In 2010 Gaijin Games released what I would assume to be the most successful entry in the Bit.Trip series: Runner. It was a simple game with levels requiring you do no more than jump or duck to avoid obstacles. The popular Bit.Trip series ended in 2011, with a couple of collections coming out later on, but one of the games warranted sequels. Runner2 graced systems in 2013 and stole my heart twice, once on PC and another time on PS3. I spent hours perfecting my runs without checkpoints, dancing every moment I could, climbing the leaderboards. I sung its praises to friends and would play their copy to show them why it’s so great. So, does Runner3 soar to new heights, or does it pale in comparison to what came before?
One of the more appealing things about the Runner series has always been the pick up and play aspect, letting me feel quite accomplished from perfecting a single level. This could take a couple minutes, or it could take up to thirty depending on everything involved. The latest iteration makes that possibility a bit harder, with levels about twice the length of previous games. Default settings means levels contain not one checkpoint, but up to five. Honestly, this is both the most accessible and most difficult game in the series, depending on how you play. If you have no experience with previous entries and find yourself struggling with the defaults, you can change the settings at the expense of your score multiplier. This includes the enemy density, the amount of checkpoints, whether or not the game helps with stair assist, as well as whether you have gold bars or gems to collect; just for fun they included a bonk counter to see how much you stink, should you wish to be reminded.
There are three worlds this time around, with ten levels each. Each of the regular levels contain a gold bar run and a gem run, the latter of which is supposed to be the harder of the two, although it depends on the level. There are also other collectibles on each level, some hidden until you are given a quest from one of the heroes you will meet while exploring. The tenth level in each world contains a boss. I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed with the first boss encounter, as the fight left a lot to be desired in regards to the running mechanics used in previous bosses. Luckily, the following worlds alleviated that worry, and are some of the most memorable parts of the game, final boss being excluded. That’s not to say they’re hard, as they aren’t, but it’s a nice change of pace. On top of the three main worlds, there are three retro worlds which play far different from the old retro levels – there’s no running as it’s actually platforming based and you control where CommanderVideo goes. I don’t recommend bouncing between the two, as I kept trying to dash in the running levels after playing in the retro ones. Beyond these, each world has a few unlockable levels which are deemed Impossible Levels, and as the name implies, they are the hardest challenges you will face in the game. There’s even a puppet show if you’re able to perfect all the levels in the world.
Content wise, there’s plenty here. There are less worlds of running this time, but there’s plenty to make up for it. There’s also a lot of backtracking with the different collectibles and characters you will be unlocking, and with levels that are so unique, it may be worth running through a fifth time just to see the visual gags you missed the first four times through. The levels themselves even throw a number of new things at the player. Outside of the branching paths and hero quests, you’ll be able to ride vehicles at varying speeds (think the minecart from Donkey Kong Country), sometimes giving you free reign of where you will be moving. This is probably the most jarring part of the entire experience, given the lack of character movement you usually do. The camera will even change perspectives in different levels, leading to an almost over the shoulder view, while others have CommanderVideo running right at you. These break up the monotony and keep thing fresh, but they require you to know what’s coming as some obstacles will appear without you having time to react, making it a trial and error experience. And that’s the double-edged sword of this entry.
Runner3 loves to make you feel comfortable with what is in front of you, and then throw in an enemy or a gear, or maybe take away the very ground you’re standing on. In some instances, this makes for a really exhilarating experience. In others, it leads to varying degrees of profanity (read: last boss). I am 100% behind the fast paced reactionary gameplay that this series provides, but I’m less inclined to enjoy memorization to the point that I need to play a level multiple times to know what will happen to avoid death when doing a checkpoint free run of the levels. For the most part this is non-intrusive, but the last boss took me more than 20 minutes to finally beat. Jumping into the extra content, I can’t say I’m in love with the retro world gameplay. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t do anything spectacular. It feels like the game would’ve been as good if not better had this been trimmed. I appreciate the different direction from the running, but I found myself pressing forward merely to collect more stuff for the game proper opposed to actually enjoying it. I did like seeing bats from Dave’s neck of the woods though.
Outside of the gameplay, there’s a fair amount of humor to be found in the game. Visual gags are a plenty in each level, and you’ll no doubt find yourself dying because of getting distracted by one of the many sentient objects. This is by far the best CommanderVideo has ever looked, as well as the rest of his ragtag team of misfits. Sound wise, you lose a bit of the infectious charm of the limited sound structure. NES games had so little to work with that it was imperative they were catchy. Modern day games have sweeping overtures and full orchestras playing their scores, but very few are memorable. The classic theme is beefed up here, and while it’s still fun to whistle along with, I can’t help but feel it’ll be overlooked by anyone not familiar with the more stripped down versions. The music is all pretty solid throughout the levels though, and definitely helps completing the challenges if you have an ear for rhythm. On top of that, Charles Martinet reprises his role as the narrator and is somehow more goofy and loveable than last time.
Runner3 is both the easiest and the hardest game in the series, and likely one of the hardest games involving platforming you’ll ever play. It’s weird to frame it that way, but with the options provided in the game, that certainly is the case. You can see the credits roll within a couple hours, but seeing 100% of what it has to offer will take much longer as you perfect your skills and memorize the hoops you must jump through. It does so much right that it’s sad when it lets you down. But for anyone looking for the next chapter in Unkle Dill’s… er, CommanderVideo’s story, its well worth playing.
8 out of 10
- Over-the-Top Absurd
- Accessible to All
- Replay Value
- Tons of Extras
- Some Camera Choices
- Memorization and Muscle Memory Required
- Directional Movement Feels Off
Runner3 was developed and published by Choice Provisions. It is currently available on NS, PC, and PS4 for $19.99. The game was provided to us for review on PS4. If you’d like to see more of Runner3, check out the developer’s official site.
Here at GBG we use a rating method that you are more than likely familiar with – a scale of 1 to 10. For clarification, we intend on using the entire scale: 1-4 is something you should probably avoid paying for; 5-7 is something that is worth playing, but probably not at full price; 8-10 is a great title that you can feel confident about buying. If you have any questions or comments about how we rate a game, please let us know.