Bit.Trip Runner Micro-Review: Running Down A Dream

Tired of rhythm games filled with glitz and glam, high-priced plastic instruments, and licensed music you may or may not enjoy? Commander Video comes to the rescue with Gaijin Games' latest WiiWare title, Bit.Trip Runner.

With its simple graphics and rhythm-based game play, Gaijin Games' Bit.Trip series has charmed the pants off of countless Nintendo Wii owners, making a good number of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 players jealous in the process. From the Pong-esque Bit.Trip Beat to the psychedelic backdrops of Bit.Trip Void, the series has successfully created compelling modern games with 8-bit sensibilities.

And now we have Bit.Trip Runner, series mascot Commander Video's first starring role. I'd say it's character driven, but really it's all about the music.

Loved
The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You: Like all games in the Bit.Trip series, Runner is a rhythm game masquerading as something else. In this case, it's an old school platformer, similar to classic Atari 2600 game Pitfall!, from which the game's bonus stages take their inspiration. Commander Video, under player control for the first time, runs from left to right. It's up to the player to use a limited selection of moves - jumping, springing, sliding, kicking, and blocking - to navigate the obstacles on the screen, collect the gold, and reach the end of the level. What makes Bit.Trip Runner different from other running titles is the music. You're jumping, bobbing, and weaving to the beat of some gorgeous chiptune music. As you progress, you collect plus signs the add to the fullness of the music, creating a surging soundtrack that compels you through each level, celebrating your efforts. Think of each level as a Guitar Hero track converted into a side-scrolling platformer. It's a brilliant new take on the rhythm genre.

The Graphics Fit The Game: By far the most complex Bit.Trip game graphically, Runner still features graphics made up of colorful, chunky pixels. In other games I'd consider the style more of a gimmick, but I find it's an excellent fit for Runner. Considering the level of concentration needed to complete the game's more advanced levels, anything more complicated would only distract the player from the task at hand.

Sweet Frustration: It took me 37 tries to complete level 3-9 in Bit.Trip Runner. Normally that much trial and error would have me screaming obscenities like a World of Warcraft player who's discovered their account was hacked, but I never lost my cool while playing Bit.Trip Runner, for several reasons. First, the way the music cycles keeps you tuned into the flow of the game, to the point where restarting a level is almost an autonomous process. You end up back at the beginning of the level, Commander Video taps his foot a few times to catch up with the rhythm, and you're off. Second, that's just the type of game this is. You work your way through a level, encounter a new obstacle, die, and then start over, armed with the knowledge of what comes next. Perhaps that's frustrating for younger gamers, but that's how we played them in the good old days. Finally, it's the fact that repeated failure is never the fault of Bit.Trip's game design. It's always on the player. Maybe your rhythm is a little off. Perhaps you're having trouble remembering the sequence of obstacles in a level. Get a handle on your issues, and you'll be able to handle anything Bit.Trip Runner throws at you.

Gaijin Games continues to fulfill its promise of delivering rhythm-based games with goals more complicated than simply finishing a song on hard. Many rhythm game fans are anxiously waiting for big companies like Activision and EA to unveil the next version of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, loaded with licensed songs and tons of 3D eye candy. While they wait, small developer Gaijin sneaks in and delivers a technically simple 2D platforming game that reminds us of why we love the genre in the first place.

And now that I've finally gotten my hands on Commander Video, I'm never letting him go.

Bit.Trip Runner was developed by Gaijin Games and published by Aksys Games on May 17. Retails for 800 Wii Points ($8). Completed all levels. Did not collect all the gold bars. Did see Super Meat Boy cameo.

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