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November 2018


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Nicalis
Developer: Choice Provisions
Release Date: May 22, 2018

About Andreas Salmen

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Switch Review - 'Runner3'

by Andreas Salmen on May 30, 2018 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Runner3 is the next chapter in the Bit.Trip Runner series and continues the endless platforming adventures of the stoic, unflappable Commander Video.

Buy Runner3

When talking about the runner genre in video games, most people may think about titles released on smartphones, where traditional platformers — even Mario himself — have been "reduced" to auto-runners. However, there is at least one runner series, aptly named Runner, that is exclusive to the PC and consoles. Its third incarnation, Runner3, was recently released on the PC and Nintendo Switch.

We checked out the Switch version and came away both impressed and frustrated. Essentially, runner titles are equal parts platformer and rhythm game in a challenging package, and Runner3 is no exception. It's best described as an "automatic platformer" that pushes you through a level, testing your reaction skills to avoid obstacles and reach collectibles. There are just enough changes in Runner3 to satisfy veterans and lure in new fans, but the gameplay and visual style don't do much to advance the series and gameplay any more than it has to.

Runner3 emphasizes its quirkiness at every turn, and that may turn away many people. It's bright and loud, and its appearance is aggressively weird, as evidenced in oddly shaped faces and exaggerated scenery. For example, the first few stages feature honey-vomiting honeypots and screaming fish. People who aren't familiar with the franchise may not be sure of what to expect. Runner3 starts with the return of "Mario," Charles Martinet, announcing your menu selections and narrating the puppet scenes. It's consistently entertaining and odd, and if you're up for that, Runner3 is a delightful experience from the presentation perspective alone.

We take control of either CommanderVideo, a female counterpart, or several other unlockable characters, from an oddly shaped gnome to a brightly green pickle. The story picks up right where the previous title left off. The world is in danger to lose all of its love and happiness at the hands of the Timbletow, and we need to jump and slide rhythmically to solve it. The tale isn't special, but the previously mentioned humor and weirdness make it enjoyable.

The game is divided into several worlds, with 40 stages that we need to complete, and there are 30 retro stages. Every stage has its own soundtrack, with instrumental arrangements that may change depending on certain pick-ups. In order to complete a stage, we need to reach the end without bumping into enemies and walls or falling into the abyss. It sounds fair, but Runner3 is anything but a breeze. We only have one life and no way to control our speed through the level. There's also one checkpoint per stage, so be prepared to run through each stage several times even if you're not trying to collect everything. As soon as you die, you're back to square one, even if you were almost at a checkpoint or the end of the stage.

The game is one of those "memory platformers," where trial and error is an integral part of playing and learning the layout of the level as you move along. There are fewer stages this time around, but they're far longer. One checkpoint per level means you'll spend quite some time trying to memorize where to go and what to do. The Runner games have frequently been compared to learning an actual instrument, as they require repetition, memory, and skill to learn and master. Depending on your preferences, you'll either walk away frustrated or will be hankering for "just one more run." The portability of the Switch only adds to the game's addictive quality.

While other runners don't go past the usual mechanics, such as jumping or sliding around obstacles, Runner3 frequently adds new mechanics or obstacles and arranges them in ways that will successfully break you upon the initial playthrough. Jump, double-jump, kick, slide, planes, trampolines — your means of traversing the world are diverse enough to make the game feel varied and well thought-out. Enemy design and placement isn't excellent but pose their own challenges. Once Runner3 picks up the pace, there is no way of stopping it. Soon, we'll also have to worry about descending slower, descending more quickly, jumping further, or dropping faster. Arrange all of this as long and tiring stretches of painfully diverse level design, and you'll get a sense of the actual difficulty that Runner3 offers.

Once we clear a path and collect all of the gold bars (exactly 100 in a best-case scenario), we unlock an alternative route in every level. These alternative routes branch out from the original ones and offer 25 collectible gems, which we can use to buy cosmetic upgrades for our characters. There may also be occasional branches that reveal NPCs that provide us with optional side-quests that unlock additional playable characters. This also requires us to return to stages and collect more stuff, and while the gem paths and side-quests certainly boost replayability, it can become tedious once you're forced to replay a stage for the fifth time.

The retro levels, on the other hand, are charming and fun — but still difficult enough. They play like a traditional platformer and are unlocked by collecting VHS tapes in other stages. Add paper puppets and customization options, and Runner3 has a solid amount of content that is extended even further when you try to gather everything and push through the high-difficulty levels.

Difficulty can be an issue, though. While Runner3 is never unfair, it demands a lot. The difficulty increases at a rate that may frustrate casual gamers or newcomers. The sometimes-weird camera angles seem to be implemented to confuse players or ramp up the challenge even further. The camera sometimes shows your path from the back or front, making obstacles hard to see or their distance hard to guess, and that results in frustrating deaths.

Another big part of the game is the music. The Runner series always had catchy tunes that tied in with the on-screen action through sound effects and changes that drew you in and made repeated runs less of a chore. The music may sound very experimental in places, but it's always catchy and in tune with what's on-screen. There are sound effects when we collect things, but it would've been nice to have more direct feedback for every action, not just when we collect things. It's still a blast to jump through the rhythmically wobbling environments, and the overall music implementation and selection are good and enjoyable.

On a performance level, Runner3 runs well on the Switch, but it doesn't look that great. There are some ugly assets here and there that are still apparent even though the game's intended to look kind of quirky. It's not a deal breaker, though.

Runner3 is an excellent runner game, a good music-rhythm platformer, and a great challenge for those who dare to take it. It has an odd charm that you either love or hate, but if it resonates with you, it'll blow you away in a hurricane of music, sweat, and endless retries.

Score: 8.0/10

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