Feel like going out for a run? No? Well Runner3 from Choice Provisions (formerly Gaijin Games) will do all the running for you. Don’t sit back and relax just yet though… welcome to a game, where you’ll be so busy sliding, bouncing and kicking that you’ll be glad your legs work on autopilot.
It’s all about Charles Martinet…err the story
The story, flimsy and unimportant as it might be, is a traditional good versus evil tale; with a weird robot monster named the Timbletot wanting to infect Foodland with the pernicious Wheat Germ. Of course, our intrepid elongated hero Commander Video is on the case… and… that’s about it. However, before you let out a sigh of desperation bemoaning the sorry state of gaming narratives – two things are important to take into consideration.
First, this is a repetitive running, rhythm-based platformer where no story is necessary. So the very fact that there is something should be applauded. Secondly, and most importantly – the game is filled with fantastic humour, mostly delivered by the ever-entertaining Charles Martinet. Yes, that Charles Martinet – voice of Mario and the like. This time, however, the gaming voice crooner lends a very different, almost movie-trailer, type voice to the game. Not only is the exposition delivered via a hilariously humorous puppet show amped-up by alliteration, but the loading screens, title screens and mid-game cutscenes are filled with funny quips, sarcastic segues and witty one-liners – and if they don’t get you on their own, Martinet’s delivery will soon have you smiling from ear to ear.
Da Do Run Run Run… Da Do Run Run
Now when hearing that this game is a “runner” – immediately thoughts of mobile-based endless runners pop into mind. The single-tap, tap, tapping on a heaven’s door… err touch screen sends shivers of disgust down the spine of most more experienced console players and thoughts of the Switch eShop being overrun by such mobile ports is a real fear for many. However, the good news is that this game is definitely not one of those one-button efforts. Through the course of playing this game, I’m happy to report that using mostly my Pro-Controller I made wide use of the D-pad, Analog stick, B-button, A-Button, as well as both R and L shoulder buttons.
A more accurate description of this game is a rhythm-based, running platformer. As with it’s previous incarnations BIT.TRIP RUNNER and Runner2, the auto-running mechanic forces the player to focus exclusively on timing. The energy-infused music beat is highlighted throughout. Gold bars (100 per level) are spaced so that every time a new one is collected a tone rings out at the precise beat of the level soundtrack. The precision of the jumps, slides and kicks are all cleverly reinforced by the music. As soon as you are out of step with the beat – a death is sure to follow.
As soon as you are out of step with the beat – a death is sure to follow.
The main levels are linear-platform in style, running mostly from left to right and largely consist of similar obstacles being placed in increasingly complicated arrangements which you have to avoid. Occasionally, you will also will commandeer some rather strange vehicles from eggplant planes to cans propelled by their own carbonation. Despite their fun appearance and slightly altered movement, the general feel of the game does not change too much.
The retro levels mix things up a bit, though. These unlockable levels are more traditionally platform in style. You can run in any direction on the screen and believe it or not – even come to a complete stop. Something you will be longing to do in no time. Plus, because the artwork of these levels is inspired by the classic works of Friz Freleng and Hanna-Barbera, you will probably be happy that you can take a more leisurely stroll around.
The main levels take place in three hub worlds. A lot like the rest of the game, they were each quite unique and hilariously unrelated – so much so that it almost made sense when obstacles from the one world somehow also appear in others, or at least the perfect amount of no sense at all. When talking about the art style, the first ‘hub’ world is particularly fun to look at – being bright and cheery, if not a little odd. I’m sure many people will love it – especially if you take the time to notice the wonderful strangeness going on in the background. However, for some reason all the surrealist-style art gave me the creeps – it’s what I imagine cartoons see when they have nightmares – but that may just be me.
In general the game runs smoothly, however, occasionally I did find that my character fell “through” the screen. Throughout the game the camera perspective also changes – from directly perpendicular to the character, to behind him – slightly over his right or left shoulder. The camera also zooms in closer and further away depending on the section of the level. Despite the fact that this was generally a seamless process, the camera movement is dynamic and at times the pace of the game becomes so frenzied that the camera-angle changes actually hampered my view of the course and led once again to another premature death.
Before the cool done run out, I’ll be giving it my best-est…
Death is actually something you will become very familiar with in this game. Made up of 31 regular levels, nine “Impossible” levels, plus another 30 retro-levels to unlock – the difficulty level is high right from the start. All levels have only one checkpoint, which means that if you die – either from missing a jump, slamming into a head-on-collision with unexplained magically-appearing walls or even failing to slide under a flying profiterole – you will have to start all over again. In fact, even the checkpoints – flying planks of wood easily mistaken as obstacles – can be avoided so as to achieve higher points, but this only increases the risk of having to start the level right from the start. The bosses are fun, and battles, despite being not very tough, do require a moderate streak of persistence. This is a game of repetition, muscle-memory, intuition and death. And repetition.
This is a game of repetition, muscle-memory, intuition and death. And repetition.
Each level has multiple collectibles. Not only the main gold bars (as mentioned above), gems and various other puppets, and even hero quest trinkets can be collected. The smaller collectibles open up new levels and even unlock a few surprise characters including Shovel Knight and even Charles Martinet himself. The gold bars and gems are used as currency at the in-game shops to dress up your particular character in a variety of oddball suits, caps and accessories. My particular favourite was a moustachioed Commander Video in his bowling league team uniform, trailed by a colourful loss-of-signal cape.
However, if you want to collect all of these be sure you are patient. You will be trying these levels again and again. In fact, because of branching paths, it is impossible to collect everything in one run through. To add to this, just like the rest of the game, I felt that at certain times even the game design reflected a wicked sense of humour. A little like playing those evil player-created levels on Super Mario Maker back on the WiiU with floating invisible question blocks that lead to your death. On certain levels it felt like the game taught you how to do something only to punish you for doing it and I couldn’t help but feel there was a designer snickering villainously to himself.
The game’s speed is frenetic and much of it demands button-pressing perfection. My fingers have never had to move as fast as they did for this game… and I was immediately reminded of tough-as-nails platformers like Super Meat Boy and Celeste. Unfortunately, whereas in the latter case I loved every minute of it and every death felt fair and I often thought that if I had just pressed something slightly quicker I would’ve made it, at times I must admit that deaths in Runner3 often made me shout out stuff like: “No ways!!! I completely made that jump!!!” and other random nonsense; all the while sitting in an empty room, and occasionally I even got close to throwing my controller at a clearly innocent TV screen. However, once I completed a level or cleared a boss, I must admit that a little part of me felt like a pure platforming prodigy.
My fingers have never had to move as fast as they did for this game…
I wanna run to you (oooh)…
So what’s the verdict? Will Runner3 be the game that finally brings out your inner Bryan Adams and gets you singing “I wanna run to you… (oooh)?” or is it more of a Mean Mr Mustard thing making you want to run away to your secret places? Well, the best way I can describe it is this: Runner3 is really hot spicy food. Some people won’t touch it, whereas others love it. Those that love it, will sweat and suffer through it, be dealing with its after-effects a day or two later, but come next week they’ll be ordering again.
The game, surprisingly, is good. Yes it can be very, very frustrating, but even once you’ve struggled through the story, a part of you will still want to go back and try to improve your points tally. Despite its shortcomings, Runner3 provides a remarkable sense of accomplishment (and relief) for completing even one level, not to mention the entire game itself, and it’s that feeling that gets you coming back for more. Just accept it – you’re a sucker for punishment.