Only 46 more precise actions before the checkpoint!
As a genre, endless runners probably wouldn’t rate in our top 10. There are always exceptions to be made, however, and back in 2013 we got our hands on Bit.Trip presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien… and enjoyed the hell out of it. Now, the series has returned on Steam and the Nintendo Switch with a rebranded developer (Gaijin Games is now Choice Provisions) and a streamlined title, Runner3.
At first blush, Runner3 checks all the boxes for a successful sequel. The production is noticeably slicker with cleaner graphics, more dynamic backgrounds and, of course, more Charles Martinet. The more time we sunk into the game, however, the more it became apparent that the fancy new graphics were covering up (and occasionally causing) some questionable gameplay decisions.
Let’s start with the presentation. Although it looks objectively better than its predecessor, Runner3 arguably suffers from too much going on in the background, and that includes having objects enter the foreground to serve as obstacles. It’s not as big of an issue when the Switch is docked, but when you’re using it as a handheld it can be difficult to maintain focus on all the stuff you need to avoid because of everything going on behind it.
That decision to have obstacles dynamically enter the actual gameplay almost invariably plays out like this: you’re running, avoiding hazards and then you die because something you had no way to anticipate happened to trip you up. The next time you know what you have to look for and will pass… until the next occurrence and so on. To channel our inner Ian Malcolm, they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
This frequently creates a phenomenon in which you progress incrementally through little fault of your own. It’s an issue that’s exacerbated by considerably longer levels than the previous entry, since there’s still only one checkpoint per level. We kept grinding on, but there were definitely moments when it felt really frustrating, and the removal of difficulty settings makes the game less accessible than Runner2.
And that brings us to the matter of content. Whereas the last game had 95 levels, each with three difficulty settings, Runner3 contains 27 core levels. Yep, 27. Now there’s additional content — each level contains a tougher “gem path” that unlocks when you complete it, and optional “impossible” levels open up when you collect enough gold — but it’s still a pretty significant cut.
Although there are definite issues, this is still a very solid game. Its challenge, while frustrating at times, rarely feels unfair, and the way the difficulty curve ascends is natural, making you a better player as you progress. And when you really nail a level, collecting everything along the way, the musical accompaniment it creates and the natural rhythm of inputting all the right controls can be downright exhilarating.
Speaking of the music, Choice Provisions has put together another excellent soundtrack, once again inserting the beeps and chimes of picking up gold or gems to great effect. It’s a testament to its quality that even as our failures on levels kept increasing we never soured on the music being replayed again and again.
Like other Bit.Trip games, there are retro challenges, though these have gone another direction entirely, deviating from the endless runner setup and allowing you to fully control the character’s movement. As platformers they offer a different challenge, but we didn’t really dig the graphical styling (bootleg Cuphead?) or the departure from the game’s core gameplay principles.
Coins collected from said retro challenge and the gems from your secondary runs through levels can be used to purchase costumes and accessories for the various characters (you’ll start with two but can earn more by completing “hero quests”). It’s purely cosmetic.
While the core gameplay of Runner3 remains enjoyable, many of the intended improvements feel like steps backward versus the excellent Runner2. If you liked the last game, it’s worth getting the sequel, though you may want to wait for a price drop.