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I got 3rd place in PAX East's Bit.Trip RUNNER contest. Also, impressions


Last Saturday, I totally won that lego Commander Video trophy at PAX East. They were running (ha!) a Bit.Trip RUNNER tournament at the Ayksys booth (y'know, the one with the cleavage friendly cosplayers that are in the papers) and I made it a point to win it.

The problem is, they changed the rules of the tourney as the day went by. At first, the tourney was set to run from 1pm-2pm. You could only enter once, and if you took even one hit, it was game over. Top three high scores get prizes. Simple enough, right? That instant death was a killer though. A lot of skilled players cracked under the pressure.

For instance, I had played a little bit of the game before the tourney with DtoidNewEngland's Tino. He was a natural. I found out later that day that Tino is a Dragon's Lair master, which made sense. Twitch reflex gameplay and memorization are clearly some of his strengths, and that's what Bit.Trip RUNNER is all about. You often have no more than a half-second to decide if you should jump, duck, vault, or jump kick, and one mistake means you're dead.

So yeah, Tino was planning on winning the tourney no problem, but when it was finally his turn up at bat, he choked pretty early on. I guess the pressure was too much for him. Luckily for me, I had watched him play just a few hours earlier when he ruled at the game, and I had picked up few of his tricks. This helped me to get fairly deep into the first level and score 2nd place in the tourney.

After playing some Jr Pac-Man (my favorite Pac-Man game), I came back to the booth to see where my standing was. I was shocked to see that not only was the tournament now set to go on for the rest of the day, but that you could die as many times as the Aksys booth guys arbitrarily decided, and still keep playingfor a higher score. I saw one kid retry five times in a row, each time getting closer and closer to beating my score. Due to this rule change, I was knocked down to 3rd place, and at that rate, it wouldn't be long until I was knocked down even lower.

I was pissed.

But what do you do when you're pissed about "cheating" in a video game tournament, where the prize is a statute made out of $2 worth of legos? Do you call the cops? Demand a recount? Threaten to retire? I had no leg to stand on, no power to fight the injustice presented before me.

So what did I do? I camped out in front of the Aksys booth and acted bitchy. Anyone who picked up the game had me whispering in their ear about how the rules had changed since I competed and how the game was really hard and how sexy the girls were right behind me and how I'd pay them $5 to lose so that I could still win the Commander Video lego, and so forth. My only recourse was to make a nuisance of myself, something that came naturally given how annoyed I was about the situation.

I also kept bugging the Aksys guys to end the tournament, as it was well past 3pm at that point. Eventually they caved and gave me my statue, as well as a Blaz Blue cloth bag and a Blaz Blue manga. Though I didn't feel entire proud of how I won, I didn't really feel like I cheated either. More than anything, I was just glad to have that damn lego statue. I may put it up as a prize in a future RUNNER tournament here at my house, as I feel Tino deserves a second chance at victory. Between the two of us, he really is the better player.

In the meantime, that little lego sex machine is mine.

As for Bit.Trip RUNNER, it's going to feel pretty weird to diehard fans of the other Bit.Trip games. I almost feel like they should have called it "Commander Video's RUNNER" or something else without the Bit.Trip name, as the game neither looks or plays like what we've come to know as a Bit.Trip game. At their core, all four Bit.Trip titles are about combining sound and visuals to take players into a zen like "zone", with their instincts take over for their conscious minds. RUNNER certainly has that, but the less abstract visuals, new health system (or more like instant death system) and utilization of multiple "moves" makes RUNNER a very different experience.

The prior Bit.Trip games utilized no more that one "move". BEAT had no moves, just the paddle-style use of the Wii remote's accelerometer. CORE required the press of one button to activate the laser, and VOID had you press the button for shrinkage. That was it; simple as Donkey Kong. RUNNER is way more complicated than that. There is one button for jump, one for kick, back on the Wii remote cross-hairs for shield, up on the cross-hairs for to activate springboards, and the promise of even more complicated moves.

More complicated controls mean sacrificing the intuitive gameplay of the earlier games in the series, but it adds a sense of discovery of unpredictability to Commander Video and his world that wasn't present in prior Bit.Trip titles. Where the BEAT, CORE, and VOID were purely abstract experiences, RUNNER feels very physical. I'd frown and maybe let out a defeated whine after dying in one of the first three Bit.Trip games. In RUNNER, I'd actually wince with pain after taking a hit. RUNNER provides the same weird mix of joy and fear that I usually only get from the toughest Mega Man and Mario games. Part of that is because taking even one hit in RUNNER sends you back to the beginning of the level, but part of that is because Commander Video feels like a real (though still thoroughly abstract) being in this game. I can see why he and Meat Boy get along so well.

So yeah, I'm really looking forward to playing RUNNER in the comfort of my own home. Thanks in part to Tomena Sanner, Anthony's Runner and Canabalt, three other auto-run platformers I've played a lot of recently, my first time with RUNNER didn't feel quite as fresh as my first times with BEAT or CORE, thought first impressions aren't everything. The promise of bosses, bonus stages, and new moves that have me hoping that RUNNER goes on to be my favorite Bit.Trip game.
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About Jonathan Holmesone of us since 4:12 PM on 12.04.2007

"Where do dreams end and reality begin? Videogames, I suppose."- Gainax, FLCL Vol. 1

"The beach, the trees, even the clouds in the sky... everything is build from little tiny pieces of stuff. Just like in a Gameboy game... a nice tight little world... and all its inhabitants... made out of little building blocks... Why can't these little pixels be the building blocks for love..? For loss... for understanding"- James Kochalka, Reinventing Everything part 1

"I wonder if James Kolchalka has played Mother 3 yet?" Jonathan Holmes

Wild Holmes pic by Cadtalfryn

AnthonyDressRun sprites by Jonathan Holmes