It's hard to believe that the last Bit.Trip Runner game (aptly named Runner2) was released all the way back in 2013. It's a free-running game with many different paths and levels to explore with a beat based twist. The sequel, Runner3, was announced 2 years ago, and fans have awaited it eagerly. So what extra does Runner3 bring to the table?
While Runner3 keeps the basic formula the same, an infinite runner where you jump, double jump, bounce, slide or kick your way to the end with just one checkpoint in the middle, it also changes things up a lot too. Runner2 had over 90 shorter levels spread out over 5 different worlds, whereas Runner3 is more modest splitting up 27 levels over just 3 worlds with a boss at the end of each. However, it opens up a more challenging path through each level upon completion and there are hero quests which unlock new playable characters as well as retro style levels.
By keeping the levels to just three different themes, Runner3 really nails its visual aesthetic. The three worlds, Foodland, Spookyland, and Machineland are all very different in flavor. It was all the little things, the little dopey face drawn onto the moon, or how the robots flapped their arms wildly, that gave Runner3 its unique quirkiness. The boss' add to the fun aesthetic and I think they were a great addition to the series not only because they were fun to play, but because they broke up the infinity running aspect.
Unfortunately, I found that the desire for a beautiful aesthetic would often overshadow the need for practical gameplay. The camera moves in to view beautiful vistas, but this often leads to a perspective which makes it more difficult to time jumps and perform the necessary platforming. Sometimes objects in the foreground would obscure my character or upcoming obstacles. This may have been deliberate to add more challenge but it's more of an annoyance than anything.
The soundtrack is always going to be a strong point of any Runner game and Runner3 is no exception. The songs are catchy and fit with the visual aesthetic, and the placement of the gold to fit in with the beat is on point. Despite it being a much higher risk of death, I found myself going for the more difficult pieces of gold just to keep the beat. That being said, not every level has its own unique theme. Some of the music is reused in different levels of the same world. If each level had had its own individual track the desire to replay levels would have been so much stronger. As a rhythm based game, with a reduced number of levels, this could have really elevated the gameplay.
Speaking of, let's talk about the gameplay. It's essentially the same move set you've come to know and love, but there are also some 3D sections here too. You take on planes, cars or mine carts in a third-person perspective while you continue to run. These were interesting sections that broke up the main gameplay though the controls could have done with a little more polish as often they moved jauntily and tried to autocorrect their path straight into oncoming obstacles.
I'm a huge fan of platformers and difficult ones at that. I play a lot of these games, so the critical path through Runner3 did not cause too much trouble for me. Each level would be complete in around 20 attempts. However, I am a patient person with a lot of practice in this area and I think the average casual gamer would have a lot more trouble. Choice Provisions co-founder Alex Neuse said during development.
"Too often, games focus on rewarding hardcore players and perpetuating the idea that if you play on easy, you're somehow less of a gamer." "If you like being challenged relentlessly, will you get that? Yes. (It is us, after all.) But if you prefer being able to experience the entire game without being ultra-challenged, you'll be able to do that as well--without penalty."
If this was his intention he certainly missed the mark. Runner3 is challenging and possibly inaccessible to a lot of players. If this was truly his intention, some sort of "Easy Mode" such as the ones found in Celeste or the latest release of Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze would have been appropriate. While I have no issues with a challenging game being extremely difficult, to state that it will be enjoyable for all is more than a bit misleading. The critical path should make you feel like a superhero, and instead, it made me feel competent.
Overall, the gameplay just needed a bit more polish. While there are a lot of new and interesting ideas at work here some of them are poorly executed or else do not feel finished. Some of these points such as music for each level, or the controls on the 3D sections I have mentioned already, but there are a few more sinister.
The worst example was a breakable wall on a slope I had to double jump and kick. In the level I first experienced this obstacle there were two fairly close together. The first I always had no trouble with. The second was a different story. In 80 attempts I could not break that wall even though the first one saw me sail over with ease. The death animation was always obscured by me breaking the wall and I quickly became frustrated that I did not know what I was doing wrong.
Eventually, by some slip of my finger, I held down the jump button and got over, even though I did not need to do so with the first wall. Perhaps this second wall was slightly higher, I'm still not sure. However, I do know that this obstacle appears many times and I never held that button down again. Whether this was a mistake or simply poor level design, had I not been doing a review I might have given up a while before 80.
While this one poorly designed obstacle did not sour me to Runner3 as a whole, it was the building of small frustrations that ultimately lead to my disappointment. It is the knight whose moves are telegraphed so late that you have to know what they are beforehand in order to dodge them. It is the extra long levels which do not really compensate for the lack of variety. Or, the level I'd complete in two attempts directly after the level that took me 30 tries. The time I phased through the floor and subsequently died just moments before the finish line.
Runner3 Review | Final Thoughts
While I still had a lot of fun moments playing Runner3 ultimately it was this lack of polish and balance which prevents me from giving a glowing review. I wanted to much to love it, and it just fell short. They obviously worked hard to nail the visual aesthetic and musical rhythm while giving each level various fun and challenging paths to explore. However, there are a lot of balancing issues going on here, and it is not accessible to a more casual audience like the developers promised. While I had fun with Runner3 a bit more fine-tuning of the gameplay would have seen it become a classic, just like its predecessors.
- Great Music
- Fun Art Style
- Strong Core Gameplay
- Not Enough Variety
- Unbalanced Progression
- Gameplay Lacks Polish