Long before games used complex narratives to engage participants, our diversions often relied on a uncomplicated primal notion: they challenged players to save alive as long as possible. Tapping into our self-preservation instincts, titles like Moon Patrol and Scramble presented perpetually scrolling playfields filled with obstacles, each impediment eager to send players to the ‘Game Over’ screen. With such an instinctual motivation, it’s little wonder that interactive entertainment became a cultural phenomenon.
Gaijin Game’s Bit.Trip Runner reminds players of this timeless existential struggle. Like the previous entries in the admired series, the game draws inspiration from classic retro titles- offering charmingly pixelated visuals accompanied by a bubbly chiptune soundtrack. Those that marvel at the sublime simplicity of 80’s amusements will feel right at home as Runner guides players through a progressively demanding test of timing and rote memorization.
Each of the game’s 33 main stages task protagonist CommanderVideo with sliding, jumping, and kicking across a multi-tiered scrolling playfield. Unlike most post-Super Mario Bros. platformers which scroll along with the lead character, Runner moves at a constant pace, compelling gamers to navigate a series of progressively challenging pathways. When the valiant Commander comes into connect with an obstruction, he is jettisoned back to the start of the level. While Runner dispatches with the concept of ‘lives’ or ‘tries’, the game is hardly a cakewalk – without midlevel checkpoints, the title has the ability to inspire fits of frustration.
Fortunately, most errant jumps or contact with low-flying UFOs will likely be greeted with a ‘just one more try’ response from players, a reaction made even easier by the lack of any true type of game-ending mechanic. People with an obsessive-compulsive disposition may want to evade Runner– the title has the tendency to lure players into protracted sessions. Since stages are static, each successive playthrough allows participants to memorize the arrangement of impediment. An additional contribution to the game’s addictiveness is the skillful placement of collectables throughout each level. More than a few times, I repeated a stage in an attempt to nab every single piece of gold.
The incentive for wiping each stage clean is Runner‘s bonus round, which presents a simplified to test the player’s skills. Unlike the regular levels, a single wipeout here ejects gamers back into the main game, elevating the level of anxiety for these realms. Here’s the delicate 3D look of the game yields to a Pitfall-inspired aesthetic, complete with a grain filter and stylized logo in the bottom left corner of the screen. Had the developer included a handful of variations, the Activision homage would have been complete.
For those that haven’t experienced the retro-recreations of the Bit.Trip series, Runner is an ideal place to start. The title is an amazingly addictive diversion that competently recalls gaming’s golden age, while adding just enough visual and aural retrofitting to satisfying contemporary players. Hopefully, Gaijin’s final two games of the Bit.Trip franchise will retain the level confidence exhibited by this title.