America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 20th May 2018 | 2,023 views
Runner3 is a wonderfully weird game. Set across a series of inspired worlds that ride the line between cartoonish and ghoulish, populated by tough-as-nails platforming challenges, awash in puns, and voiced by Mario himself Charles Martinet, this latest in the Bit.Trip saga is entirely different, off-center, and unpredictable. While it fashions its stories, characters, and setting with tongue firmly in cheek, it treats its platform-rhythm gameplay seriously — at times, perhaps, too seriously.
There's a story of sorts in Runner3, but it's inessential. Basically, CommanderVideo and his special lady friend CommandgirlVideo are enjoying some well-deserved time off in Foodland when a stranger approaches them and warns of grave danger: the Timbletot is determined to rid the multiverse of all its love and happiness. CommanderVideo then answers the call to action. Really, this is just an excuse for some delightful narration from Martinet, and a pretext to march through 40 mesmerizing levels with anthropomorphic smoke stacks, eggplant planes, and a literal parliament of owls.
Runner3 embraces the twitchy 2D platform-rhythm rules of its predecessors — the hero characters runs automatically and players must jump, slide, kick, and stomp with split-second timing to reach the end of each level — and adds a bunch of novelties. These include branching paths; vehicles; free movement in retro levels (a series first); and, the best of the bunch, hero quests.
Branching paths change the Runner formula in a meaningful way. Where Runner2 had variable difficulty settings, its sequel instead offers two paths per level: the standard gold route and the more difficult gem route, unlocked once the "easier" path is finished. While the inclusion of two distinct paths, each with its own set of collectibles and hidden hero quests, adds a nice shot of replay value, the inability to customize difficulty creates a problem for players unprepared for the extreme test to come.
The game starts harshly and turns unforgiving soon after. Even the early levels, which act as a tutorial, pose a challenge. It doesn't help that many stages are quite long, with only a single checkpoint midway through, and that a few levels feature obstacles that literally drop from the sky or camera shifts that obscure upcoming enemies and roadblocks. In some instances, Runner3 is as much a test of rote memorization as it is reflex-based platforming. That doesn't even include the game's nine "Impossible Levels," which earn their name.
Still, despite some difficulty spikes and unpredictable level designs, it's hard not to keep returning to Runner3's wacky worlds. The moment-to-moment rhythm gameplay is satisfying, and the inclusion of alternate paths, collectibles, and hero quests make each return trip to an individual stage just a little bit different. Find the requisite number of papercraft items in a world and you'll unlock a puppet show cinematic. Collect enough gold and gems, and buy new cosmetic items in the store. Locate a hidden VHS cassette and gain entry to a series of retro-themed levels. Stumble upon an NPC and the auto-running will stop, allowing you to take on a "Hero Quest," which, once completed, awards a brand new playable character.
The fetching art direction and catchy musical stylings of Runner3 also invite repeat visits. Stages include so many sight gags and background animations that one playthrough is simply insufficient. The game's bouncy, foot-tapping music is great, too, particularly when you enter a zen-like groove and the line between platforming and music-making begins to blur.
Despite an uneven difficulty curve and some questionable level designs heavy on trial and error, there are more than enough attractive elements in Runner3 to earn a hearty recommendation, including goofy narration by Martinet (an unlockable playable character, believe it or not), challenging and replayable levels, a robust collection of optional side quests, and winsome graphics and music design.