key difference here. The game does the running for you! You might assume that this makes the game easy, but you'd be dead wrong. The variety and combination of other actions you must perform make for a surprisingly deep (take that, Ryan Davis!) and complex experience. This complexity and need for precise timing makes the game feel like trial and error at times, but not the frustrating, obnoxious trial and error of a game like Sonic Unleashed.
The other design choice that could remove all challenge from a game like this is the lack of a limited amount of lives for your character. (Case in point: the awful, awful system in 2008's Prince of Persia.) However, the developers of this game also did away with any sort of checkpoint system. This means that if you've made it 90% of the way through a long stage and collected 80 of the 94 gold pieces, you'd better not screw up. If you do, you're going all the way back, son. This can really break your spirit and make you put down the controller for a while, but I didn't find it to be a terribly negative dynamic.
One of the main draws of this game's experience is collecting those aforementioned gold pieces. They'll bump up your score and if you collect all the pieces on a given stage, you'll be treated to a Pitfall-inspired bonus level in which you collect even more gold to increase your final score. The high score system and completionist nature of many players will force them to pursue this goal fervently. The other important gameplay feature is the presence of three orbs per level that bestow your character with more speed and a score multiplier. As you might expect, going even faster is not necessarily helpful in a game that eats your reflexes for breakfast in its standard form. The game does a great job rolling all the mechanics you've learned into its fast-paced and difficult boss battles, and these encounters feel more like something you'd find in a good ol' side scrolling beat-'em-up.
The seamless integration of so many elements is what makes playing this game such a joy, and that's a good thing since there's not much of a story to back that gameplay up. Commander Video is a textbook silent protagonist, and other than a smattering of short cinematics, there's no plot to speak of, and no voice-over explaining why you must always be running. This doesn't detract from the overall feel of the game, and is not a huge knock against a budget downloadable game such as this.
Gaijin takes full visual advantage of the obvious influence of the 8-bit era on this game. The bonus stages just look like straight up Pitfall. There are three different backdrops as you run from zone to zone, each with more ridiculous chaos happening in the background. As your vision is assaulted by giant fish, caterpillars, flashing lights and brightly colored skyscrapers, don't be
surprised if your eyes lose focus and you begin to drool as Commander Video sprints headlong into the nearest barricade and you're returned to the beginning of the stage.
There's an interesting 2D / 3D anachronism here. Commander Video is a simple sprite, while the background and the objects you are collecting and avoiding are rendered as collections of three-dimensional pixels, (voxels?) fittingly. The visual style and gameplay are integrated well, with little flashes going off whenever you jump on a trampoline or grab some gold. Also, when you pick up a score multiplier, the amount of crazy pixel spray behind the commander increases exponentially, until you have a full-on DOUBLE RAINBOW behind you. (Okay, it's just one rainbow.) It's a very coherent and effective style that evokes any memories you might have of platformers from years past.
Again, there is some full-on 80's game business going on in the game's sound design, especially in the menus. The sound design is largely based on beeps and boops, with specific tones for every action you perform in the game, whether it's jumping over something, collecting gold, or kicking down a barricade. The music builds with each boost you collect and because the game is doing the running, all of the sounds are perfectly timed. This creates a real sense that your actions are contributing to the way the game sounds, which is rare outside of the rhythm game genre.
This was my first entry into the Bit.Trip series, and it was well worth the price of admission. The controls feel crisp and accurate, and the seamless integration of nearly every design element really makes this game feel like something with a higher price point. Surprisingly deep gameplay and an addicting bonus system will keep you coming back to this downloadable gem.