Choice Provisions (classically known as Gaijin Games) has a pretty sweet thing going on. Since 2009 they’ve mostly made Bit.Trip games, while enjoying the occasional non-Bit success.
What’s surprised me the most about them is just how much of a knack they have for incorporating sound into their projects, allowing players to up their game if they can play to the beat. Runner3 might be the best realization of their penchant for synesthesia yet.
Runner3 (PC, Switch [reviewed])
Developer: Choice Provisions
Publisher: Choice Provisions, Nicalis (physical)
Released: May 22, 2018
MSRP: $29.99 (digital), $39.99 (physical)
Runner3 is a weird-ass game. The first thing you might see is an advertisement featuring an anthropomorphic bladder: one of several faux sponsors. Then you meet someone named Cheese Grote, who tasks you with helping Food Land. This is all narrated by Charles Martinet, Mario himself, who is also in the game as a playable character. Yeah…strap in because it gets weirder.
No but seriously, none of the narrative matters much, as all of that’s in place for flavor purposes. Depending on how many collectibles you get you may not even see more cutscenes, and that’s perfectly okay. The Runner series’ soul is platforming with built-in rhythm and that hasn’t changed. You’ll pounce from level to level, running, kicking, jumping, and ducking all the way with a few new twists. What twists? Weird twists. Okay, the mystique of weird is unavoidable. I’m talking an eggplant plane or a flying soda can that you control like a shmup, or a behind-the-back camera shift during a mine cart ride. You’ll also tango with legit bosses and try to cope with at least one new concept every several levels.
The old running formula still works, even in an era that’s absolutely full of them. Each course, from the very first to the last, is hand-crafted in a way that makes sense the first time you play it. They’re so well done mechanically and aesthetically that you’ll slowly start to notice all of the detail in the background and will feel the need to wear headphones. Runner3‘s realms are wonderfully distinct and creepily psychedelic, yet soothing in turn. Choice really has an eye for color and knows how to hit that perfect balance of cute and disturbing, just like an old-school Nicktoon.
Runner3 has a penchant for enticing you to replay levels, mostly because they pack two variants into each stage. Beat a level and you can do it again, but this time you’re going for gems and will run along new routes. It’s tough even if you’re just going for a barebones clear, and you’ll really need to take the time to learn the timing for each obstacle down to half-second button taps or delayed presses. If you’re aiming to get all 25 gems and 100 gold in a level it’ll get even tougher. Those remixed levels in turn come with their own 100 gold to grab (the frogurt is also cursed) and there’s more collectibles. Yikes!
One mistake and it’s over, and if you’re struggling at the sequence right before a checkpoint (of which there is only one in each level), it can get maddening. Other small annoyances carry over from Runner2, like the inability to tell if an object is safe to jump on or if it’ll instantly kill you until you actually test it out. Without the consistent retro style of the first game it can be hard to discern, but it’s a fleeting issue that works itself out over a short amount of time.
There’s tons to unlock, and though you can enjoy most of what Runner3 has to offer with the base characters of CommanderVideo and CommandgirlVideo, there’s a lot more, including crossovers like Shovel Knight and Eddie Riggs from Brutal Legend. The real meat of the extras lies within the unlockable mini game, which is a full non-runner platformer that functions as an entirely new mode, so long as you acquire all the VHS tapes needed to tackle each world. It’s a clever scheme, because once I found one of the easier tapes and devoured the fun platformer mini-game, I was hell bent on getting the rest.
While I did have some issues in portable mode when it came to camera shifts and the like (which are few and far between), solely in terms of being able to identify objects on a smaller screen, I did play 50% of Runner3 off-TV with aplomb. TV mode is perfect though, especially with a Pro Controller and the right sound setup. The only technical annoyance I encountered is prevalent throughout — the load times. Once you’re in a level you’re good to go with multiple retries, but swapping around worlds and levels features an exhausting wait.
Based on what was accomplished in Runner3, the series is far from over. Despite creating two other Runners, Choice Provisions has shown that they’re not out of ideas quite yet. Bring on Runner4.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]