Ah, remember Bit Trip Runner? Or should I say, remember sucking at Bit Trip Runner? Bit Trip Runner was actually the first game I ever ragequit because of someone else’s skill level: I was upset that my friend Spencer completed the entire game, whereas I had only gotten past the first few levels. But while I may be bitter about my own ineptitude, Runner is a fun kind of pain. It’s uncomplicated, but brutal, and makes you feel like a champ for completing a single level.
In Runner3, as in the previous games, players are put upon a scrolling 2D path, where they must jump and avoid obstacles in a fluid choreography to the rhythm of the music. The challenge lies in nimble reflexes and quick response times, and, of course, requires persistence and a high tolerance for repetitive motion. Much as Runner2 left its mark upon the series by upgrading the graphics, Runner3 makes its own by adding some additional perspective via the course paths, which can now split off or wind and curve through the level.
Runner3 doesn’t appear to have the vast library of available levels as with the past games. There are three worlds for a total of 27 levels, with alternate goals available after the completion of each, opening up more music, scenery and secrets, and expanding its replayability. It also features new vehicles like planes, a means of transportation that offers some verticality by taking the player off the straight west-to-east running path and forcing them to consider obstacles both above and below, delightfully adding another element of chaos like a ball to a juggle.
Everything that is good about Runner really hasn’t changed. The narration, featuring the legendary Charles Martinet, carries a lot of the game’s personality, conveying a campy, high-energy sense of fun from its opening moments. While the action is hard, the early levels do an adequate job of teaching and reinforcing the controls so the player has time to build up their skills and get used to the pacing. It’s easy to learn and hard to master, providing a euphoric sense of satisfaction upon the completion of even half a level.
On the bad side of things, it took some adjusting to find a preferred control configuration. This is one game where my brain, for whatever reason, really struggles if it doesn’t feel the controls are “balanced”—meaning if it doesn’t feel as though my thumbs are roughly in the same position on either side (obviously, I never had this problem when I played the games on PC). When coming back to the game after a brief absence, my brain scrambled to figure out which configuration it was coming back to, Left D-pad or Left analog (either can be used to duck, which is one of the most important and frequently used moves in the game). I dislike having my hands spanned at the distance forced by the Nintendo Switch, but neither did I prefer the Joycons detached. You may find yourself adjusting to the same learning curve.
The developers could have done a better job on the environmental design. They had a lot to work with, theme-wise, that just didn’t pan out. For example, in the Foodland portion of the game, I expected a Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs type extravaganza, packed with mountains of beautifully styled and easy to recognize dishes. In reality, it was less Candyland and more the day after Halloween drugstore discount aisle. Are those…steaks skewered on some kind of plant stem? Or are those grapefruit slices? Given that there are so few areas where the Runner series can make any significant changes, it’s a missed opportunity to build on the aesthetic.
From my observations with my niece and daughter, Runner3 is probably not well suited for the attention span of younger players. But as a family game, it’s fun to pass the controller from person to person and make a cooperative group effort to get through the harder levels. And really, nothing beats the feeling of making it through three consecutive sets of stairs. If you enjoy the rush that comes from meticulous demands on your skills and performance in a high pressure setting, then you’ll definitely get your runner’s high from Runner3.
Runner3 was developed and published by Choice Provisions. Our review is based on the Switch version. It is also available for PC and Mac.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.