Sunday, June 27, 2010

WiiWare Review - Bit.Trip Runner

I wanted to hold off on posting this review until I actually beat the game. Sadly, I'm a horrible gamer and couldn't rise to meet the task given to me. I also don't want to willingly throw my Wiimote at the nearest elderly couple in a fit of unchecked rage, we go.

Bit.Trip Runner, the fourth in the Bit.Trip series, is a type of 2D platformer that's gained a lot of popularity over the last couple years. A sort of on-rails platformer, you don't actually do the moving. Instead, you need to do properly timed jumps, slides, vaults, kicks and shields to have protagonist Commodore Video avoid or knock over whatever is in your always running character's path. Along the way, you can collect gold littered through the stage, and collecting all of it in a stage lets you play a bonus stage that plays like the rest of the game but looks exactly like Pitfall. And if that doesn't bring a nostalgic smile to your face the first time it happens then you're either heartless or a lot younger than I am.

One of the things the Bit.Trip series is known for is its retro appearance and chiptune soundtracks. The previous games were pretty minimal with the visuals, usually placing large Atari-sized pixels on black backgrounds. Bit.Trip Runner kicks things up a little bit by giving the Commodore some very detailed 3D landscapes to run through. Each of the three worlds has its own look and feel, from the backgrounds to the objects you have to avoid. Things repeat themselves a lot, obviously, as what you avoid is largely based on repeated visual queues and memorization. What you do also affects the sound output, and coupled with the tunes that play it produces something like a Michel Gondry video. Speaking of the music, anyone who likes chiptune music will enjoy what they hear. As you go through the stages, picking up certain items fill out the song, so what is a very simple beat at the beginning turns into a pretty interesting song by the end. On the downside, the music isn't synchronized with what you need to do. Rather, it's synced with what happens afterward. So anything you do needs to be based completely on visuals and memory. Maybe this is for the better so the game remains challenging but, with a series that seems to revolve a lot around its audio to the point that they get classified as rhythm games of sorts, this feels a little awkward to me.

What doesn't feel awkward at all, however, is the control of the game. Everything about the game promotes and rewards precision, and the controls complement this nicely. You'll cuss, you'll twitch, you'll scream, and you may very well ragequit while playing this incredibly frustrating game, but the one thing you can't do is blame the controls. Every jump, slide, vault and kick is as precise as you want it to be. The layout is kind as well, with everything that can be done simultaneously (such as jumping and shielding at the same time) is assigned properly so that, even with the Wiimote's lack of buttons, you aren't fumbling for anything or awkwardly twisting your hands like you need to for, say, Smash Bros. with the Wiimote. Simple, exact, perfect.

Let me get this out before I start talking about the yays and nays of the game: Bit.Trip Runner is hard and unforgiving. Any mistake you make sends you back to the beginning of the stage, and though many stages are roughly 30 seconds there are a few that last well over a minute. Going for that long with constant precision and focus only to have your timing be off by a couple milliseconds and watch the Commodore fly back to the beginning is up there with my most hated gaming moments of all time. For the hardcore gamers this can be a yay while for many others this will fall deeply into nay territory. Going further down this road, stage 1-11 is disturbingly long and difficult. As in, I spent over an hour on this one stage. I put less time into the previous 10 stages combined and probably the same amount into the entire next WORLD with little trouble at all. Another minor gripe is that the third world is VERY busy looking. Some stages make it difficult to tell if something an obstacle or just part of the pretty background.

Now let's sing some praises. This game falls into the same group of games that gives you a sense of rewarding that goes beyond things like leaderboards and achievements. When you finally beat a stage, you WILL breathe a sigh of relief and accomplishment. This isn't an opinion. Perfectionists have a lot to do in this game after completion with each stage having not only a perfect score path for interacting with each obstacle and gold bar but also the same thing for the bonus stage after each stage. That level of masochistic dedication and perfection isn't for everyone but for the hardcore completion freaks it's probably their own personal slice of heaven. And, just to repeat what I said earlier, the presentation is charming. Oh so charming. It's alarming how charming it feels. And I'm not just saying that to be cute, it really does bring a lot of style to a game, giving it that little extra reward for doing well and seeing what the game delivers throughout.

All that said, I wasn't blown away like most other reviewers were. Seeing 5/5's and 10/10's from others made me curious and hopeful but, in the end, I simply wouldn't give it a score THAT high. It IS, however, a great game, and something any hardcore gamer with a Wii would do well to own willing that they're not put off by the difficulty and complete lack of forgiveness the game holds. Just be prepared to spend a lot of frustrating time doing things over and over if you wish to complete the game, something I couldn't do. And good luck.

Bit.Trip Runner from Gaijin Games is available on the Wii Shop Channel for 800 Wii Points. Played through 3-9 LIKE A BOSS, stuck on 3-10 LIKE A BOSS, swallowed sadness LIKE A BOSS.

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