Published on May 30, 2018
Release Date: May 22, 2018
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac (Played on Windows)
Developer/Publisher: Choice Provisions
It’s interesting to look at the journey that Commander Video took over the years. The 8-bit man dressed in black made his debut in Bit.Trip Beat on the Wii in 2009. The game was part of the Bit.Trip series, which were pseudo-rhythm games that featured different types of gameplay, ranging from pong to shooting. Bit.Trip Runner was the one entry that really took off, and ended up spawning a sequel in 2013 aptly named Runner2. It advanced the series, redefining the visuals and improving upon the original while keeping the core gameplay intact. More than five years later, Commander Video makes his return in Runner3 where Choice Provisions (formerly known as Gaijin Games) tries to continue the evolution of the series.
Runner3 isn’t much different from its predecessors, with the player controlling their choice of character through different levels: jumping, ducking and kicking their way through obstacles as the game carries them forward. The controls feel snappy, and you never feel like it’s the game’s fault whenever you bonk on an obstacle. As you collect gold bars, hop over a robot or break down a wall, notes will be added to the ongoing background melody. This is the game’s “rhythm” component; with a good run of a level creating a full arrangement of a song. None of the actual actions of your character produces any sounds, leaving room for creativity and improvisation in strategy without creating any dissonance.
The graphics look better than ever, pushing the bizarre anthropomorphic world into the uncanny valley. Quirky conversations between characters bring life to an already amazing world. Every level is now filled with an abundance of foreground and background objects that may overload your visual senses, and unfortunately, found it distracting at times. Objects are often flying back and forth, unfortunately into your view of what’s coming up. Combined with this is the new 3D camera that aims to provide an over-the-shoulder view during certain sections. Although a neat visual effect, it hindered my ability to judge distances and heights of enemies accurately, adding more frustration than awe.
Aside from aesthetic upgrades, Runner3 brings new gameplay features. Gone are difficulty settings; each of the 27 main stages now features branching paths that players can choose to explore to collect all the gold bars, gems, puppets, and secret badges. Gems are a new collectible in the game and are one of the two currencies that you can spend to buy cosmetics for the different characters, which include uniforms, hats, running trails, and accessories. Collecting all the puppets for a world will unlock a puppet show that presents a wacky story, and the secret badges are mostly for bragging rights.
Replacing the block move from previous entries is the double jump, which opens up endless possibilities for both the developers in the level design, and for players in how they get through each stage. The freedom of how a player can approach a level is great, and it feels amazing to get through a segment unscathed. Boss fights also make a return, and make for some very unique encounters that combine all the moves you learn. Unfortunately, they are fairly heavy on memorizing the pattern of attacks and provide no replayability after the first completion.
Vehicles also make their debut, with Commander Video piloting an airplane, a caterpillar, or even a bowling ball. Hero Quests are NPC-driven quests scattered across the worlds and completing them will unlock a new character for you to use. Choice Provisions added some fairly “oddball” characters, including Shovel Knight, Eddie Riggs from Brutal Legend, and even a rendition of Charles Martinet (the Narrator in the game)
Complementing the main stages are retro worlds that can only be accessed after finding hidden VHS tapes. These are your standard platforming affairs, giving Commander Video full directional control, a set amount of health and the ability to dash into enemies. Retro stages are the only way to collect Gildan coins, the secondary currency required to buy items from the shop. Unfortunately, I found these stages to have poor physics, run poorly, and were not very fun in general. It’s a shame that these levels take up roughly half the stage count in the game, and I would have enjoyed more of the standard affair in its place.
As for the main game, I was sad to see it end so soon. There is a severe shortage of levels, even with the replayability introduced by branching paths, Hero Quests, and the addition of new collectibles. By the time you get to the third and final world, it feels like the game has just begun. The addition of nine challenge levels that are unlocked as you collect gold bars tries to extend your play time. These levels ramp up the difficulty to an insane amount compared to the rest of the game and are catered to the most dedicated players.
Despite a five year wait, Runner3 feels more like an add-on than a fully fledged sequel. Yes; it’s fun, looks fantastic, and the new features and abundance of collectibles are welcomed. But the lack of content and lower quality retro levels leave me wishing for more. Although the core of the series remains joyful and functional, Runner3 struggles in launching Commander Video to the next level.