Trip, Scream, and Start Again

Two Humble Bundle Reviews in one day, again? Well I’m heading back to Derby tomorrow and I’m leaving my laptop at my parents’, so I won’t have access to my progress in BIT.TRIP RUNNER for a while. And progress in BIT.TRIP RUNNER is expensive…

BIT.TRIP RUNNER Review
BIT.TRIP RUNNER is the fourth instalment in the BIT.TRIP series, and second instalment to be made available on PC and Mac. Like the rest of the series, it features simplistic, retro-stylized graphics and sound, with music-based gameplay and intense difficulty. This is also the first of the series in which it’s mascot, Commander Video, is at the center of the action.

I assume most gamers who’ve spent some amount of time on flash portals will have seen any number of those games where your character stays on one side of the screen, running, and obstacles appear at the other side that you have to press the right key to avoid, right? I couldn’t tell you what it’s called, but that’s certainly the best genre I could put BIT.TRIP RUNNER into. Well fundamentally, if you think about it, those games are no different from rhythm games like guitar hero, so it’s nice to see the two coming together into one game. However, what Gaijin have done here is a little more than that; in BIT.TRIP RUNNER your character is not simply locked to the floor – he can actually jump, climb stairs, and take to the skies using springs, introducing traditional platformer mechanics to the genre, even though for the most part your path through a level is linear.

I’m told the series’ graphics are reminiscent of the early Atari era, but I don’t have enough experience in that area to know anything about that. What I do know though, is that this game looks awesome. Subtle use of 3D that retains a blocky nature lets this game keep it’s retro styling while looking very shiny and very dynamic, and the bright colours match the mood set by the music perfectly. My lappy had a little trouble keeping up the frame rate on this one, and I don’t see why considering the simplistic graphics, so performance is perhaps something you should look out for if your PC’s specs fall at the lower end of the spectrum.

The soundtrack should be one of the most important features of this game, given how musically orientated the series is, and the fact that this is almost a rhythm game. I’ve read that listening to the music in levels can give you hints as to what you should be doing at a given moment, and indeed there are notes going off in sync with your actions but honestly, I’ve played this game on mute without difficulty, and the random bleeps and blips related to your actions usually seemed a bit out-of-place to me. Overall I’m none too impressed with the music in-game, though it’s all crisp and polished, with some nice backing. The title theme on the other hand, and one or two of the other tracks are well worth a listen, and might even make it onto my phone since I got the soundtracks with the Humble Indie Bundle purchase.

Maybe it’s not that the music in game is poor though (hell, I’m listening to the soundtrack while I write this to see what I’m missing); maybe it’s that you have to listen to each track so many times to complete a level that you simply tire of it. This is seriously one of the most punishing games I’ve ever played. I say punishing instead of hard for a reason. If you fail to make a jump, kick, slide or spring at the right moment – just one single slip of the finger, a single blink, you’re sent back to the start of the level. I’ve read reviews that say this isn’t frustrating. Pay them no head, their writers are clearly the kind of people who deliberately inhale pepper and listen to Friday on loop. Their argument is valid: There’s no game over screen or other delay to you getting back into the action, just a few toe taps. Still the endless dying, restarting the music, and trying again quickly frustrated me, and once you’re in a state of frustration there’s little point trying to get further in this game.

I’m a few tracks on in the OST now (yes, I got distracted looking at videos of people sniffing pepper – there aren’t any good ones), and I’m liking it. They’re all a bit samey though. Tracks and graphics vary distinctly between worlds, but beyond that you’re left listening to very similar pieces of music, in very similar landscapes, for each level.

There are eleven levels and a boss in each of the three worlds, giving you quite a lot to sink your teeth into in this games. Levels are usually a short affair, requiring you to memorize obstacles simon-says style so you can rinse and repeat each time you fail, eventually making it to the next stage. This always gives you a sense of achievement. Then you reach Odyssey.

Let's do this thing!

Bosses, and the levels directly preceding them are very long indeed. When you get to 1-11 you will rage. Odyssey is a long, boring, repetitive trawl through simple obstacles until you get to the second half (it’s like four minutes long!), fail on something you weren’t expecting, and have to do it all again.  I never thought I would complete Odyssey until I rolled in last night after some light drinking. With that I managed to stay calm after several failures, eventually completing the damn thing within ten attempts. I went on to beat the first boss, and am now at the second.

I honestly feel that this was a failure on the level designers’ parts. If I was making levels for this game my focus would be short, challenging, levels that you could try again and again in free moments, not worrying about having to invest another full four minutes after every death. You can have a hard game without unjustly punishing the player.

This goes on for far too long...

You may think I’m bitchin’ because I just can’t take the heat. I’m not. World 2 is far harder than Odyssey, having you slide under and hop over fireballs within inches of each other, kick down doors and power springs like Chuck Norris himself. I love world 2.

Overall I have enjoyed my time with BIT.TRIP RUNNER, but I loath the punishment dished out whenever you slip up even slightly. I will not be putting in the time and effort to beat boss number 2, there are better games to play. But if you want to try something new, and you’re a glutton for punishment, BIT.TRIP RUNNER is something you should definitely check out.

Sod this...

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