‘BIT.TRIP RUNNER’ Review – Besting The Four-Minute Mile

Late last year, the indie flash game turned App Store success story “Canabalt” was released, replacing countless hours of productivity with high scores based entirely on how long you could survive its randomly generated levels. Gaijin Games “BIT.TRIP RUNNER” takes that basic gameplay formula and mixes in the aesthetic and insane difficulty of its retro inspired “BIT.TRIP” series, adding another successful notch in the WiiWare exclusive’s belt with more addictive and frustrating fun.

The Basics

“BIT.TRIP”’s aloof star, Commander Video, makes his first appearance as a playable character in “RUNNER” as just a man who needs to collect gold in a hurry. The gameplay is simple: run, jump, slide and kick your way to the end of the level without colliding with anything in the process. If you miss a jump, or hit an obstacle, you’re instantly sent back to the beginning of the level to rinse and repeat until you can complete the task at hand.

The Highs

The Building Blocks Of A Good Game
If you ever take a class in game design and need something to illustrate how a game introduces new ideas and concepts to the player “RUNNER” should be an ideal candidate. The gameplay early in the game starts off very simple with Commander Video just needing to jump, and from there on out the team at Gaijin Games layered on new mechanics and teach the player how to use them superbly. It’s this progression that grows the game to a more complex platformer quickly without ever overwhelming the player.

One of the most interesting aspects of the “BIT.TRIP” titles is that they don’t generally fit into any one genre, and the reason for that usually boils down to one thing; they incorporate rhythm based mechanics into their gameplay. The soundtrack of each game, including “RUNNER” offers up some quality chiptunes, but also lends audio cues to the player as to what’s happening on screen. If you can follow the beat, you’re much more likely to be successful as opposed to just playing the game without taking the music into consideration.

Bonus Zones
Unlike the three previous “BIT.TRIP” titles, “RUNNER” changes up how the player is rewarded or punished as they play. For example, instead of devolving the gameplay to a monochromatic setting for poor play, “RUNNER” simply restarts you all the way at the beginning of the level, with no change to the game setting except for where you are. At the other end of the spectrum, if you complete a level successfully, and collect all the gold, you’re treated to a “Pitfall”-esque bonus level where you can grab even more gold to up your score.

For the first time in the series, “RUNNER” includes both a recognizable character in Commander Video, but also distinct enemies that vary depending on what section of the game you’re playing. These new characters not only help change up the scenery and challenges, but also give “RUNNER” more of a distinct personality over the other titles, and that alone makes it the standout of the bunch.

The Lows

It’s Hard
Simply put; this game is hard. A central characteristic of the “BIT.TRIP” series, “RUNNER” doesn’t stray from challenging both the player’s skills and patience. It only offers three zones of play, each of which contain 11 levels and a boss, and while that might not seem like a whole lot, certain levels are so hard that they may take hours, or multiple attempts over the span of days to complete.

Over And Over Again
Whereas most games today shy away from rote repetition, “RUNNER” hangs its hat on the concept, and is repetitive by design. Harkening back to the 8 and 16-bit eras where players had to memorize where every enemy was and when they were going to appear on the screen, this game doesn’t change one bit no matter how many times you have to run through an area. Coupled with the difficulty, the repetition could drive an otherwise balanced person completely insane.

The Verdict

“Canabalt” didn’t invent the platforming genre, but it definitely put a new twist on it, and “BIT.TRIP RUNNER” makes that light even brighter. Adding the polish of an entire development team, and the distribution of a publisher, “RUNNER” is definitely the next step for fans of this particular type of game. While fans of the “BIT.TRIP” series are bound to instantly fall in love with this title, it’s also a great jumping off point for newcomers, as it is the easiest to understand and pick-up and play. Just a word of warning to all who dare to give “RUNNER” a try: be very, very careful, it’s always the simple ones that are the most addictive and habit forming.