The challenging and addicting nature of Bit Trip Runner will amaze old-school gamers

User Rating: 8.5 | Bit.Trip Runner WII
Ever since the early days of the platforming genre, those games – with the addition of winding down timers - have always been pushing players to try their best in going as fast as possible through stages featuring tons of obstacles, endless pits and other devious traps. Some even went to the extreme of adding automatic scrolling stages, where players who weren't fast enough in making decisions would end up being pushed towards their doom by a ever moving screen. In fact, speeding through games became such an enjoyable, yet demanding, activity that many gamers showcase their abilities by taking on the challenge of speed running through whole games, without ever looking back or having the opportunity to stop for a while to wonder on how a jump, or move, should be approached.

Bit Trip Runner takes this joy of speeding, and turns it into its core mechanic; the pillar upon which the entire game is safely built. It is a rather original concept, and it works so perfectly that it is hard not to question why it wasn't used before in large scale. During this side-scroller, players will never be responsible for the character's forward or backwards movement as the pixelated hero will traverse very artistic stages in a constant frantic running pace while obstacles come flying at his direction. The obstacles range from barriers, to your average gaps and platforms and all one needs to do is press the buttons with perfect timing in order to make the character get through his challenges one by one.

Commander Video can jump, slide, attack, block and use marks on the ground as catapults to soar high above the stage. The sheer simplicity of the control scheme, and the short but varied array of movements serve as a nice support for the game's extremely tight controls: a vital quality for a title that relies so heavily on perfect timing. And while the number of available movements is short, the developers were able to come up with thirty six creative stages – divided into three thematically different worlds - that rarely repeat themselves. At the end of each world players will come across a threatening boss, but they come off as missed opportunities since all they do is set up obstacles in front of your running character, and when it is all said and done they aren't that different from the game's stages.

Bit Trip Runner follows on the footsteps of the other installments of the series by being an extremely challenging game and it approaches the "death" of your character in a very unique way that will get mixed reactions from those who decide to buy it. Failing to avoid any obstacle will be an instant death, and those situations will occur very often since the beginning of the adventure, in order to diminish the frustration the developers did away with any menus or button presses that would have separated you from restarting the stage. Instead, after dying the game will send your character to the starting point of the level right away, within a few seconds, and given how thrilling the game's nature is you will barely have time to let anger take over before you are jumping and running once again. Bit Trip Runner, due to its addicting gameplay, nicely emulates the feeling one used to get from old arcade titles, where a "Game Over" screen was just another incentive to try harder.

The main issue here is that the stages have no checkpoints whatsoever. Although that won't be a problem on shorter stages; on those levels that extend for over three minutes of constant reliance on reflexes, being sent to the very beginning of the action will drive most players mad. However, for the crowd that is eager for a nearly impossible goal, all of Bit Trip Runner's stages feature a certain amount of carefully placed gold bars to be collected, acquiring those usually requires an even more perfect timing than simply clearing the stage does and when all gold bars of a stage are obtained players are sent to a delightful retro bonus level where they once again will go after gold bars while advancing through Pitfall-inspired scenarios. The more gold bars one gets, the higher the stage's final score will be, which adds an extra layer of replay value to the whole experience that can easily demand over six hours on a first playthrough.

Even though Bit Trip Runner's gameplay and stages are a lot of fun they surprisingly aren't the main stars of the show, that award goes to the game's inventive sound design. Games of the Bit Trip series have always had a certain degree of rhythm to their gameplay, and Runner is not an exception to the rule. The game's stellar 8-bit soundtrack is mad even more fantastic by the fact that the music perfectly matches the stages, and musical cues inserted in the scores tell players the precise time when they need to perform an action. Bit Trip Runner's soundtrack and stage design are a nice fit, like two jigsaw pieces that when pieced together make the player certain that they were meant to belong side by side, and not away from each other, its a mixture of image and sound that is pretty much unparalleled as far as games go.

The game's graphics are far from being a technical landmark, but from an artistic standpoint they are a masterpiece merging the old-school pixelated look 8-bit games with absolutely psychedelic scenarios. On some extremely rare occasions the screen will feel too crowded with graphical elements that may confuse players scanning the scenario for the next obstacle that needs to be surpassed, but those moments are so brief and insignificant that making a big deal out of them would be total exaggeration. The game's amazing presentation overflows into everything, including its menus that are fast and completely functional as actual playing can be reached with just a few button presses.

In the end, Bit Trip Runner is a very well designed game. Its gameplay is very addictive, and it is tough to leave the couch before you are finally able to beat that stage that has been challenging you for over an hour. There are some minor flaws here and there, and considering how score-driven the title is, not adding online leaderboards is quite a big overlook. Nevertheless, any gamer who purchases Bit Trip Runner aware that they will be in for a massive challenge will be able to get lots of great gameplay hours out of this title. It is fast, it is thrilling and it is one of the most original titles out there. Good, old-school fun.

Actual Score: 8.7