Racing through a cel-shaded city as a Meg Myers song blasts from massive speakers that hang against the overcast sky, a spandex-clad DJ soars over a whirling saw blade, grabs a wall, and bolts up a narrow elevator shaft. A barrage of spikes launch toward him, barely missing their target. The DJ glances back the way he came and is just in time to see his opponent's ghost flickering out of sight. Seconds later, he sprints across the checkered finish line and jumps onto a switch. A giant death ray burns across the course, and victory is achieved.
Rush Bros. might play just like that for you, or your experience could vary slightly because it's Johnny Cash who is singing you to victory, or Kid Cudi, or…anyone, really. The game's primary draw is that you can have whatever tunes you like playing in the background, just as long as you possess the MP3 or OGG tracks required to make it happen. You simply put everything you'd like to hear in a single folder and point the game to that location on your hard drive before you start leaping towards the finish line.
Once you look past its main hook, Rush Bros. isn't unique or interesting enough to remain entertaining for long. It features over 40 stages that are simple platforming arenas without much more to offer than colorful obstacles. You are placed in a course, and you must then quickly negotiate those hazards to reach the finish line. Mostly, that means running, jumping, climbing, and sliding along a fairly standard series of ledges while avoiding a few spike pits. You often also need to find color-coded keys to unlock various doors, and sometimes you have to push balls around or mash a button on computer consoles you find. Later courses include a few additional hazards and more-complex layouts, but there aren't a lot of distinct hazards to keep things fresh. Once you know where everything is located, you're left with little challenge beyond the pursuit of a better time.
You've perhaps already played games that allowed custom soundtracks, but in this case, the tunes that you choose to augment your experience do a bit more than simply provide familiar audio accompaniment. As the game shuffles through the assorted songs on your playlist, obstacles that you encounter within the various action courses adjust subtly to match the tempo of your selection. If you've landed on a song with a rapid drum beat, for instance, trap doors might erratically swing open and shut. You're forced to time your leaps more carefully than normal if you want to pass through an opening unscathed. A slower selection, meanwhile, may afford you more time to react, but that's not always going to work in your favor, since overall, your goal is to reach the finish line as quickly as possible. Thankfully, you're not forced to listen through an entire song if one starts playing that seems inappropriate. You can press a button or key and immediately shuffle to the next selection.
Although the notion of levels that change according to the musical accompaniment is relatively uncommon and will thus likely appeal to audiophiles, it doesn't affect the gameplay to any rewarding degree. To spot any obvious differences between how songs affect gameplay, you generally have to go from a romantic ballad to a frantic punk song while traversing a particularly troublesome area. If you're playing well, though, you're not likely to see those differences. Most courses can be completed in less time than it takes to finish a single song, and there's also atmosphere to consider. If you don't provide a playlist of your own, the game defaults to the sort of grinding, thumping tunes you might expect to hear in a club. They blend nicely with the onscreen action and the cel-shaded artwork. They get the blood pumping, whereas favorite tunes from your personal music library could feel distinctly out of place.
Even when it's not proving especially interesting, Rush Bros. at least makes an effort to play fair. Your DJ moves fluidly and responds to your commands with the required precision, especially when you're playing with a controller (as the game initially recommends). If a segment proves challenging, the closest checkpoint isn't usually terribly far back. Sometimes, you appear only a few pixels from the place where you last met your demise, meaning very little time is lost even when you make rookie mistakes.
There's no period of invulnerability after your character materializes, though, so you can't move past a devious obstacle unless you get the timing right. This system works nicely because skill is required to ultimately succeed, but you're not punished too harshly for each individual failure along the way. If that safety net feels boring, you can activate Survival mode, where your adventure is abruptly ended the moment you make a single fatal mistake.
Unfortunately, there are some stages that inexplicably feature no checkpoints at all, even when the Survival setting isn't activated. You need to sprint from the beginning to the end of a course without making any major blunders, which is difficult because there are some hazards that you can't see coming. For instance, you might need to take a flying leap across a wide gap, and then quickly scale the side of a tilting skyscraper before spiked ledges extend from it. On your first run through the stage, there's no way to know that the spikes are even there until they've suddenly brushed against you and sent you back to the start of the stage. A level that's filled with obstacles along those lines feels cheaper than it does challenging.
When two evenly matched players decide to race each other, Rush Bros. can feel fresh again, if only for a short while. As you play with an opponent, you can see his or her ghost running alongside you or falling behind. That keeps things competitive; plus, it's possible to tag power-ups that produce issues for the other player. You can snag an item that reverses your opponent's control scheme, for instance, or one that focuses the camera so close to the sprinting DJ that hurried movements are too risky. No ailment lasts for more than a few seconds, and the pickups aren't common enough to prove annoying, but they do add an interesting wrinkle.
Unfortunately, Rush Bros. lacks diversity, and custom soundtracks don't vary the gameplay to a satisfying degree. The available stages are passable, but you'll likely tire of them within a few hours because they're not sufficiently dynamic. Online or local races and leaderboards do add some value if you're into such things, and you might play longer still just because the game offers a unique way to experience your music library, but otherwise, you're probably better off amusing yourself with some other game while your MP3 player serves as the DJ.'