See Commander Video run! Run, Commander, Run!
Gaijin Games' BIT.TRIP series has been one of the most consistent game series in terms of quality. All three previous titles in the franchise have been successful at presenting easy-to-learn/hard-to-master gameplay that pays tributes to gaming's past. The fourth game in the series, BIT.TRIP RUNNER, changes the formula once more, and while the gameplay is great, there are some notable issues keep it from being truly amazing.
RUNNER allows players to control Commander Video directly for the first time in the series. As the title states, the commander runs through the stages. Players make him jump, duck,kick, and block in order to avoid the obstacles. What's very unique about this is that the entire game is based around the beat of the music. While past games employed this concept, BIT.TRIP RUNNER further enhances this as all of the obstacles are placed exactly as the rhythm of the song dictates it. The intensity of the song rises as the level progresses, making for an addicting challenge.
In addition to that, each stage features a set number of gold bars to collect. When you collect them all, you are taken to a bonus level that simulates the classic Activision game Pitfall. The more gold bars you collect, the higher your score will be. The bonus level plays exactly like the rest of the stages sans music, making it a test of timing due to the absence of musical cues.
Like in past BIT.TRIP titles, RUNNER features three stages divided into several levels. All stages end with a longer level and a boss fight. BIT.TRIP RUNNER features around 32 levels, making it the longest game in the series.
The development team went above and beyond the call of duty, creating one of the more effective uses of music in a video game yet. But for all the achievements the game has, there are some issues that tarnish some of its luster. The biggest is the lack of checkpoints. The previous game in the series implemented checkpoints along with some conditions that made the games accessible despite the high level of challenge. RUNNER, however, doesn't implement any checkpoints, meaning that if you hit an obstacle you are taken back to the beginning of the stage, losing all of your points. While this isn't a problem in the easier, shorter stages, the longer stages and boss fights quickly become a test of how patient you are with trial-and-error gameplay.
The overall presentation stays true to the BIT.TRIP series. Using the same Atari-like visuals, BIT.TRIP RUNNER also incorporates 3D graphics for its backdrops and several obstacles. The colorful universe is very appealing in its modern retro aesthetic, but at times the backgrounds can get distracting, and in a game that demands you to pay attention to all elements on the screen, this can be a daunting task. But easily the best thing about the presentation is the soundtrack. The tunes are very fun and catchy, perfectly capturing the quirkiness of classic game soundtracks while adding a modern edge to it. Best of all, the soundtrack is tied very well to the gameplay. The more you progress, the livelier the music becomes, making for a satisfying gameplay session with a real sense of achievement and fun.
BIT.TRIP RUNNER is a feast for the eyes and ears, and its gameplay is very inspired. However, the lack of checkpoints makes things more frustrating than they should be, but if you loved the earlier BIT.TRIP games, then RUNNER shouldn't be missed.