I’m a typography geek. I’ve written about it before, I’ve agonized over it before, and I’ve dreamt about if before. I’ve spent money on it (more than I’d maybe like to admit), and I’ve attended tours of old library vaults just to take a look at some print type from the Gutenberg days. Tonight, I was out at a family dinner at a restaurant and spent an inordinate amount of time staring at the menu because I thought it was written with Memphis Std Medium. (I think I ended up being wrong, but it was a close call.)
As a game, then, Type:Rider really excites me. The game is focused on a visual history of typography that’s reminiscent of some of my favourite iOS games to date — games like Rayman: Jungle Run and BADLAND. Its unique visual style and accessible gameplay makes it a winner for typography geeks and their normal friends. Read on to find out what makes Type:Rider an unforgettable experience.
Type:Rider is a puzzling platformer, in the sense that it’s about moving from left to right, item collection, and solving puzzles. All of these games are, of course, similar to the original 2D Mario games — but Type:Rider has more in common with Sonic than many of its iOS contemporaries.
The player controls two balls. They appear much more like silhouettes. Of course, these balls are really dots — dots like the dots on the top of I’s and running through ellipses (both of which the game alludes to with some of its gameplay). As you control the dots, you’ll move through worlds that look like typographic landscapes as you approach the goal at the end of the level.
The levels are pretty short and run into each other, with quick connectors that bring you to different realms of typography — from its origins to the Gothic era, the Garamond era, and much more. The game isn’t too long, but it does offer a large amount of collectibles. As you go through the game, you’ll be capturing sparks — sometimes placed in unusual areas that you’ll have to jump to reach. Each spark contains information about a typeface or an important typography contributor to the field (like Johannes Gutenberg and his Gutenberg Bible).
Collecting all the sparks will get you information, which is presented beautifully, and it helps with your completion status throughout the game. The completion status is one reason to keep coming back, but I don’t think that’s Type:Rider’s largest allure.
A Visual Delight
You likely won’t be playing through the game as a collector, though. This isn’t Skyrim. You’ll be more likely to be feasting on the game’s visuals, which are so intricate as to nearly be like the masterpieces that they’re emulating.
Visually, the game is most similar to BADLAND. The dots look like silhouettes against the game’s often-ethereal backgrounds. I know I’m a type geek, so I might be more likely to appreciate the level detail that some, but it’s striking to me how many typographic elements the developer has managed to turn into obstacles or visual backgrounds. While some might say that using a page from the Gutenberg Bible as a level design is blasphemous, I think it’s genius (and I think it’s a wonderful way to teach younger people about what printed books used to look like).
The backgrounds change as often as the typographic style does, meaning that levels always look vastly different from each other. So while the gameplay doesn’t change much from level to level, there’s a variation in level design that I don’t see a lot in iOS gaming thanks to the game’s design principles.
A great example of level design lies within typography itself. Large letters often make for chunks of the level. You’re literally rolling and jumping from the top of the letter “g” to the x-height of the letter “t,” for example. A letter “g” looks completely different in a Garamond typeface than it does in a Gothic typeface, which means that the level design always feels different even when it’s using some of the same tricks.
Some elements, like stained glass windows in the background, shine brilliantly and really add to the effect of being in a pristine mid-sixteenth century church. And, perhaps most notably, the developer allows players to set their level of graphical detail between Fast, Good, and Fantastic. On my iPhone 5, Fast keeps things loading very quickly. On my iPad Air, I don’t worry about speed at all and the game looks pristine.
If you have the option, though, Type:Rider is a game that really benefits from the iPad’s larger screen. it makes the lettering appear much more detailed, which enhances the overall experience, and some decorated menus feel much less cramped.
Ride Into the Typographic Sunset
Type:Rider’s gameplay isn’t conceptually new. In fact, it’s arguable that some games have done it a little better — again, BADLAND comes to mind as the visual hallmark of this genre. But, in my opinion, Type:Rider is the more interesting purchase. It’s the one that’s the most informative, and the most fascinating. Even if you don’t happen to read through all the documents you collect, you’re bound to learn something about typefaces just by playing through the many levels.
In and of itself, learning experiences aren’t always worth the purchase for those uninterested in the topic, but it’s hard to imagine anybody being less than fascinated with Type:Rider. Although its gameplay isn’t particularly unique, its wonderful type-influenced design is simply beautiful. Playing a game about typography is such an ethereal experience. I can’t recommend Type:Rider strongly enough.