Saturday, May 19

Review: Runner 3 [Nintendo Switch eShop]

From all accounts, looking in from the outside, making great games and ensuring they’re successful is brutally tough work. Working through every phase of the development process, from concept, to prototype, on through the entire road to putting the game out there obstacles abound. Speaking from the outside, as someone not privy to those trials, all I can do is report honestly on the result… and sometimes doing so can be complicated and frustrating. That’s very much the case for Runner 3, a title that has a ton going for it and that can be a lot of fun, but that has a serious design flaw that gets in its own way when considering general audiences.

Starting with the positive, if you’re unfamiliar with the title this is from probably the most well-designed and satisfying endless runner-styled games made. Previously played pretty well exclusively from the side you’d control your character, Commander Video, through a gauntlet of obstacles and traps, jumping, sliding, and kicking your way through the game. A signature element of the series has always been the terrific soundtrack that accompanies the gameplay, not quite making it a rhythm game per se, but with the action always having a sort of beat to it when executed optimally.

What Runner 3 does is basically super-charge everything that had been in the game before, adding in new flavor, surprises, and challenges. No longer played exclusively from the side in certain sections the camera will pan around you, altering the feel of play and leaning a bit more heavily into you feeling the beat to help you plan your moves. A variety of vehicle sections have also been added, whether in a plane, on a runaway soda can, or a car (and more) these sections show up periodically and do a fantastic job of keeping things from being predictable. In each stage you’ll go through the “easier” route, only able to collect gold bars, but in subsequent runs you’ll be able to take an often tougher path that has gems as well that you can collect to help purchase a variety of costume elements to make things more fun. Throw in boss battles, hero quests that will allow you to unlock new characters (including some great surprises), puppets that you can collect to put on a story-driven puppet show, and even a hidden straight-up retro platforming game within the game and there’s no question a load of effort and even care have gone into making the most of this latest outing.

Where the trouble comes in is with the game’s current level of difficulty and the fact that there’s really no viable way to tone it down. Degree of difficulty truly is an art when it is executed well, challenging hard core players but allowing room for the mainstream crowd to enjoy it. The fact that the areas you’ll run through are challenging actually isn’t the issue though, as the game grinds on the aggravating thing that stands out is that the checkpoints in the game are simply far too scarce and far apart. As much as I love the music and design elements of the game the 40th time or more you’re starting over in the same section it begins to wear on you. The oddity is that the series hasn’t always been like this and in theory it doesn’t need to be this way. For the ambitious types who are running for scores there’s always been the option to jump over the checkpoint marker, giving up the benefit and gambling on doing a perfect run. Another option to simplify things has been to not go after every object, taking less risks. Unfortunately, given the length of the sections you need to cover without a critical mistake and the nature of the levels themselves don’t really lend themselves to being significantly easier if you give up on collecting everything. In no way am I saying that the game is “too hard”, “impossible to enjoy”, or even “unfair” as a blanket statement, just having played a lot of challenging games I will say that this is among the most challenging primarily because of the space you need to cover. Intense titles like Super Meat Boy partially compensate for their brutality by generally making levels on the short side, forcing you to conquer tough sections and then move on rather than expecting you to complete long chains of them.

Taking it all in, scoring the game for a general audience is a challenge. On the one hand it has a ton of very cool content, with a terrific funky design, creative levels, exciting new elements, surprising unlocks, and a soundtrack that sticks with you. On the other it’s not hard to see where mainstream audiences are likely to get too frustrated with the game to bother to see a lot of it. Score-chasers and speedrunners will no doubt revel in the challenge, but the thing is that regardless of whether the game was made more mainstream-balanced those elements would still be strong. With a patch to tone things down I could easily see the game jumping up a point as it became more inviting, just right now it’s much more of an acquired taste and that’s a shame.

Score: 7.5

  • The design ranges from strange to unusual to utterly bizarre in a brilliant way
  • More secrets, unlocks, and hidden goodies than you can believe
  • Memorable music that blends in with the action extremely well

  • Difficult sections are a great thing, and to be expected, but stringing so many together with no option for toning things down makes it tough to imagine mainstream audiences sticking with through to the end