WiiWare | Gaijin Games / Aksys Games | 1 Player | Out Now | 800 Nintendo Points
! SPOILER ALERT ! This review may feature minor spoilers regarding unlockables.
Gaijin Games have developed a focus that has turned RUNNER into a platformer of sorts, infused with elements from the Music/Rhythm genre. Plunging into the first stage, you'll watch Commander Video make first contact with this mysterious, new world. Just like in other games in the series, there's a unifying subtext with each cutscene and even as you play, that goes deeper than the surface. Mind you, this hidden element may not be as strong or as symbolic as before, but it still helps to hold things together.
Unlike CORE where quick movements of the D-Pad may have got in the way of your accuracy, controls work well and you can never blame the controller for your errors. Tapping the 2 button will perform a jump while holding it will produce an extended effect of said movement. As mentioned, later on you'll unlock new abilities that make use of the D-Pad. Pressing Up will allow to soar off springs, pressing Down will get you to slide underneath obstacles, and pressing the 1 Button will perform a kick move. Additionally, in a homage to BIT.TRIP BEAT, you'll be able to bring up an orange paddle that you can use to block yellow squares in World 3. This is all introduced gradually and after a few stages, it'll all become second nature to you.
Pressing A or B will generate your own beats to accompany the existing background noises that play out as you successfully maneuver beyond obstacles. Incorporating your own beats sounds wonderful, even more so than in previous releases. The different blips and bloops you can make on the different tiers sound great, especially when you get to SUPER and ULTRA. You'll find yourself encouraged to incorporate beats more so than in BEAT and CORE, because of how pleasing they sound.
Gameplay differs greatly from what was seen in BEAT, CORE and VOID. For the first time, you actually get to take on the role of Commander Video, the lovable character designed by Gaijin for the BIT.TRIP series. Your objective is to reach the goal at the end of each stage without making any costly mistakes. Commander Video will run automatically, all you need to do is to perform the correct actions at the correct moment to get beyond treacherous obstacles. At first, you'll only be able to jump, but soon you'll unlock new abilities to get past new traps.
Touching 3D collectables that look like a giant plus will advance the music to a different tier or rank. As this increases, the trail coming from behind Commander Video will start to glitter and sparkle, until he reaches EXTRA, at which point a rainbow trail will follow his every move. This isn't dissimilar to other BIT.TRIP games where you'd advance to such level as MEGA and SUPER, just to name a few. The higher the tier, the better quality the music sounds, further capturing the attention of your eyes, and even your heart.
In each stage, there are gold treasures you can collect simply by touching them. If you manage to collect them all, at the end of the stage you'll be teleported to a special bonus stage. This event is a big throwback to classic gaming of over two decades ago, where you essentially play the game in a strictly-2D game space. It's something you'll feel really motivated to aim for at first, but later on, striving after this extra may seem less inviting. Because of the way the treasures are placed, at times the risk is simply too great to be worth the reward. Which is why it's recommended that you aim for these collectable elements after you complete the game.
There are 3 different worlds, each with its own background elements. The first one almost feels surreal, like you're in outer space, exploring a moon-like planet filled with 3D creatures and UFO's. In World 2, you'll parachute over to an area that serves as a bustling beat-making factory, complete with giant frogs, waterfalls, and human-like trees and clouds. The final world will take you to a more modern landscape, a city full of cranes, alleys with graffiti tags, highways and commercial areas. RUNNER in its entirety is one wild ride, and although each stage feels quite familiar with little new environmental elements to mix things up, it's still a lot of fun. In addition to the normal stages, you'll also face a boss at the end of each world, and these are challenging and fun to behold.
Now, if you make a mistake by falling down a hole, touching an enemy, or anything like that, you'll be forced back to the start of the level. Commander Video will tap his foot until the musical measure in the background is suitable to resume play. Rather than only being allowed a few mistakes before hitting a Game Over screen, the game continues until you quit manually. As a result, although the "reward" for making a mistake may feel punishing, it's helped by the fact that the game keeps on going with little interruptions in between. And because of it, you may not even realize how many times you keep trying over and over again, until your brain has had enough.
The first World should present little trouble to you until you reach 'The Odyssey'. Up until this point, you may not even realize that at its core, RUNNER can be downright aggravating. And this is because of the rather-arrogant focus towards accuracy and precision. Much like other games in the Music genre, the only way you'll get past certain stages is through trial and error, and while this may be enjoyable for some, this will mean numerous occasions of frustration for others. The game may not demand absolute perfection, but it is pretty close to doing just that. Thankfully, you don't have to collect all the gold to clear a stage and there is a margin of room for imperfections. But even still, don't expect anything mildly-easy because this is one really challenging game. The degree of its difficulty mostly boils down to your age, patience and reflex skills.
It's almost indescribable the way RUNNER pulls you in with its booming visuals and audio work, that you won't even realize that the game has you sucked in. It's amazing how the game can be so frustrating, and yet, really hard to put down at the same time. Something about it pushes you to keep fighting, keep overcoming difficult obstacles to press onwards to new heights. No matter how difficult things get, you can't stay mad at the game permanently. Sure, you might need to take a brief hiatus, but something about this game just keeps bringing you back. And it's very satisfying when you finally beat the level you were stuck on for a long time. This is a sign of quality game design, and more WiiWare developers should take note! It's become clear that although the mechanics may not be looked highly upon by all, the team behind this game know what they're doing. I can see that the developers must have spent so much time debating whether or not this "no mistakes" system would work. And I think the very fact that the game got me to reflect on these kinds of things speaks volumes.
In all honesty, the frustration may scare some away from playing this even after they complete the game. However, completionists who have played previous BIT.TRIP games will greatly appreciate the stronger focus towards replay value this time around. On each level you can aim to collecting all the gold pieces. Additionally, if you want an even greater challenge, you can aim for perfect scores that naturally require a great deal of precision. Making just one mistake can be extremely irritating, but if you're the kind of person who loves games that offer this high-maintenance sense of challenge, then you won't be disappointed at all.
There are 50 levels in all, which is indeed a big deal when you compare this to the other BIT.TRIP games. Because they're so spread out, and none of them last longer than 3 minutes, the common complaint about the lack of checkpoints is no longer valid. Each stage is of good length and to be frank, it would've been tricky to keep up the momentum by incorporating a checkpoint system. I've never made a big deal about the lack of online leaderboards, and there's even less of a reason to make a fuss now. Because perfect scores are fixed, players should feel content with just being able to compare best scores with family and friends.
Do I think a life system would've helped lessen the level of frustration? Well, perhaps it would've been nice if you were allowed to keep going once or twice if you hit something minor like an enemy or a rock. But I do have two complaints that are more pressing, however. As much as I love creating my own beats in this game, they do not add to the score multiplier like they did in VOID. I thought this was a fantastic feature to encourage creativity and for those who have a great sense of rhythm. So to see that missing here was disappointing. Also, it may seem like a bit much, but I would've loved multiplayer here in the form of a split-screen race. So as to maintain the background rhythm, whenever one person would make a mistake, they'd be forced to wait for the other player to make a mistake so they'd both start over at the same time. This definitely would've been a fun, intense addition to the already-impressive package.
Games like BIT.TRIP RUNNER just lift my spirits, proving you don't need commonalities like magic and violence for a game to be enjoyable. Gaijin has been able to eliminate some of the minor issues with some of the other games in the series. But in so doing, there now exists a strong focus towards accuracy and punishing rewards for failing to adhere to it. Whether you appreciate this great sense of challenge, you'll need to decide for yourself. But even with this somewhat muddy area, it's undeniable that BIT.TRIP RUNNER is practically an essential WiiWare title that no one should hesitate to download. Full of life, addicting gameplay, and a good amount of content, this is $8 that you won't regret spending. Even if the other releases in this series have not appealed to you, I strongly recommend you give this truly heart-warming game a purchase.
27/30 - Excellent
Gameplay 9/10 - Nothing complicated about the design, success based on reflexes, timing and rhythm, "one mistake" system can be hard to swallow
Presentation 10/10 - Fantastic audio work as always, puts other WiiWare releases to shame with its beautiful visuals
Enjoyment 4/5 - Really addicting and hard to put down, time flies when you're playing this game, frustration of certain levels are likely to interfere
Extra Content 4/5 - Lots of stages, carries value for those who are up to the challenge of collecting all gold and perfect scores, could've had multiplayer
Equivalent to a score of 90% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)