Choice Provisions Inc has spent the best part of a decade pushing players over the edge as they hop, step and jump to the music of the BIT.TRIP series. With the arrival of the final BIT.TRIP game on the Nintendo Switch, I took a dash through Runner 3 and tried not to step out of time.
The BIT.TRIP Runner franchise is an example of fantastic platforming. From the epic early pixels of the first BIT.TRIP Runner, players putting on the shoes of Commander Video have found themselves accelerated through a myriad of obstacles. Runner 3 is a modern approach to these ideals and an update to the racing rhythms of Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. Whether you chase success as Commander Video or as one of the game’s unlockable accomplices, this PC port begins things with the same energetic impetus as previous BIT.TRIP titles.
Just as before, the aim of Runner 3 is to navigate a variety of outlandish levels without touching anything, and a whole host of 2.5D problems fill this platformer. Precarious ledges, uneven jumps, grinders, buzz-saw robots, giant gavels, enormous bees, and all manner of spiky implements await players. As Commander Video and friends relentlessly dash across the screen, players can jump, power slide, and pirouette their way around any obstacles in their way. Touch anything you are not supposed to and the consequences are stern. Crashing into the scenery results in an unceremonious slow-motion end to your run and a return to the start of a level. The fundamentals of Runner 3 are not particularly difficult to understand but yet, much like the rest of Runner 3, the implementation of this action sets Choice Provision’s latest apart from other mediocre ports and poor rail runners.
From the opening moments, it is evident that Choice Provisions are out to take no prisoners with Runner 3. The game’s first few levels do provide a brief opportunity for new players to get accustomed to the game’s movement. Clear instructions and a well-designed control system, however, do not make things any less intense as the difficulty swiftly ramps up. Little to no accommodation for slip-ups and Runner 3 promptly drops in a range of tight jumps, visual distractions, and a host of environmental obstacles all designed to trip you up. Throw in a range of collectible challenges and some inspired quests and things get even more difficult. With no ability to stop or slow, this can all feel a little unrelenting for new players. The inclusion of the odd checkpoint does make this do or die approach less extreme, but trial and error is very prominent in Runner 3. It does not take long at all before you are bouncing into a new environment long enough to learn a few more steps, then crash into something sharp.
Strangely, the simple concept, the intuitive control system, and an uncompromising approach to difficulty make Runner 3 a surprisingly addictive affair. Levels are short enough that trying one more time seems like a simple matter until you’ve lost a couple of hours crawling through a level. The variety of new mechanics the game throws at you keeps things from getting boring, and a repeating pattern of the same environmental objects helps to hone your reflexes.
Rather than rage at my own inability to finish a level, this coalescence of great design meant I often found myself persisting. Beating the game quickly becomes the only thing that matters, as Runner 3 draws you into a kind of hypnotic world of bit beats and colorful delights. The musical arrangement that accompanies this adventure is central to the game’s incredible persistence in my brain. Matthew Harwood’s soundtrack, which is also available to download separately, is utterly adorable and integral to the mechanics of this adventure. Grabbing gold bars or precious gems that litter each of the various challenges elicit a particular tone as you pocket them. These notes synchronize with the game’s soundtrack, providing a rudimentary metronome to your own progression. It does not just help draw players further into Choice Provision’s clutches. It also acts as an audible cue to every action you take.
It’s probably a good thing that Runner 3 includes these audio cues too. Visuals are a busy hive of bizarre ideas that are as much of a distraction as any leap into the unknown. Giant blueberries, huge honey bees, and talking foodstuffs all fit the odd aesthetic of the first world of Food Island. As the game progresses into new arenas, and equally off the wall ideas, the following themes are just as strange. The visuals take a clear lead from the game’s pithy humor that is part Saturday morning serial and a pinch of Monty Python. It’s shamelessly witty, charming, and deceptively vicious at the same time.
As harmless as Runner 3 seems, it is not going to be great for everybody’s blood pressure. The same addictive quality that spurred me on to beat each level I’ve come across will no doubt result in a few broken peripherals. Right from the off, there is no room for compromise. No difficulty level is available and no handicap to help troubled players. While Mario was designed to give players an opportunity to succeed without impeeding lower skilled Luigi’s, Runner 3 is not this flexible. It’s a shame that something as simple as additional checkpoints could not be considered. For this reason alone, much of the game’s extensive play time will be spent repeating the same actions until you get it exactly right. For many people, that just is not fun at all.