|System: Wii (WiiWare)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Gaijin Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Aksys Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 17, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
There's no denying there's something inherently special about the Bit.Trip series. With Bit.Trip Beat, Gaijin Games introduced an experience that mixed retro-gaming style with musicality in a way that bordered on spiritual. Commander Video, the series' pixel hero, now makes his triumphant return in the developer's fourth (and likely final) installment of the saga, and I'm delighted to report that his journey ends with a bang.
After playing through several of the Bit.Trip games, I'm convinced the guys at Gaijin have stumbled upon some magic dust, and they must roll around in the stuff for hours before setting out to make a new game. Take for instance Bit.Trip Runner's instruction manual, which can be viewed from the WiiWare channel. They take what would otherwise be a formal packet of information and turn it into a meaningful Easter egg that may inspire some folks to reach for their old collection of Moody Blues albums.
Bit.Trip isn't trippy for the sake of being trippy, though. There is a story here, but it isn't told through text or cutscenes. The music and gameplay come together in a rare way that evoke all sorts of emotions, yet there isn't necessarily one specific tale that defines the heart of the experience. With Bit.Trip Runner, the adventure unfolds through a series of short free-running/platforming levels, and with each correct note you land, the bigger picture starts to come into focus.
What is that bigger picture? I could spoil things for you by telling you the physical ending for Commander Video, but it's the journey through the music and action that will give meaning to the game for each individual. To break things down to their basic components, though, you simply aid/control Commander Video by jumping, sliding, kicking, and blocking. The commander will run through each level under his own power, so all you need concern yourself with is avoiding obstacles and such. That, however, is easier said than done.
Like any really great game, the mechanics are doled out a little at a time. By the end of the first zone, you'll have learned most of Commander Video's abilities, and the gameplay will have ramped up to a fevered pitch.
If there is one problem I have with Bit.Trip Runner, it's the level of difficulty. Before going any further, however, I feel as though I must throw out a few game names in order to offer some perspective. Demon's Souls, Ninja Gaiden Black, Super Street Figher IV - these are all games I love and still play on a regular basis. I like tough games. However, with Bit.Trip Runner, the difficulty often robs you of the bliss that is so often hinted at throughout the game.
During the first 10 levels of Zone 1, for example, the gameplay was joyous and rewarding. I felt like I was on a magical, epic journey through some surreal yet wondrous universe. Then something crept in that began to gnaw away at the experience: memorization. For level 1-11 and the first-zone boss, you're forced to run through each level an endless number of times, memorizing patterns as the screen whizzes by. The rewards are still there upon completion, but that great feeling of adventure is replaced by "test of strength" challenges.
Unfortunately, Bit.Trip Runner stays on that one path from that point onward, and though it's still an incredibly nuanced and challenging experience, the wonder that's presented at the beginning of the game never really returns.
With all that being said, Bit.Trip Runner's shortcomings as a single-player experience become pluses when played with a group of folks. When I broke the game out in a family setting, everything changed. We were passing the controller around when someone would fail, and rather than cursing at the screen (when playing alone), I was laughing and having a blast.