Bit.Trip Runner [Gaijin, WiiWare]
Much has already been written (lots of it previously on Offworld) about Gaijin Games' approach to retro-inspiration with their Bit.Trip series, a franchise which digs even further back than the usual 8-/16-bit classics to gaming's earliest iconic mascots -- the block, the paddle, the ball -- and brings them forward into the 21st century with their rainbow-tinged chiptune-laden signature.
Their first three games Beat, Core, Void are suitably stark, purist games, at heart, interaction at their simplest, and almost damningly difficult, for the amount of "full screen at once" observation they require.
And then came Bit.Trip Runner: a jog forward in inspiration from Pong to Pitfall!, the first to put their Commander Video mascot at the fore, and, put plainly, the best game they've created yet.
You'll be somewhat forgiven to cry "Canabalt!" at first glance (honestly an entirely coincidental comparison, with Runner deep in the design phase well before Saltsman's release), but while both feature perpetually-rightward-running stars, the two couldn't be more diametrically opposed.
How? Like this: where Canabalt gets its power from a procedurally-generated landscape that asks you to adapt to its uniqueness, Runner is a game that demands you dance to its tune, a choreographed routine precise down to the microsecond.
And that's actually a fairly apt metaphor, as the act of jumping/ducking/sliding/springboarding/busting around Runner's world is a sonically-synced act of creating additional layers of the background music that drives the game, like a side-scrolling platforming version of Q's cult classic shooter Rez, or, more accurately and obscurely, a polychromatic take on NanaOn-Sha's monochromatic vector-runner Vib-Ribbon.
And here, too, Gaijin have put their distinct stamp on the game in the form of yet more sadistic difficulty: any mis-step in that dance routine zips you unceremoniously straight back to the start of the song (one of many references to that Pitfall inspiration). But, unlike their earlier games, Runner's worlds are split into several dozen much shorter and tighter stages, 60-90 second loops of gameplay that never become tiresome to replay, and -- if anything -- better inspire that perfect, sticky, "one more go" quality.
Even if the memory of its boss battles will give you panicked, sweaty night-terrors from here until forever (speaking first-hand, here), even if you never ever manage to make your way to the end of its low-bit bonus challenge levels (seen above, and, again, first-hand!), Runner is the product of a team truly coming into their own and creating something beautiful, and -- once you finally learn to lock into their steps -- capable of fantastic synaesthetic audio/visual highs.
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