An early hit on WiiWare, BIT.TRIP Runner was a favourite at Nintendo Life, combining auto-running rhythm gameplay with retro-styled visuals and hypnotic chiptune music. Its sequel Runner2 was equally well-received, and now developer Choice Provisions is bringing a third installment — Runner3 — to the Switch. We were able to test out a preview build of the latest Runner at E3 this week, and had a great time tearing through several stages while learning plenty of new tricks along the way.
Our demo opened with the voice of Mario - Charles Martinet - before dropping us into a lush green stage, and when Commander Video kicked off the starting line our Runner reflexes kicked in. The music provided a slow-building backdrop — starting soft and sparse but crescendoing as we grabbed each EXTRA, MEGA, and ULTRA boombox — and the auto-run action felt wonderful and tight. As in Runner2, the ‘B’ button is used for jumping, ‘Y’ kicks, and various combinations of the D-Pad directions result in slides, ducks and trampoline jumps. As you approach oncoming obstacles you’ll make snap judgements about what to do — jump over a platform or slide under it? Kick open a door or drop down to the path below? — and hit the right inputs on the beat to seal the deal.
In the basics, then, Runner3 felt comfortably familiar, but it wasn’t long before we were thrown for a loop. At one point in the first stage we ran into a little rocket ship; Commander Video then hopped on and started riding it through the air. It took us a second to realize that we were able to control his flight using the left stick, arcing upwards and downwards to grab gold bars before hopping off again at the landing pad. Once the shock of having analogue control in a Runner game wore off and we got used to the newfound (but bounded) freedom, these sections felt great, reminding us a bit the curving charts of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy’s FMS stages.
Continuing on past the checkpoint, we quickly ran into another new development: branching paths. Runner has always had different lines to take through a level, of course, but up to now they’ve been distinguished vertically; jump up to get to a harder section, run straight to stay on the easier level, or the other way around. Here, alternate routes wandered off into the background, and a quick tap of the ‘L’ button let us tear off to follow them. These paths less traveled also introduced us to a new collectable in Runner World: blue gems. While the gold bars you find along the path will contribute to your score, as always, the gems are only collectable once — they’ll disappear from the level after the first time you pick them up, and they can be used to grab new costumes and accessories in an in-game shop.
Aside from accidentally face-butting a few new nemeses, we ran relatively smoothly through the rest of the level and then got to check out some stages planned for later in the game. The first we tried — a spooky nighttime run over rolling sea waves — saw us failing over and over on a particularly tall hurdle, until our host from Choice told us to try tapping the jump button twice. A double jump! This new high-reaching acrobatic trick was put to tricky use in the rest of the stage, and should add quite a number of possibilities to Commander Video’s vertical reach.
Eventually finishing this second stage, the last course we attempted — we’ll stress ‘attempt’ here — was a late-game level set in “Machine World”. Starting out on a lonely, floating platform suspended high over a factory floor, this stage was built around the exciting conceit of assembling itself as it goes, with platforms, obstacles, switches and springboards swinging in underneath Commander Video’s flying feet at nearly the last second. It was breathlessly fun and, in true Runner form, enjoyable even as we sent poor Video plummeting to his doom time after time after time. This final stage let us truly appreciate another new feature — a ‘death counter’ that pops up in-between attempts — and it’s a testament to the game’s addicting nature that we kept passing the controller back and forth between players as that number climbed higher and higher.
Choice Provisions mentioned that their goals for Runner3 were to add as much replay value as possible, and to give the feeling of a true adventure rather than a series of self-contained stages. They told us about Hero Quests — side-quests which stop Commander Video in his tracks long enough to hear out the concerns of a friendly NPC, and then send you on a mission to help — and showed us the redesigned retro stages, which featured tricky puzzle platforming in lieu of the usual auto-running. We didn’t get to try out a Hero Quest, and only spent a minute or so with a retro stage, but it sounds like there should be plenty to circle back around to once you’ve run through the main campaign.
We’re excited for the extras, but even without, Runner3’s blend of musical-platforming-reflex-testing action felt right at home on the Switch. We loved what we played in our demo, and we’re very happy to see one of the original Nindie heroes heading back to Nintendo’s newest. Choice Productions is targeting a 2017 release on Switch, so we won’t have to wait too long to lace up those shoes and get running.