A solid return to form then after a difficult couple of albums.
HairyArse about Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock
Similarly to the way in which Q-Games is developing a reputation for producing the finest PSN games, so too is Gaijin Games quietly garnering kudos for its sterling efforts in the WiiWare download space. With its inspired rhythm-action based nods and winks to games of yore, Gaijin has quickly established a gloriously consistent aesthetic and aural style that manages to be simultaneously modern and old-school. With its processed chip beats and vibrant 2D stylings, its games are presented with panache and aplomb, and all for the bargain price of 600 Wii points each.
First there was the hypnotic Bit.Trip.Beat with its homage to Pong and Breakout. Then there was the mind-boggling Bit.Trip Core which took its cues from Missile Command. And then we arrive at Bit.Trip Runner which recycles parts from more games than I can remember to deliver an experience that’s part Mario, part Pitfall, part Amplitude, part Canabalt part Spectrum loading screen.
The core gameplay mechanics of Runner are devilishly simple. Run from point A to point B somewhere to the right of the screen, without falling down a pot-hole or hitting an obstable or enemy. Your character runs automatically - this isn’t a side-scrolling platformer – and the pace soon picks up, with every collectable increasing your speed, and in turn, the complexity and tempo of the accompanying music.
As with all of the previous Bit.Trip titles, the music and sounds effects play an integral part in proceedings, with each and every single on-screen interaction somehow managing to fit the beat with metronomic regularity. Every pixel-perfect jump you make, power-up you collect or enemy you avoid emits some form of beep, effect or euphoric riff that builds each track up slowly and progressively until it reaches its glorious crescendo.
Controls are restricted to the Wii Remote held sideways like the NES controller and start off simply enough with the first few levels, only requiring an occasional press of the 2 button to make your character jump over obstacles. Thereafter, new levels introduce new control mechanics and it’s not long before you’re jumping, ducking, sliding, leaping and best of all, drop-kicking your way through the numerous levels set across three distinct worlds.
Runner presents a delicately subtle learning curve with levels eventually requiring you to use a combination of all of your skills throughout. It very quickly becomes a lesson in trial and error too with you having to learn the enemy and obstacle locations rote. And let me warn you now, some levels will infuriate you. Failure is instant with any collisions or mis-haps sending you right back to the start of the leve, usually followed by a loud swear-word or “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu”. Thankfully your lives are infinite and each level rewind happens so quickly that you’ll be replaying levels milliseconds after each death and halfway through a retry before your anger at dying the previous time has subsided. There’s something quite impulsive and obsessive about completing each level too. In fact it invoked memories of my time playing Trials HD, obsessing over certain challenges until I completed them, no matter how many damn restarts it took.
There’s a certain point while playing Runner where your focus changes and you start playing the game differently and more effectively. At first you’ll try and play it like a traditional platformer responding to each and every obstacle as it appears. And for a while this will work, but then towards the end of the first world you’ll start to play Runner like a rhythm game. After your 20th restart you’ll have a good sense of the rhythm and cadence of each level and instead of focusing on your character as you did previously, you’ll start to look ahead and try and anticipate what’s coming next as opposed to using your reflexes to respond accordingly. Memorising this rhythm and intonation is key to success and at times it’ll almost feel you’re reading sheet music with the obstacles and enemies representing notes on a stave. It’s an analogy that at first though sounds bonkers, but it’s true and a no doubt conscious design decision by Gaijin.
Everytime you completel a level and collect every single gold bar, you're rewarded with a bonus-level to further increase your score. And much like how in Bit.Trip Beat the game devolves through the gaming ages until you're playing a monochrome version of Pong, Runner delivers its own brilliant tongue-in-cheek cameo. These bonus levels play out identically to the main game but are presented in the same visual style as Activision's classic Pitfall. These bonus levels are lovingly crafted, but bastard-hard, and quite the reward.
In summary then, if you liked any of the previous three Bit.Trip games you’re sure to love Runner. With its infectious and captivating chip-beats, its kaleidoscopic and psychedelic visuals and its constant nods and winks to popular old games, it’s the clichéd gamers’ game. But that’s not to say it’s not accessible to casual gamers. With its simple but deep controls and increasing difficulty level, there’s plenty of challenge and variety on offer. Sure it gets somewhat repeptiive if you fail a level for the 50th time, but constant failures only make the victories all that much sweeter.
If you haven’t tried any of the Bit.Trip games then this is as good as any place to start and at only 600 Wii points, it sits firmly in impulse territory. If you haven’t bought any WiiWare titles for fear of a marketplace saturated with ‘waggle-ware’ then check Runner out. You might be surprised.