, and before Uematsu became the legend of video game music that he is today. Because the game was never re-released, this becomes doubly true. Fortunately, it’s easy to find cheap on EBay, although it may not even be worth it at the $~5 price point if you don’t like using massive amounts of continues or starting over after every game over.