Thanks to Choice Provisions for the review code
System: Nintendo Switch
Price: $29.99 (Digital) 39.99 (Physical)
Release Date: 05/22/2018
In this sequel to the stellar Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, you take control of CommanderVideo who sets out on another adventure to stop the evil Timbletot from causing havoc across the world!
While Runner 2 used a 2.5D art style that looked rather good, complimented by fantastic retro levels that looked really authentic to the NES days, Runner3 goes for a full-blown 3D art style, at least for the main levels. No longer fixed to a 2D plane, the camera will often pan behind, over-the-shoulder, or above depending on the level. More often than not though, some of these perspective changes can really mess up the nature of a few levels by making things hard to see or properly judge until it’s too late, even though the game still offers a lot of side-scrolling fun as well.
On the bright side, every world looks fantastic with all the familiar wackiness the series is known for included, which also includes the realistic and creepy designs of characters like Uncle Dill. The music’s pretty OK as well, with some levels having new songs that are of the same great quality Runner 2 established, and while some levels end up going with songs that might irritate you after many attempts, the good news is that like with Runner 2, these songs triumph over the awful OST of the original Bit Trip Runner which was filled with repetitive noise.
Runner3 offers three main worlds to traverse, with three additional side worlds to explore, each with 10 normal levels each and some bonus challenge levels thrown in the mix as well. Like in Runner 2, you won’t start out with your entire moveset, as you’ll have to learn it over the course of the first world. This means that there will be levels to teach you the importance of sliding, springing, double jumping and kicking before you’re able to use them in the previous levels, and for most of those traits this restriction works fine. Unfortunately, from the very first world of the game, Runner 3 shows off some pretty big annoyances that were very noticeable as a fan of the second Runner title. For starters, the levels are a lot longer than in the second game. Not to the absurd lengths of levels such as Odyssey from the first Runner, thankfully, but they are a bit longer than Runner2‘s courses for sure, with each major stage packing 100 gold bars, 25 pink diamonds and a hidden puppet. Basically, think of the checkpoints of the stages in Runner3 taking as long to reach as the end of some entire stages in Runner 2. That doesn’t mean that longer levels are bad though, as long as they’re designed in a proper, balanced way.
Unfortunately, this is where another fault of Runner 2 kicks in, as the difficulty starts off as very inconsistent, even moreso until you learn the double jump ability and master the art of using the slide to instantly fall to the ground. Each stage has two paths that are meant to be the “Easy” and “Hard” versions of the stage, the first run of which will always be the easy “Gold Bar” path. That being said, even on this easy path, most of the times the stages can go from 0 to 100 in difficulty for no reason at all. Sometimes the perspective will change and it’ll become difficult to tell where the gold bars and obstacles are in front of you, while on some other stages it’ll change and drive you insane. Yes, practice does make perfect like in the other Runner games, but not even that can save you from some of the frustrations that’ll pop up in a stage. While it’s easy to jump and dodge to the rhythm, it’s not always easy to avoid hitboxes, especially when the new vehicles get thrown into the mix. For example, horizontal vehicle sections kick in every now and then, where you must fly in a pattern and dodge enemies and obstacles to get all the gold bars, but sometimes the enemies will just flat out emerge from the bottom of the screen with a second’s notice, meaning that if you happened to be flying near the bottom to grab a gold bar, you won’t be able to get out of the way. Sometimes I found myself hitting enemies even when they were barely above my head. leading to some frustrating “I should have dodged that!” moments. These moments are made even worse when you play in handheld mode, as for some odd reasons levels like 1-7 and 2-2 just do not like being played in handheld mode as the framerate will start to briefly dip from 60FPS whenever there’s a lot of detail on screen, and such blips ruin the precision and make some stages harder than they should be. This is certainly a game you’re better off playing in docked mode if you can, especially if you want to aim for 100%.
Don’t even get me started on any section where you have to ride towards the screen and the camera gets behind the player, as sometimes it becomes a total pain where it’ll take you dozens of tries to get past the stage even when skipping gold bars, while other times it’ll be easy as cake as they might give you plenty of camera room to see what’s up ahead. One of the stages that started with you bouncing off of gelatin ended with one of these behind the camera moments, but it was actually really enjoyable as there was plenty of time to know where to move and how to do it, while in another stage that took place beforehand that had the camera too close to the player during a similar minecart section, (where you could only jump and duck instead of move left and right like the former) I died a stupid amount of times due to hazards coming into view with only seconds to react. Inconsistency like this plagues the first world, where some levels will be easy on the gold path only to become devilishy challenging or outright cheap. The most ironic part about all this is the fact that the Gem Paths, the “harder versions” of the stages aren’t actually that tough at all, and more often than not have their obstacles placed in strategic and clever ways that do offer a fair challenge as you have to aim to get both the gold bars and all the gems. In fact, when I learned the double jump at the end of stage 1, I found myself going through stages with the gem path and enjoying them a lot more than on the supposed “Easier” path. There are also boss stages that change up the gameplay as well, but unlike the times where you may ride a vehicle, these are tons of fun and are easily the best part of the game.
Throughout your journey, you’ll come across characters that’ll hang around a stage on the world map, and going on the gem path in these stages will lead to you into an NPC that’ll need your help gathering items for them, usually hidden in other stages in the current world. Yes, there’s fetch quests in this game too, but I surprisingly didn’t find them to be that big of a pain. For one thing, the items that you are tasked with finding are usually hidden in a way similar to the Puppets, in that they are off the beaten paths and usually found if you avoid the gems and gold, and they’re saved as soon as you collect them, meaning you can freely exit the stage or die after obtaining them and you’ll still retain them, and once you return to the stage with the NPC who issued the task, you’ll unlock a new character! None of them really play any different, but they are fun to unlock and with a few familiar faces it does allow for some fun variety.
Last but not least are the other minor things that need to be discussed as this review gets wrapped up, mainly regarding the unlockable stages contained in each world. Each world has a set of challenge levels along with access to one of the retro stages. The challenge levels are unlocked fairly easily with them opening up depending on how many gold bars you have in that particular world, while the retro levels are a lot tougher to find, since they depend on you finding a VHS tape hidden in the world and taking it to a level to play it. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I could only make it near the half-way point of one of the challenge levels and I couldn’t find any of the VHS tapes at all, (Despite plenty of puppets being found) but I can say the challenge levels are beyond difficult and surpass Runner 1’s hardest challenges… Which considering all I’ve said about unbalanced difficulty so far you’d think this would be a total disaster, but strangely, like with the Gem Paths I found these absurd challenge levels to be a bit less frustrating to attempt, as they do succeed in giving you a general “one more try” feeling even though some of them look as if a level designer went crazy placing as much of every possible obstacle as they could think of. These are certainly worthy of being dubbed challenge levels and with them being 100% optional it’s a blessing they were smart enough to only have these be available for those who were truly curious.
In terms of the retro levels, I cannot offer any opinion on them outside of the fact that their art style looks pretty from previews because I couldn’t find any of the VHS tapes for the life of me, but watch as it was hidden behind an obvious spot the entire time when the game launches to the public and I feel silly, but hunting those tapes down does add to the replay value a bit.
In conclusion, as a gigantic fan of Runner 2, to the point I even consider it one of my top games from 2013, Runner3 was an immense disappointment, and despite my efforts to try and be as hooked as I was in the previous game, there were too many odd quirks and frustrations that made the game not as fun to play, from perspective changes and framerate skips in handheld mode that mess up your timing, inconsistent level difficulty, and too many gimmicks that just made the game feel as if it was trying to be new and inventive by cramming as much new things as possible without properly testing them.
When Runner 3 shines, it gets really enjoyable and those levels are a joy to play on every path, but considering how often you can go from a pretty easy and simple level to one that’s outright filled with cheap and abrupt moments that will set you back, Runner 3 isn’t nearly as fun as the fantastic and high quality Runner 2, which even on the hardest setting felt more balanced and reasonable than this. There’s still some decent things to see here, but too much of it is buried behind some unbalanced level design. So thus, I sadly give Runner3 a 6 out of 10. It’s not a bad game and it is still superior to the original Bit Trip Runner, but considering how Runner 2 was one of my favorite indie games of all time, it’s very disappointing to see that Runner3 went backwards as a result of trying to cram in too many new ideas.