Runner3 is a rhythm-based platformer that fits into Bit.Trip series and continues the adventures of CommanderVideo. Overall, the game is very similar to the previous entry, with CommanderVideo and friends once again running happily through a decorative set of obstacle courses to the melody of upbeat music. Each footstep must keep in time with the beat of the music while players dodge hurdles and collect gold bars. The general structure of the game is also very much the same, consisting of three worlds containing nine stages, a boss, and a few bonuses.
There isn’t much to say about the narrative, as it starts with CommanderVideo and CommandgirlVideo enjoying a holiday in Foodland when they receive an unexpected message. They find out that Timbletot (their arch-nemesis) is up to mischief again and is determined to rid the multiverse of everything love and happiness, so it’s up to the heroes to find and defeat Timbletot once and for all.
The first thing I noticed about Runner3 is that its levels are much longer than its predecessor, to a point where they almost feel endless at times. A long stage in Runner2 would see players collect up to 60 gold bars whereas every level in Runner3 has you collecting up to 100. I personally found this frustrating as there’s still only one checkpoint in each, and this needlessly adds to the overall difficulty. There are also new ways to play the game by the way of vehicles. CommanderVideo and crew can now control planes, cars, rocket barrels, etc., and I found these sections of the game to be entertaining as well as a refreshing break from the endless jogging.
Another issue I have with Runner3 is that the level structure can be very unforgiving due to obstacles that seemly appear out of nowhere. Previous entries in the series used to have some sort of logic to how each stage would unfold, with different kinds of enemies and obstacles to void by either jumping, sliding or kicking. Here, it honestly feels like the game is just messing with you at times, with platforms that randomly fall from under you or things falling on top of you. Runner2 would encourage you to react to what was in front of you, and it was fun, but now it’s almost like you have to memorise a level first to be able to beat it. For stages that take only a few minutes to beat, I sometimes found myself stuck for up to an hour.
As opposed to difficulty settings, Runner3’s levels are split up into two paths: the primary gold path and an alternative gem path. The second is only unlocked after beating a level first, and, as you would expect, is even harder (and more maddening). What’s still enjoyable are the boss fights, which further help to shake up the variety of the gameplay. As an example, the first battle pits players against a giant robotic Santo who’s fixated with sausages. To beat him, you’ll control a canon and slide from left to right to dodge missiles, jump over gaps and collect sausages to turn into ammo. These encounters are all quirky and a lot of fun, and if you’re looking for even more things to do, you can hunt down VHS tapes in each stage to unlock a “Retro Mode” which converts the level into a flat, 2D side-scroller.
Something new which I also thought worked well are the Hero Quests given to you by NPCs in each of the stages, which involve you seeking specific items in order to unlock various playable characters. These characters can take the place of CommanderVideo, and include the likes of Eddie Riggs (Brutal Legend), Shovel Knight, Charles Martinet (Narrator of Runner3), and many other weird and wacky personalities. Each world also features a shop where you can spend your gems to buy costumes, capes and accessories for your characters.
Visually the game looks excellent with a bizarre art style that fits perfectly with its warped sense of humour. The soundtrack is always upbeat, and it feels very satisfying when everything falls into place when you’re on a roll. The Narrator, Charles Martinet (the voice of Mario) is also an excellent addition and adds more humour and oddness to an already weird game. I played Runner3 on both portable and docked mode, noticing no big differences or issues with either. It plays fine in portable, although it can be more difficult to dodge obstacles due to the smaller screen. Unfortunately, there’s no multiplayer, local or online, which I think is a bit of missed opportunity. I can visualise a split-screen head-to-head race that could’ve been a lot of fun with a second player.
Ultimately, Runner3 is a step back from its predecessor despite introducing some fresh ideas. It’s nowhere near as playable due to the increase in difficulty caused by its needlessly long levels and unpredictable obstacles. I wanted to like the game, but more often than not I found my enjoyment was being interjected by frustrating and repetitive moments, and this eventually hindered my appreciation for its unique style and presentation. There’s still a good foundation underneath all its problems, and some players might not be as bothered by the level design as I was. However, I’d personally recommend picking up Runner2 instead. It’s a much better game.