Here at Console Arcade we tend to use the term `retro` quite a lot when talking about downloadable titles. With good cause too, since most of the games seem to flirt outrageously with that yesteryear feeling. Bit. Trip Runner, the latest in the series from Gaijin Games, is another that intentionally tries to emulate that feeling. What’s different here is that it succeeds so admirably that it oozes the feeling from every facet; perhaps more so than anything else released to date.
The moment the mascot for the Bit.Trip series, CommanderVideo, crash lands on the screen (before rising out of the impact crater like a vengeful Gort from The Day the Earth Stood still) you’ll get the feeling that you’re playing an 80’s video game. It’s not just the chip tune music or blocky, colourful backgrounds either – even the mocked up cover art for the game (see the image above) looks like a cover from an old Spectrum / Commodore game, harking back to an era when artists had far more license to come up with some pretty far out designs.
Runner takes place over three worlds, each split into eleven side scrolling stages, including some cleverly crafted boss fights. The aim is to get CommanderVideo to the goal for each stage, avoiding the myriad of obstacles in his way by jumping over, sliding under and even kicking obstacles aside. The game introduces each of these mechanics gradually as the levels progress, ratcheting up the required combinations once the player has mastered each. The moves are accompanied by an audio cue which fits in with the soundtrack, thus retaining the Bit.Trip series trademark of fusing gameplay and sound. In fact, this time around some of the music for the game has even been provided by chiptune band Anamanaguchi.
Like previous titles in the series, it’s certainly an unforgiving game, since mistiming a move and colliding with anything causes you to be catapulted right back to the start of the level. There’s no checkpoints in the levels themselves, which means the game becomes a test of memory muscle of almost epic proportions. This becomes very apparent during the later levels, when the game increases the concentration levels required of the player and they need to command an almost dizzying mastery of every move at their disposal without a second though. Hesitate at all and it’s back to the start to try again.
As bright and colourful as it is, Runner does suffer from the same problem as that other WiiWare title Tomena Sanner, in that it’s often a little too busy and distracting. With that said it’s certainly more stylised with its retro approach and this also forms part of the games charm. However, unlike Konami’s flawed music action game, here the placement of CommanderVideo on the screen is perfectly done, allowing you a fair chance of reacting to what’s heading your way. Because of this it never feels unfair, more that failure is down to your own poor timing and requiring you to put in some more coordinated effort.
With its score attack gameplay, old school approach, visuals and sounds, Bit. Trip Runner will certainly appeal to existing fans of the series and the different style of gameplay is sure to attract in new fans. Since the series has improved with each new release, it’ll be interesting to see what the next instalment brings.