Before you start up Bit.Trip Runner, grab a sticky note and jot down this very important instruction. "DO NOT FORGET TO BLINK." Take the aforementioned note, and place it somewhere visible on your television screen, because you will forget.
Bit.Trip Runner comes from WiiWare developer Gaijin games, and marks the best and most innovative game to date in their Bit.Trip series. The game inspires a strange nostalgia that you do not have specific memories for. The characters, enemies, obstacles and backgrounds are all made up of giant pixels and blocks. It's as if an Atari game was given depth and thousands of extra colors.
Runner places you in the shoes of CommanderVideo and his hurried quest to move from the left side of the screen to the right. At first glance Runner looks like a stylish platformer, and it is for the most part. The things that sets this game apart from its Mario frame of reference though, are the music and speed.
Music is an important part of Runner as all of the levels are meant to be played in rhythm with the hum-inducing chip-tune melodies. Developer Gaijin games created the music featured in all the levels, but went to popular chip-tune band Anamanaguchi for all the menu and credit music. This means anywhere you go in the game, you will encounter brilliant, memorable music that you will plant itself into your brain and invade your dreams.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, you do not control CommanderVideo's momentum, only his jumps, ducks, kicks and later in the game, his shield. CommanderVideo is in a constant full-speed sprint, and it is your job as the player to make sure that he makes it to the black and white checkered finish line at the end of each level. All the jumping, ducking, kicking and shielding that must be employed to avoid obstacles is all set to a hypnotic soundtrack. Every action in the game adds to the soundtrack. Progression becomes incredibly rewarding as you avoid more and more obstacles and collect more pickups. With the avoidance of each significant obstacle, the music becomes more layered and enthralling. Every difficult slide or precarious jump is rewarded with an adreniline boosting musical swell – and you will feel that adrenaline.
Runner will force you to sit up and lean forward with each consecutive attempt. Your eyes will strain and you will reminisce about your most intense Guitar Hero memories. The game moves fast, and the only way to progress is to perfect each level. You will die often, and you will get angry. Runner partially alleviates this frustration by instituting the fastest level restart in gaming history. There are no death animations, and no option to continue or to quit. When you hit a wall, or miss a jump, the game barely pauses as CommanderVideo gets literally flung to the beginning of the level. He restarts his suicidal sprint before you even get a chance to blink (hence the note). Even the music continues it's driving beat when you crash, pulling back some of your collected musical layers so that you can begin your journey to recollect them again. With no menu prompting you to quit, Runner quickly becomes an addicting timeleech that will cause the sun to rise before you even realize it is past your bedtime.
But this drive for level completing perfection does come at a cost. While perfecting each level creates an intense experience, it treats even the smallest mistakes as level ending disasters. There are no check points, and there are no life meters. Running into a wall, or getting hit by a flying saucer holds the same game ending repercussions as jumping a split second too early. Even Guitar Hero lets you miss a few notes. Too often will you thank Nintendo for the silicone sleeve protecting your flung Wii remote as you make the tiniest mistake right before the finish line. It is infuriating and unfair, but the quick restart will have you playing the level again before you can even ponder calling it a night.
You haven't played anything like Bit.Trip Runner, and even though you may find yourself inventing all sorts of new profanities to yell at the, "don't forget to blink," note on your television, it's unlikely that you will be able to put down the controller without trying at least one more time.
May 26, 2010