There was a time when music and rhythm games were all the rage. Those days have since passed, but the essence of that style hasn't completely disappeared — quite the opposite, in fact, as developer Choice Provisions has been honing and perfecting the genre for years with the popular Runner series of games. Fortunately, if latest release Runner3 is any indication, the studio's curious blend of rhythmic platforming and absurd humor is as endearing now as it ever has been before.
A lot of things might come to mind when players think of endless runners, but it's safe to say that mechanical depth and immaculate presentation don't usually make the list. That's not the case with Runner3 — not only does the game provide tense action through careful combinations of basic moves set in time with music, it also has loads of hidden surprises and a level of polish that might be unexpected in games from independent studios.
One of the most notable features of Runner3 is its level design. Each environment, each stage, and each hilarious backdrop is delightfully rendered in a distinct and remarkably silly comic style. More than that, the levels themselves have become far more dynamic — players can see platforms swing into the path in perfect time or even watch as the stage assembles itself right in front of the perpetually running hero.
Commander Video and his group of allies all still operate largely as they have before, keeping the music alive and avoiding obstacles through use of a jump, double jump, slide, and kick, but there are a few interesting twists thrown into the mix. In particular, the developers have introduced a number of new methods of synchronized translocation through vehicles and other means. One section sees the hero flying across the environment on a popped soda can, while another sees the protagonist manipulating a bowling ball to collect gold stashes before crashing into a series of bowling pins.
These segments not only provide some added audiovisual flair, they also help to break up the game's otherwise two-dimensional flat-plane action. Some levels, such as the one where the hero has to ascend up and out of a refrigerator, shake the patterns up even further with left-oriented running and a series of different paths that can the hero can swap between on the fly. Coupled together with moving platforms, flying enemies, or dangerous pitfalls, these segments provide another layer of fun that often manages to outshine the action found throughout the rest of the level.
Beyond The Flash and Sizzle
It's clear to see that the Runner3 development team spent a lot of time fine-tuning gameplay mechanics and music, but there's more to the game than its action — there are also loads of different collectibles, currencies, characters, cosmetic items, and a light peppering of ultra-challenging Impossible levels. In each stage, players can collect both gold and gems, but they'll often also come across hidden paths containing special collectibles. These separate routes sometimes lead to one of the game's many collectible puppets, the likes of which together serve to unlock special puppet show cinematics that comprise the game's storyline.
Beyond all of this, there are also a number of special retro-inspired platforming worlds. Unlike the rest of the game, these play out like a traditional platformer would, where the hero can move left to right, jump, and attack enemies at will. Each of these worlds have a number of different levels, and they each offer up their own currency that can be used to purchase costumes and accessories at the in-game shop.
Driven By Rhythm
The true heart of Runner3 once again comes down to how well its gameplay suits rhythm game and platforming fans with a knack for perfecting their craft. Getting a Perfect or a Perfect+ on a level involves learning the patterns for its various obstacles — and this is particularly true for the game's three different knight variants — but players truly driven toward perfect runs will have to use their ears to get a feel for when to execute different maneuvers. Every jump to a gold pile or slide beneath a box feels deliberately synced with the music, and finding the groove introduces sometimes-subtle, sometimes-obvious musical cues that help keep the player on track.
I'm not ready for my time with Runner3 to end. There's just something magical about how Choice Provisions approaches rhythmic platforming, and the team's latest formula is better than ever. Runner3 is a perfect example of the genre done right, offering up another welcome serving of the signature style, content, humor, and polish that series fans have come to expect.
This review is based on a Steam download code provided by the publisher. Runner3 is available in retail and digital stores on May 22 for $29.99. The game has been rated E10+ by the ESRB.