Prior to heading into the office in the morning last week, I decided to squeeze in a push through one of Runner3‘s later levels. I had about fifteen minutes before I typically leave, so a short run would be just fine to rack up some points. Commander Video took off from the starting line and my run was going well — I had managed to jump over some massive ravines, collect gold, open up a couple of new paths, and avoid any obstacle-related death. I was doing fine on time, and I could walk into the office with a little grin after the solid performance. Everything was right on schedule, and the game seemed to cooperate just right, until the hurdling became more perilous and avoiding spiked enemies difficult. Tension kept mounting and I found it nearly impossible to remain alive. Suddenly, the time left before I had to leave became less certain.
I managed to make it near the finish line. I was mentally and physically drained from juggling buttons, but the end goal was right there, ready for the taking.
Well, it WAS right there. Until I slammed face first into a cliffside just a hair’s width away. All that time spent, all that effort, wasted. How late was I going to be to the office, without anything positive to show for it?
I put down the Switch and looked up at the clock, ready to gauge how fast I would have to drive. My face became ever perplexed. I could have sworn that the clock was moving too slow, or the batteries were running out. Only two minutes had gone by, not 15 or 20. I could play again, if I had the energy.
Runner3 does that to us. It fits so much into just one level, that each run feels like an entire game in itself. It’s a tightly packed experience that can both satisfy and overwhelm us at the same time.
Much like the other games in the series, Runner3 is a left-to-right endless runner where we jump, slide and avoid obstacles while racking up points towards reaching a goal. The catch with the series is that it’s a rhythm-based game, mixing platforming with music elements, encouraging us to tap in unison with the bleeps and blops we hear. The visuals are poppy and colorful, looking good on the Switch’s screen but great on a TV. The variety of levels is welcome, too, with hazards changing from things like boxes in one to gaseous slugs in the next. There’s a lot of great animation, and a lot of stuff going on visually, which can get a little distracting at times (probably on purpose). Because it’s the backbone of the game, the music is fantastic. The beats and visuals work together, so that if we listen to the notes we can time our moves correctly.
Where the pervious games could sort of be solved without eyes closed and listening to said beats, there are far more platforming elements this time around. No matter how we play it, there’s a certain level of frustration that we have to accept going in. We’re going to screw up, a lot. It’s not uncommon to “die” 40-50 times while playing certain levels. The stair sections can be brutal, especially to my fat fingers that aren’t as quick as they used to be. I keep missing jumps, even on the earliest areas, when they should be easy by now. Part of the issue may be the relative lack of feedback that the game gives us when we jump or kick or do something right, as we only feel anything when we do something wrong. Another may be on what device we choose to play. I find the Switch’s Pro Controller to be much better than the Joy-Cons for controlling the game, as the shape of the buttons and curvature of the gamepad lend itself better to the spacing of everything for me.
Interestingly, the game seems to revel in the difficulty and complexity. We start off with just jumps, but each new level brings a new mechanic for us to master. Slides, kicks, butt stomps, double jumps… That’s just our move set. We also learn about environmental effects, like trampolines, wall bounces, vehicles and more, and all of these come into play in increasing mixes. So much is jammed into the worlds, that memory is just as important as reflexes. It also doesn’t help that the checkpoints midway through feel like they’re just ever so far ahead, and yet ever so far behind when we miss a ramp and need to go back.
Eventually, we get into the rhythm (pun!) and are able to complete a level. The later areas are more difficult, but by the time we clear them the earlier ones feel much, much easier to go back to. It’s almost like the game is teaching us how to play.
Runner3 incorporates a LOT of collectibles and unlocks, prolonging the experience outside of the actual level design. It encourages us to go back through again and again, grabbing 100 gold bars in one run and then having the ability to open up alternate paths and go after diamonds the second time around. If we feel like it, we can even try to fluff our scores, as the online leaderboard dangles yet another carrot in front of us. The nature of the game lets us get a sense for how a score was achieved just by seeing it on the screen. If we got 500,000, and the next person ahead of us got 515,000, then we can figure out that they were more daring in the level’s flats (where we can tap buttons to get our characters to dance for bonuses) or that they avoided a gold bar to grab something else. The challenge levels are fun, albeit EVEN MORE difficult; the retro levels are wildly unique, changing the game completely by making the experience a more traditional 2D platformer with the same move subset but now a Hanna-Barbera visual style. You can even unlock voiceover artist Charles Martinet later in the game.
It reminds me of Super Mario World, with plenty of paths and collectibles and reasons to come back to each level, even after we’ve completed the main quest.
Runner3 is not a giant leap from its predecessor. Developers Choice Provisions eschewed big gameplay alterations for a more lateral growth. that focuses on challenge instead. It doesn’t mess with the formula, but adds so much more that it feels like a bigger experience. It’s incredibly charming, and lends itself well to coming back. It can get real tough real fast, and real frustrating, too; I’ve put down the Switch in anger more than a few times while playing it, swearing that I’ll never play it again. But then I calm down, and I do, going after that one more carrot.
This review is based on an eShop code for the game sent to SideQuesting by the publisher. The game is available for Switch and PC Steam.