Runner 3 is a rhythmic auto-runner developed by Choice Provisions. The newest game in the long and varied Bit.Trip series is here and CommanderVideo couldn’t look better. Runner 3 is the only game in the Bit.Trip Runner series I’ve played, meaning I’m going in without knowing much about the previous titles. I’ve played multiple auto-runners in my time writing here at IGT though, so let’s see how this one stacks up.
The story goes CommanderVideo and CommandgirlVideo receive a fishy invitation to help Food Land from the evil Timbletot. You run, jump, slide, kick, and bounce your way through levels to save the world for a third time! Runner 3’s story never takes itself seriously, and it’s always read out in a particularly perfect manner by The Narrator, Charles Martinet. Martinet’s performance is something that made me burst out laughing quite a few times, as he’s got a “radio drama”-esque voice that fits perfectly in Runner 3’s crazy world.
Since there’s not much to the story, how is the gameplay? Well, one of my largest issues with Runner 3 is how slow it feels; it feels like CommanderVideo is jogging throughout most of the level. On the most basic level, the Commander’s moveset is running, jumping, sliding, and kicking, however, with this simple set of moves, you can perform all kinds of score-grabbing maneuvers. Jumping feels a bit jarring at first, but I quickly got used to it. The same can be said about sliding as it ends up feeling a bit sluggish when he goes into the slide. When you press the slide button in the air your character will shoot down to do a ground-pound of sorts. In the game the ground-pound can be used to press switches and buttons, but it’s usually nothing more than a dodging tool.
Runner 3 has two main collectibles, gold and gems. Each level has two variations. The first one is called the “Gold path” which has one hundred gold collectables in it, and once it is completed the “Gem path” variant is unlocked which has another one hundred gold and an extra twenty-five gem collectables in it. That means if you wish to 100% the game you must play every level twice, and there’s very little variation between the two ‘paths’. It got very tedious for me to do later in the game, so I eventually gave up and only played the gold paths which is unfortunate since it’s clear the developers really wanted you to play both paths. The gems can be used in the shop to unlock trails and cosmetics for your characters, and there’s also collectible patches and VHS tapes you can obtain in levels.
Runner 3’s main campaign has three worlds: Food Land, Spooky Land, and Machine Land, each of which has 9 main levels and a boss fight level. However, each world also contains side content which are “Impossible” and “Retro” levels. I wasn’t compelled to do them, however, without them Runner 3 is quite lacking when it comes to having any meat on its bones. I can see most people really enjoying those levels since they aren’t bad, I just wasn’t in it for the long haul; I do plan to eventually return to them after time with other games though.
The level design in Runner 3 is usually pretty good. Most stages feel fair and deaths usually feel like my fault, however, there are definitely times where it feels you have to play perfectly or die. Those sections bog down the experience entirely as they become much more common in the later levels of the game. My main issue with the stage design is they usually feel too long and dying means having to take two to five minutes to get back to where you were; nobody enjoys that, even when completing the challenge is really rewarding.
While you spend most of the time on the ground, Runner 3 features a few different gameplay sections, such as flying on a rocket or driving a cart. The rocket sections feel fine, though not as polished or as engaging as the main style. When levels use a lot of rocket sections, I usually feel burnt out by the end of the level. Something about the rocket control feels off and I don’t know how to put it into words, it just feels bad to control. The driving sections I found absolutely horrific, always bogging down what I felt could’ve been a great level. You drive as if it was Mario Kart, except you’re going forward automatically. These sections shift the game’s tone and play style so drastically that it simply doesn’t fit in.
Runner 3 contains boss levels and these range from fun to annoying. My personal favorite was the Reverse Mermech, which requires you to run back and forth in a room hitting switches and ground-pounding to defeat the boss. Another stand-out boss was Sausage Santa where you control a cart moving left and right to catch and fling back sausage at a giant robot recreation of Santa Clause. I feel the bosses were far enough apart that they didn’t hurt the pacing of Runner 3, though some people might feel they’re a bit too different from the way the rest of the game plays. I personally felt they were mostly fun.
One big issue is that levels can suffer thanks to the static unmoving camera. It sometimes causes issues when you’re trying to judge a jump or trying to figure out how long to hold a slide. The place they put some of the camera angles just messes the game up because you’re looking at things at a weird perspective. Most of the time it’s okay, but in long levels it eventually just left me angry. The thing that disappoints me the most about it is the fact it was such an avoidable issue; just a bit more tweaking would’ve made it okay. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but it is something I was very saddened by.
Now, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve not been listing just “CommanderVideo” since the plot synopsis. There are a total of eleven playable characters in Runner 3. CommanderVideo, CommandgirlVideo, Unkle Dill, Aunty Rewty, Dave Lonuts, The Narrator, Frank N’ Stein, Eddie Rigs, Sadbot, The Defector, and Shovel Knight. There are no differences between the characters in gameplay as they’re only different skins. There is a special bit of joy you can get by watching Shovel Knight and Charles Martinet fight a cyborg fish, but there’s no other incentive to unlock the skins. I couldn’t unlock any of them without a guide, and even with a guide, they were overly tedious. For those who want something new to look at, or like this type of stuff in games, dig in. I know a lot of people who’d get mileage from this style of unlocks, I personally would’ve rather have had them tied to story progression.
Well Runner 3 is a rhythm based platformer, so how do the sounds work? When you do any action, you make a noise. Each stage has music playing in the background and your goal is to play the notes, IE actions, perfectly to “complete” the track. It doesn’t do anything aside from giving you score, but it’s pretty fun to listen to regardless. The sound effects never got grating, and actually, quite often made me grin. Music was always weird without being annoying. Of course, if I didn’t enjoy the rhythm in a rhythm based game, I wouldn’t continue it.
If Runner 3 has nothing else going for it, it’s visual identity is second to none. While the game doesn’t look pretty, it’s got a style and sense of humor it consistently keeps in mind. There are so many designs and concepts in this that I’ve never seen done in media before, like giant carrots with eyes shooting meatballs at you. Sometimes, it did feel like it was too much though. The visual style and presentation of Runner 3 is amazing, and you won’t forget many of the things you see in it for quite some time; I’ll let you decide if that’s good or bad though…
Runner 3 doesn’t have much going for it in length, as playing each route and the extra levels will put you at about six hours of gameplay. Depending on you and your tastes, that could be great, or pretty lousy. I personally always felt like Runner 3 was worth beating, yet I did feel like it over extended itself to try and keep you around longer. If you’re okay with short games for a high price, I think this might be a good fit for you. If not, it could be a choice for your next buy during the next Winter Sale.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with Runner 3. It was creative, funny, and most importantly, a blast to play. Runner 3 has many flaws, and experience dampening issues, but those issues rarely kept me from having fun, though it did occasionally happen. Runner 3 was very fun, but not my personal favorite in the genre. If you’ve had your eyes on it, I think you should look a bit closer as the price is steep for what you get, however, I did enjoy Runner 3, so I do recommend it.
A PS4 review copy was provided by the developer
supiroguy has awarded Runner 3 The Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval