It's been five years since Gaijin Games, now Choice Provisions, released the fantastic Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, breaking the addictive gameplay of BIT.TRIP Runner out of the confines of 2D space to a 3D world exploding with style and color. Come PAX West last year, I was delighted to find out that a new Runner game was on the horizon and enjoyed my brief stint with the demo on the show floor. Now that I've had the chance to play the game in full, how does Runner3 stack up to expectations?
Before I got to the actual title screen, I was immediately greeted by Charles "Voice of Mario" Martinet reprising his role as the Narrator, presenting the game brought to me in part by a random in-game sponsor like "Johnny Mahoney's Phoney Baloney (This Time, It's "Real!")". Each comically written sponsor is joined by a stylistically old-fashioned advert as though it was ripped right out from an old magazine, with a different one presented every time I started up the game and never failing to put a silly grin on my face. After the introductory cutscene plays out with puns and alliterations aplenty (I swear Runner3's writing was made to my tastes), the stage is set for CommanderVideo and CommandGirlVideo's uphill battle against the returning Timbletot threatening the multiverse.
Throughout the first of the three worlds, Foodland eases you into Runner3's control scheme, from simple jumping and sliding to combining complex maneuvers like kicking, dropping, and double-jumping. The game handles like previous entries, where your every move is precisely timed to the stage's hazards and the zany soundtrack—the levels are your sheet music, CommanderVideo is your orchestra, and you are the conductor guiding the Commander to the end of each piece. This game is not for the rhythmically challenged as it demands nothing short of perfection: mistime a single action and Bonk into an obstacle, and you have to start all over or from the midway checkpoint.
Each level will have you collect 100 Gold Bars in a standard run, which can then be used to open up Impossibly Hard stages that live up to their name but aren't impossible. Subsequent runs will then see to the collection of 25 Gems in an alternate route that is initially closed off, which you can then spend in the shop for alternate costumes, capes, and accessories to customize your character's appearance. Collecting Gold Bars and Gems in tandem with breaking down walls and dodging obstacles will up your score, with boomboxes spread out on the course to Mode Up your run to increase score multipliers. Mode Ups also change up the music, as while the main melody remains the same, the instrumentation and tone switch around and shift the BGM accordingly, smoothly transitioning from ambient to groovy to maddeningly chaotic.
Compared to Runner2's 100+ levels, Runner3 presents surprisingly fewer stages for you to run through. Each world only presents nine main stages to run through, with three unlockable Impossibly Hard ones, and caps off with a boss fight. To make up for the lower amount, each level is considerably longer than those of its predecessor and will have you revisit them a few times for collectibles, namely Puppets for additional cutscenes, Hero Quests items and the oddball-designed characters who assign them, and hidden VHS tapes.
Repeat playthroughs do get a bit exhausting as most of these are found off the beaten path from your perfect Gold Bar and Gem runs, and your only saving grace in these longer, harder stages are a single checkpoint. In other words, once you collect the requested Hero Quest items, you have to return to the respective level and survive the trek to the NPC with all the enemies, pits, and vehicles to encounter all over again. You do get additional playable characters this way, including special guests like Shovel Knight, Eddie Riggs of Brütal Legend fame, and Charles Martinet himself, and thankfully, once you collect the item in question, you can just quit mid-stage to save time if you had already perfected runs beforehand.
While the game plays out like your standard Runner game as you autorun, each VHS tape also unlocks Retro levels that play out like traditional platformers with a cartoony art style. Clearing them with five Gildans in tow allows you to spend them with Gems on even more items in the shop.
As for the game's visual presentation, the jagged edges from its lower resolution and minor framerate dips in certain areas are a little bit off-putting at times, but thankfully they don't detract from the overall experience, be it in TV mode or Handheld mode on the Switch. While moments to enjoy the scenery outside the intense gameplay are few and brief, the goofy, whimsical style of the environment is purely delightful to look at, be it the food-laden, hunger-inducing hillsides of Foodland, Spookyland's varying takes on "ominous and creepy," or the many sweltering factories peppered across the industrial Machineland.
All in all, if you're itching for a fun but unforgiving rhythm platformer with dang good music and you have hours to grind, Runner3 might be the game for you.
Runner3 launches today for Nintendo Switch, macOS, and Windows, with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 releases pending. Be sure to also check out the game's soundtracks, by Matthew Harwood and Stemage, right here.
Runner3 was reviewed for the Nintendo Switch using a digital eShop copy provided by Choice Provisions.