Always, I wanna be with you, and make believe with you, and live in harmony harmony oh love~
…Sorry. There’s really only room for one rainbow-dazzled retrotastic endless runner in my heart.
Commander Video returns to us, a populace undeserving of his glory, in this entry in the BIT.TRIP series. For those who missed it, the BIT.TRIP series was something of an event in the late 2000s/early 10s- an entire catalogue of games set to release one after the other, each with a different style of play, dripping with 8-bit aesthetic and telling the vague story of Commander Video’s rise.
Sequels to the series have dropped the BIT.TRIP moniker and fully transitioned into the world of modern graphics, losing the magic somewhat, but I remember the originals held a lot of attention as an expansive indie project in the days of WiiWare, right around the time the indiesphere first exploded. The only title I played previously to RUNNER was BEAT, an interesting and brutally difficult variant on the traditional Pong/Breakout formula set to catchy beats and a fun artistic flair where the graphics became lower and lower-fi as you inevitably failed to meet its challenge.
Ultimately for me, RUNNER’s fun is undone by a few poor design choices. Its genre is ‘endless runner’, but it’s not entirely correct to call it such; RUNNER is split into levels, with each level playing the same way each time- rather than a barrage of randomly generated obstacles to react to, the levels are static and can be learned over time. There’s no room for error, with a single mistake- no matter how minor- sending you immediately back to the very start of the level. Reacting to the same obstacles time and time again becomes very tedious very quickly, especially given the musical design tends towards slow-build crescendos, resulting in the opening 30 seconds of each stage being incredibly sparse of challenge.
Fin or Bin:
This is one of those frustrating “almost” games; with just the inclusion of checkpoints, or a health bar, or a lives system where you can make a couple of mistakes before being dumped back to the start, RUNNER would be a good time. The simplicity of the genre means you’re left with very little control over proceedings, and are at the whims of the game when it comes to how quickly challenges approach; dealing with one obstacle a second sounds very frequent until you’re put through it time and time again getting through the easy part of the level so you can practice the hard part again. Jump, wait, jump, wait, jump, wait… It’s boring, and that makes it frustrating. And the worst part is, after all this time, I still haven’t figured out a smart way to include a BIN.TRIP pun in my closing.