Beaten down by Bit.Trip Runner

I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at playing video games. However, every so often I’m handed a beatdown that makes me question the decades I’ve spent clutching a keyboard, mouse, and controller. Sometimes, the drubbing comes at the hands of pimply teenagers with youthful reflexes and the free time to spend all day honing their aim in online multiplayer shooters. Their juvenile trash talking inevitably stings, but I can’t complain about losing to the better man—or boy. Due to a combination of age and neglect, my mad skillz simply aren’t what they used to be.

Of course, there are also times that I’m bludgeoned into submission by the game itself. Humiliation at the hands of a machine is somehow harder to swallow than losing to another person. I mean, it’s not like I’m taking on Watson or Deep Blue. I’m going head to head with a standard PC, and sometimes it’s not even a particularly powerful one.

Such is the case with Bit.Trip Runner, a seemingly delightful, retro-inspired indie title from the same studio behind Bit.Trip Beat, a game I quite enjoy. Beat is a rhythm-infused respin of classic Breakout gameplay turned on its ear. Runner brings a similar rhythm component to 8-bit parkour platforming that feels like a marriage of Super Mario Bros, Excitebike, and Mirror’s Edge.

At first glance, the game looks simple. The world scrolls by at a constant speed, while one jumps, slides, blocks, and kicks to negotiate a series of obstacles, enemies, and gold bars. Timing is important, but the levels are tightly synchronized with the music, whose beat provides a cue for each button press. Really, how hard could it be?

As it turns out, really @#$%ing hard. Steam tells me that I’ve spent more than three hours with the game, and I’m not even a quarter of the way through. Heck, I haven’t even encountered a boss battle or been introduced to the game’s blocking move.

Bit.Trip Beat is certainly challenging, so I didn’t expect Runner to be walk in the park. However, it’s unusually abusive for something that was first released on the Nintendo Wii, a console whose audience seems to be dominated by small children and senior citizens. The core problem is the game’s lack of tolerance for anything short of perfection. Mis-time a jump, hit slide when you meant to kick, or otherwise let your focus lapse for a second, and you’re booted back to the start of the level. There’s no margin for error. No checkpoints.

After being brutalized by the game’s first few levels, I wondered if perhaps I was playing it wrong—with an Xbox 360 controller hooked up to the home-theater PC in my living room. Switching to a keyboard and mouse didn’t help, and neither did moving to the desktop in my office. Apparently, the pressure associated with a steep penalty for failure makes me even more prone to mistakes, after which I want to pitch the keyboard through my monitor.

In Bit.Trip Beat, you build up a virtual health bar that provides an allowance for mistakes. Make too many, and the game plunges into black and white, giving players one last shot at redemption before slamming the door. Runner has no time for second chances. Collecting power-ups, which are deceptively shaped like 3D red crosses, won’t increase your health. Instead, they jazz up the music and sprinkle a little more eye candy on the game’s funky visuals. Even the difficulty settings have no real bearing on how easy it is to get through a level—they’re seemingly there just to dictate how many gold bars are available for collection. Those bars are only good for increasing your score and gaining access to special bonus levels that are even more difficult than the standard ones.

Perhaps the most frustrating element of Runner is the fact that the game is quite fun when you’re doing well. The well-implemented rhythm component makes it easy to get sucked into each level, however briefly. I’m also quite fond of the old-school art style and imaginative backdrops that surely were created with the aid of industrial-strength hallucinogens. Of course, I’ve seen most of Runner‘s environments through screenshots published by the developer rather than in the game itself. I haven’t made it far enough to encounter much in the way of diversity, and I probably won’t.

As enjoyable as Runner can be at times, the frustration associated with being kicked back to the start of the level for the smallest infraction is enough to sour me on the whole experience. Even when I manage to string together a perfect sequence of moves to complete a level, I feel more relief than elation or accomplishment. Really, there’s nothing to brag about. At that point, all I’ve managed to do is master a relatively short sequence of keystrokes, prompted by both visual and audio aids—and it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to do so.

I enjoy games that are challenging, but Bit.Trip Runner feels malicious and unnecessarily cruel. Rather than feeling motivated to master it, I’m eager to move onto something with a softer touch… like getting my ass handed to me in Counter-Strike by someone half my age.

Comments closed
    • LoneWolf15
    • 9 years ago

    On a boring, rainy day this week, I just bought Castlevania III on the Nintendo Wii virtual console, remembering back to my teenage years when my buddies had it on the SNES.

    Right now, I’m feeling your pain and frustration. Half due to how classic games’ save systems work, half due to controls that are half-baked compared to modern times that I forgot about (what? You mean I’ll fall off and die if I don’t hit the down button to go down stairs?!?)

    I think most of us just had a heck of a lot more patience back then. Or maybe modern gaming has fixed a lot of little nagging things that didn’t annoy us back then because every game had them.

    • JoeKiller
    • 9 years ago

    I bought this after I saw your blog and watched some videos of it. Quite fun and yes it is difficult. One tip for you is to just hold down S (slide) while you play. This basically removes a dimension from the game because you can jump from a slide fine, just remember to stand when you need to kick.

    I was having an extremely hard time on some levels until I tried sliding all the time instead, this tip opened up the fun for me. Hope it helps!

    • dashbarron
    • 9 years ago

    Go play Amnesia and come back to us Geoff 🙂

    • Rakhmaninov3
    • 9 years ago

    Something to rival the original Donkey Kong? Few games are as simple, or as hard, as DK…reading this blog reminded me of it 🙂 There’s a vintage arcade here in Chi, thinking I may mosey on over there this weekend for some DK and Missile Command.

    • ShadowTiger
    • 9 years ago

    I think that these games have a very basic appeal… the mechanics are simple but you must train your brain for many hours to get good at them. However, it is inevitable, that if you spend enough time you will eventually get really good because it is so simple. For people who like the satisfaction of being good at a game, the practice required is easily worth it.

    However there are many more complicated games out there, games that require you to think and make long term decisions… these games are less popular. Even if you play these games for hours and hours, there is no guarantee you will actually improve. Unfortunately, most video games do not foster development in critical thinking skills (hence the lack of improvement).

    • thesmileman
    • 9 years ago

    SUPER MEAT BOY!!!

    Now that is a challenge. The coolest thing is once you beat the level it shows you every one of your failures overlay ed on top of your success. It is amazing how many times you do the same stupid thing.

    I am stuck on one where I have to outrace another guy.

      • aces170
      • 9 years ago

      Now that is one game, that is brilliantly designed and insanely difficult game.

      • sweatshopking
      • 9 years ago

      i beat it on the normal world, but didn’t have the desire to play the hard world. not yet anyway. I also beat 80% of “wanna be the guy” but then my file got deleted, so i said f that game.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 9 years ago

    Whatever you do, don’t try I Wanna Be The Guy.

    • Jambe
    • 9 years ago

    Haha. I love this game. Gaijin are great developers.

    Avoid Super Meat Boy, Geoff.

    • mmmmmdonuts21
    • 9 years ago

    Thanks, I have had Bit Trip Runner on my steam account for a while. Got to give it a try. If you want another infuriating game give Super Meat Boy a try. You will start crying. I have never seen a game where you respawn so quickly.

    • Lianna
    • 9 years ago

    I don’t know or care for the game itself, but I think it’s a bigger sign of difference between today and days of yore: electronic machines – and games – are now much more forgiving. Don’t remember password for visa or mainframe? You have three times, no electric chair waiting if you guess wrong, just call somebody, reset something, try again. Puzzles in games can be beaten in a few ways or even half-beaten, and you can go further, just with a handicap. This is actually something that makes me more happy to play them, cause I can do it my way, and what I feel is – and should be – joy, not pressure. I have a job for the latter.

    • Xenolith
    • 9 years ago

    Runner is a well-crafted game. It is a baby-puncher.

    • Meadows
    • 9 years ago

    Implication is in the eye of the beholder, but still, can I be the only one who saw weird things in the last sentence? I mean, “softer touch”, ass-handing, and “someone half my age” in one sentence.

    No, must be me.

    Anyway, this quote reminded me of horror:
    [quote<]Mis-time a jump, hit slide when you meant to kick, or otherwise let your focus lapse for a second, and you're booted back to the start of the level. There's no margin for error. No checkpoints.[/quote<] The original Prince of Persia. Good lord, that was crap. Exactly the above quote, and more. In fact, I could never beat the sequel without cheating, and I only did that because I wanted to see what levels would've come.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 9 years ago

      Psychologists call this ‘projection.’

        • dpaus
        • 9 years ago

        The rest of us call it ‘creepy’

        • Meadows
        • 9 years ago

        I just thumbed you up. Project [i<]that[/i<].

          • MadManOriginal
          • 9 years ago

          Right back at you, although I’m a little scared to know you think you’re putting your thumb up…

            • sweatshopking
            • 9 years ago

            YOUR ASS

    • thanatos355
    • 9 years ago

    Honestly, BTR just looks to silly (and honestly a little confusing) for me to take very seriously or be interested in. There must have been a LOT of acid involved in its development! lol

    As for CS, psh. Come on over to the VnV servers on BC2. A lot of us are….”older”…and we’ll be sure to show you a good time. 😉

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