I recently made a purchase from the Wii Ware service, and I was so impressed with the software, I canít help but write some thing about it. Which game did I purchase? Bit. Trip. Runner. Jonathanís review, which is quite good, can be found here:
Please consider this a companion piece, as I couldnít agree more with Mr. Holmesí sentiments. Runner has taken the ideas presented previously in the series to a whole new level. No longer are you looking at a mostly black screen, trying to keep track of small dots and blips. The graphics have been fleshed out, and now you see a complete scene unfold before you. Not only are the graphics improved, but the gameplay is more compelling than ever. I noticed while playing that more times than not, I was trying to pick up every item, even though you don't have to. Even at times when I was having serious trouble learning how to pass a stage, I was sure to pick up EVERY gold piece without fail. I was pushing myself to play a challenging game in the most difficult possible way. It is extremely rare for me (especially in the current game climate) to feel the need to 100% a level, let alone a whole game. The entire time I play Runner, Iím trying to put together the perfect run (when you succeed, it feels as good as any accomplishment in gaming). In fact, Iíve found myself stuck on the same level for long periods of time (over 30 min), only to realize that I could easily pass the stage if I just leave that last gold piece behind. For those of you that arenít convinced yet, this game is worth ALL of the $8 theyíre charging.
The first time I booted up the game, I couldnít help but notice the similarity to a game that I grew up with called moon patrol. The forced pace, and the obstacle dodging, and the color palette brought me right back to í85 in front of my grandmaís old television. As I continued to play, I noticed similarities to MANY games that Iíve played in the past. Not just titles from the Atari age, but games from the 8, 16, and 64 bit eras as well. There are even nods to games of the current generation in here!
Of course itís easy to see the similarities to games like Pitfall and Mario, but itís my plan to talk about the inspirations that you may have missed. I canít believe how many times Iíve caught myself looking at something in the background, only to smash headlong into a fireball. Sure enough, Iíll get to the same area in the stage, and find a nod to Space Invaders or Mario, or even The Simpsonís. The game is consistently tossing out these abstract reminders of gaming history. So much so, that Itís impossible not to notice the amount of effort that has gone into the game. This serves to provide the player with even more incentive to continue Runner's forced journey.
Now, I could spend some time talking about some of the funnier things in the game (like Navi from OoT as a garbarge sniffing fly!), or the current indie scene nods (level twoís similarity to WoG, Meatboy!), but I have to touch on the one thing that overwhelms them all. Something, that made my brain itch as soon as I saw the first stair step portion of the game. Something that I wasnít totally convinced of, at least, until I collected all of the gold in one of the level 3 courses. Bit. Trip. Runner. is maybe most influenced by one of my all time favorite 2600 games: The Smurfs.
The Smurfs was a game that (like most Atari games) suffered from poor controls. Just jumping up the platforms was too difficult for many. You can see in the video, that there was a double jump trick that made it a bit easier to get through, but itís nowhere near as easy as it looks. The spider in the video is what convinced me of the connection, as the same spider also lives in the bonus rounds of Runnerís third level. And, now that I watch the video, I can see that many of the elements of The Smurfs have made their way into Bit. Trip. Runner. From the color palettes to the similar gameplay, Runner has got that same smurfy feel to it. Itís sometimes challenging to control, but is at the same time, always rewarding. Forcing you to maintain perfect focus and timing, but playing you against your senses. Runner does it by throwing in subtleties, like changing the background color behind Commander Video at the same time you need to make a jump with perfect timing. Smurfs does it by confusing your mind with awkward controls. Both use increased tempo to effect greater difficulty. The end result is the same, a game that defies logic and becomes gruelingly difficult, but remains supremely rewarding.
Iíd like to end this by mentioning how big a fan of gaijin games Iíve become. I have been following them pretty closely and their earlier titles are great (I own Beat and Core). Runner, however, is a game of another caliber. It is the natural progression of the series, but at the same time is more than what the other three combine to be. It is great to see these types of games being made in an industry full of vapid, here today, gone tomorrow sorts of experiences. Not to mention the amount of comaraderie that I see between gaijin and Nintendo. I saw that Nintendo Channel video with you in a dress, btw, Alex. I thought you did very well with it. As for my parting sentiment, I say, Long Smurf the Indie Gaming scene on the Wii! couldn't resist, sorry...