Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Download of the Week: Wii, Bit.Trip Runner

Appearances can often be deceptive, and this is as true in videogames as in life. Although it makes such great sense in hindsight, who would have initially expected Arkham Asylum to be, for a significant part an engrossing covert/stealth game? Bit.Trip Runner, available for some months now on Nintendo’s WiiWare service as well as Steam and iOS devices, is one such deceptive game.

From the graphical design to the arrangement of the levels, the gamer is led to believe at each point that they are playing a platform game – this belief is strengthened by the fact that yes, the protagonist engages in an activity that is best described as jumping between platforms. However, there is a key difference between Bit.Trip Runner and other platformers – choice.

In Bit.Trip Runner the character you play, unsurprisingly, runs. Runs and doesn’t stop. As he progresses you are expected to press certain buttons to trigger certain actions (such as jumping, sliding, kicking), your progress through a level signposted by the slowly building euphoric music. The element of challenge comes in timing your button-press to ensure the main character doesn’t fall or collide with anything.

And that is what makes Bit.Trip Runner a rhythm game. As opposed to even the earliest platformers such as Super Mario Bros. whereby the screen scrolled slowly left to right forcing you to move at a certain pace, there is no freedom of exploration, no choice in your action. In Bit.Trip Runner, you either press the button at the right time or you don’t.

So, as Bit.Trip Runner is a rhythm game, the question is, is Bit.Trip Runner a good rhythm game? Almost certainly, is the correct response. Possessing a charming and unique visual aesthetic coupled with a soundtrack that rises and falls in time (another hint at the rhythmical nature of the game) to your actions, you can find yourself easily engrossed in the distinctive unusual world presented.

Another point in Bit.Trip Runner’s favour is the sheer challenge provided, the game is unforgiving. There is no life-metre, no second chance, if you time an action incorrectly you go straight back to the start of the level. Many a time I nearly howled in frustration having almost reached the end of a challenging level only to slip up and find myself catapulted the start. The digestibility of the levels coupled with the unforgiving nature almost works to compel you to keep playing, to keep having a go, until you crack it.

Bit.Trip Runner isn’t a triple-A blockbuster and was never intended to be, it is part of a series of, at present, 7 games and offers a compulsive challenge in line with the most successful mobile games but with sound and graphical designed and tailored to the larger screens afforded by PCs and home consoles. Most interestingly Bit.Trip Runner offers an almost seamless merging of traditional gaming tropes – platforming, jumping, kicking, with the more modern inclinations of rhythm games such as the “Hero” series of games. Although in no way groundbreaking it is a charming example of game design with a solid central conceit treated with care and executed well - and as such an easy recommendation to make.

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