When BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien released on the Wii U back in 2013, I found myself immediately hooked… and also questioning the inexplicably long title. A weirdly wonderful platformer with a rhythm-based hook, the game cemented itself as not only one of the more challenging games out there but also one of the best releases on the system’s eShop. Five years later and Choice Provisions has once again returned to the franchise with the now simply titled Runner3, a solid, fun adventure that unfortunately stumbles in some bothersome ways.
If you’ve played either of the two previous games in the series then Runner3 will feel instantly familiar, the base formula remaining largely unchanged. In the game, you play as CommanderVideo (or one of his equally weird companions) as they automatically run forward through a series of 2D platforming environments. With your character constantly moving, your main focus is on timing certain actions to the beat of the game’s brilliant soundtrack. Whether you’re jumping, sliding, kicking or launching off spring platforms everything happens (or at least should if you’re successful) to the beat of the background music. Everything comes down to timing.
While a majority of your time will be spent jumping and sliding, you’ll also come across sections that change up the gameplay ever so slightly. Mine-carts, planes and soda cans act as temporary modes of transportation and also allow for movement along the Y-axis in some cases. They aren’t game-changing inclusions but do mix things up a little in terms of stage design.
Runner3 encourages replayability in a big way. Beating a stage for the first time, for example, will then unlock a much harder route with more collectable gems to seize. You’ll also find NPCs scattered around who offer missions that involve finding a set number of items in other stages. What could have been a great feature is made far more tedious though due to the fact you can only talk to these characters by playing that level again until you reach them. This would have been far better suited as a menu option on the world map. It’s worth noting that because of this shift to replaying stages Runner3’s total actually comes in much lower than its predecessor. While your playtime will rank higher as you replay past levels, it’s no substitute for getting to experience a wider range of worlds.
This is a very tough game, sometimes fairly so, sometimes not so much. In fact, even before facing off against the boss of the first world, my retry count had reached an already high figure (that would only continue to soar as I progressed through the game). While I appreciate a good challenge as much as the next person, Runner3 sometimes feels like it’s punishing the player. Take how uneven the difficulty is or the stages, for example. What made Runner2 so addicting was that it felt like it found the sweet spot when it came to level length. Make it through and you feel a great sense of accomplishment, fail and returning to the start or midway checkpoint was never too frustrating. With Runner3, each stage is a lot longer with just the one checkpoint and housing double the number of gold bars to collect not to mention further collectables. This results in having to repeat the same sections over and over until you finally nail them, an even more frustrating occurrence should you fail just before the finish line.
The camera can also cause problems too. While previous Runner titles have kept the viewpoint static to your typical 2D platformer perspective, Runner3 instead swings to a number of different angles throughout. While visually neat this can also make it tougher on the player to judge jumps or see obstacles. Not so neat.
Perhaps one of the biggest offenders though is the game’s reliance on randomly throwing obstacles your way out of nowhere. In a game like Sonic the Hedgehog this sort of thing is irritating enough just losing your rings, but in Runner3 where one hit is all it takes to send you back to the start or midpoint of the stage it becomes infuriating.
Each stage houses a number of collectables to grab all used to unlock new features. Completing Hero Quests will expand your playable roster to include the likes of Eddie Riggs from Brutal Legend, Shovel Knight and even the voice of Mario himself, Charles Martinet. Gold bars will open up access to some especially devilish levels while gems and coins can be used to purchase cosmetic items including outfits, accessories and even the trail patterns that follow your character as you run. All of these are great fun to unlock and try out and allow you to give your runners their own style.
Retro stages also make a return only this time play like a traditional platformer offering full movement to the player. The visual style here echoes that of an older cartoon and the gameplay albeit basic at least offers some variation to the constant focus on auto-running.
The Runner games have become reliable for their memorable soundtracks and this third instalment is no different. Unfortunately, its visuals feel dated and a little rough around the edges. Despite some extremely wacky locations including a world based on food and a horror-themed nightmare, bland textures and an overall lack of detail disappoint.
Runner3 is overall an uneven experience. For every great feature or moment, there’s always something weighing it down not far off. Its soundtrack is fantastic but sadly the visuals disappoint. The game is tough but sometimes unfairly so. The worlds are overflowing with craziness but there are only three to explore in all. Runner3 is a fun sequel sure but it is one that’s annoyances stop it reaching the dizzying heights of its predecessor.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Choice Provisions