By Josh Speer / May 18th, 2018
|Release Date||May 22nd, 2018|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor, Mild Language, Use of Tobacco|
Given my appreciation for platformers, it may surprise some of you that my first foray into the realm of Bit. Trip was actually with Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (love that subtitle). I was drawn quickly into that world by the quirky humor, colorful art and solid yet challenging platforming. So once I found out that the sequel, Runner3, was just around the corner for 2018, imagine my excitement! Not only was I anticipating the latest entry by Choice Provisions, I was very excited it was a Switch exclusive. Now that I’ve had a chance to play through the whole game, was Runner3 the game I hoped for? Or should Choice Provisions have quit while they were ahead?
Let’s get one thing out of the way from the get go – as crazy as Runner2 was, Runner3 is even crazier. Not that the series is particularly known for plot or sanity, but this one is as mad as a sack full of angry badgers. It starts with Commander Video and CommandGirl Video on vacation in Foodland, when suddenly they get a missive from a mysterious stranger with a burger for a head. Turns out Timbletot is still at large and causing mischief, so the duo set out to thwart him in the only way they know how – hopping, bouncing, slamming and kicking their way to victory!
At first I was a bit concerned that Runner3 was smaller than its predecessor, since Runner2 had five worlds to choose from but Runner3 only has three. Thankfully, they alleviated my fears in a couple of ways. First off, each stage in the game has branching paths, so you’ll have to play through more than once to 100% everything. Your first time through a stage is called the Gold Run, and is the easier path to take. The second, more arduous path is called the Gem Run, and they are typically much more challenging, not least of all since you need to collect all the Gems and Gold on them to get a perfect score. Another way this game expands is with a ton of retro levels. While it’s true the other games had these, in this adventure each of the three retro worlds has at least nine different retro levels, including retro boss fights! Better yet, you have total free range of movement in each of them. So in truth, instead of having only three worlds compared to Runner2‘s five, in reality Runner3 has six distinct worlds, making it a much larger package.
That’s all well and good, but you’re probably more interested in how the game plays. Thankfully, I can say it’s a very addictive and fun experience. Runner3 has the distinction of being only the second Switch game I would play so long that, more than once, my battery would start flashing red before I knew I had to plug it in (the first being the duo of Bayonetta 1 and 2 on Switch). The reason for this is not only because it’s a fun game, but because it’s a lot more challenging than I remember Runner2 being. I honestly was yelling at my screen in some stages when I screwed up. While that may turn some people away, I would still recommend you give it a shot, even if you’re not super confident in your platforming skills. My logic being, the longer you play a Bit. Trip game, the better you’ll get, making even the most impossible challenges feasible. That, and there’s a special sort of satisfaction you’ll get from doing a perfect run of a particularly difficult stage.
A major reason for my enjoyment of the game was how much diversity of gameplay there is. Sure, Runner3 is a platformer, but it’s one never content to rest on its laurels. They’re always throwing new challenges at you, as well as new ways to traverse your environment. There are a bunch of vehicle sections in the game, ranging from riding a carbonated soda can to flying a plane to rolling around in a bowling ball. Not only that, but the camera will sometimes pan from one direction to another as you run, and other times you’ll be running with a first-person camera focus. Many levels have the new Mechiknight foes that fly into your path and try to stop you with shield and sword.
Choice Provisions also added Hero Quests, where your goal is to meet the objectives of a trio of strange citizens of the various lands you’ll traverse. If you can successfully help them, you’ll be rewarded with new playable characters. Much like the rest of the series, the playable characters are a bunch of delightful weirdos, from creepy pickle men to Frankenstein monsters made out of sausage. Better yet, there are a bunch of other playable characters you can unlock from well known indie series, such as Shovel Knight and even the narrator himself, Charles Martinet! But perhaps strangest of all are the puppet shows. By collecting all the scattered puppets hidden in stages, you’ll be rewarded with a jaunty show that will reveal some of the game’s unknown backstory, all delivered in rhyming verse.
One thing I felt was greatly improved in Runner3 were the boss battles. Though Runner2 had some interesting foes, it never really felt like you were actually fighting them, just avoiding them until you won. Whereas in this game, you’ll interact with your foes in many different ways. One boss will fire sausages at you that you must catch in a meat grinder to fire back at him; another will strike at you with massive gavels as you leap over gigantic books. Each of the game’s main bosses is a fun challenge, and the retro bosses, while simpler, also do a good job of providing a meatier experience.
Despite my love of the game, there are some small niggling details that kept this from getting a perfect score. While I liked the vehicle sections (they reminded me of Donkey Kong Country), the ones that weren’t on rails and in first-person were very stressful. A smaller complaint is that occasionally the sound effects for collecting Gold or Gems doesn’t noticeably ping, which can be infuriating while trying to 100% a level. Though I like the branching paths, sometimes the game seems to remember to put you on the correct path when doing a Gem Run, and other times you’re forced to manually do so. If the game had a distinct tone that played when you switched paths, this wouldn’t have been an issue.
And lastly, I encountered a couple of weird glitches. One glitch was in a Spookyland stage called Bound By Law on a Gem path. Despite having collected all the Gold prior to the checkpoint, when I died and respawned, two of the Gold bars reappeared behind me, as if I hadn’t collected them. Thankfully, this didn’t affect my collection rate, though I kept restarting after every death ’til I realized that. The other glitch was a spring in a Machineland stage called Girdle Springs Eternal. Sometimes one spring would launch me over a stop sign trap, other times it would launch me into it, forcing me to kick the stop sign instead. Overall these were all pretty minor, and I feel Choice Provisions will easily patch them after the game goes live for everybody.
It wouldn’t be fair not to cover the art design for such a colorful game. Runner3 is just as beautiful and flamboyant as you’ve come to expect, with bright colors and eye-popping visuals. This game has it all, from cantaloupe trees to terrifying living dolls. I was impressed how dynamic many stages were, having various parts of the environment appear and disappear and stages build themselves up in front of your eyes. There’s a lot of visual flair, and it just makes the whole package even more beautiful. But the music is really a treat, full of bumping tunes that perfectly match the tempo of each stage. Each of the three main worlds, Foodland, Spookyland and Machineland, all have a distinct melody and very disparate sound effects, such as a Tarzan yell that comes out of nowhere. Put together, the art and music make a great game fantastic.
Truth be told, I loved Runner3. For $29.99, it’s offering a lot of value (though it’s 15% off for the next 4 days if you pre-order). Much as I enjoyed Runner2, this game provided a lot more incentive to keep on playing, and easily 10 hours of content just for beating the game, with plenty more required to 100% everything. The additional difficulty, though somewhat off-putting, also provides a great reason to keep on trying (especially the brutal Challenge stages). Best of all, there’s a ton of stuff to unlock, from new characters to diabolically well-hidden VHS tapes to snazzy new costumes. Runner3 is a celebration of platforming, and easily the best game I’ve played from Choice Provisions so far. If you want a fun challenge, look no further.
Review Copy Provided By Developer
Bit. Trip RunnerChoice ProvisionsCommander Videonintendo switchrunner3