Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Developer: Gaijin Games
Released: May 2010 (Wii), February 28 2011 (Steam)

Bit.Trip Runner is the fourth game in the Bit.Trip series, focused on 80's aesthetics and modern design. In Runner, the player controls Commander Video, running late for his wedding, who must sprint past numerous obstacles and enemies in a desperate bid to arrive on time.

The game received mostly positive reviews upon its Wii release. Critics were fans of the general aesthetic and soundtrack and simple yet addictive gameplay, but were displeased with its lack of leaderboards. The game is generally viewed as extremely unforgiving and challenging, which could be good or bad.

Leaderboards and achievements are present in the Steam version, which solved some of the main complaints of the game.
The soundtrack is fantastic and is the main thing that caught my attention. It starts as a simple 8-bit rhythm with tones played for every obstacle cleared. As the player collects power ups, the music becomes increasingly layered and upbeat, adding modern instruments as well as the 8-bit rhythms. One of the best things about the soundtrack is that the base rhythm is continuous no matter what happens, which means that upon death and rewind, the rhythm is uninterrupted, which helps the game keep flowing as opposed to the break and reload of most games.

The graphics are interesting. Commander Video himself is a flat 8-bit character, but the world is a 3D sidescroller: the enemies and obstacles have a 3D presence, and there's depth in the background. The terrain is mostly grey to start, but obstacles and the background provide some colour. Commander Video's "cape" and the level-clear fireworks are the most colourful aspects of the game in the early sections. The second and third worlds are much more colourful and fun-looking than the first.
Bit.Trip Runner is hard. I got through most of the first world all right, picking up new mechanics over the first half of the world, and progressing normally through the second half. But as of level 11, holy crap. To be clear, it's not actually that difficult to simply beat the level -- the difficulty comes in trying to collect all the gold bars and power ups. The timing required is extremely precise and there's almost no room for error. The game feels mostly calm and relaxing to start, but as you get into the hard levels, it can get really frustrating. So frustrating, in fact, that I quit the game after an hour of trying to clear 1.11 Odyssey. You'll notice my screenshots are all from the first world. That's why.
I did notice a couple of problems with the game. For some reason, whenever I launched, it acted as if it was the first time launching the game, and installed itself. This is not really a big deal -- it just delayed startup by five or ten seconds. Just weird.

The second problem, which IS a big deal, is a framerate drop at certain points of the game. It wasn't 100% consistent, but as an example, I always experience a drop at the section of 1.11 Odyssey with the four raised platforms in sequence after the second set of gold bricks by mineral chunks. I'm not sure if that description is clear enough, but the important part is the framerate drops. They don't make the game unplayable or anything -- but it does make it slightly more difficult to time jumps correctly, which is a very big problem when Bit.Trip Runner is so unforgiving.
Bit.Trip Runner is currently $10 on Steam. This is another one of those games where I'll recommend it if you like the retro style and a tough challenge, but if you prefer a more casual experience, you'll probably find it too difficult. However, do consider picking up the soundtrack for $6 -- it's a very nice blend of 8-bit and modern electronica.

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