An excuse to touch CommanderVideo
We’ve been gleefully bounding through the colorful and surreal world of BIT.TRIP Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien since its release in March, blissful yet tethered to our PCs, desperately in need of a shower. Gaijin Games smelled our seven-month game funk and has come through with an updated port of Runner2 that can be played on the go: BIT.TRIP RUN! for iOS. Although BIT.TRIP RUN! won’t be available until an as-yet-undisclosed future date, we got a chance to go hands-on with both its beta build and the brain of lead designer Danny Johnson for a doubly delicious sneak peek.
Unlike the other upcoming port of Runner2 for PS Vita, BIT.TRIP RUN! has been tweaked and rebuilt specifically for touch screens. Stages still offer an intense amount of challenge—and three difficulty levels to choose from—but the difficulty won’t be due to sloppy controls. What once took an entire gamepad’s worth of buttons can now be completed with the tap or swipe of one finger. CommanderVideo will still jump, slide, block, kick, and dance his way to victory, performing every action he is capable of in Runner2.
“We did not remove any abilities,” Johnson told Gamezebo, “but we did take out some obstacles that would be difficult with the new control style. The slide jump is trickier to perform now, so we replaced those obstacles. The interaction with other obstacles has been modified to be more straightforward and less demanding of constant input.” One example of this reduced input is the addition of “stair hoppers,” or automatic trampoline-like bouncers that make the many short steps in BIT.TRIP RUN! easier to navigate. Not every step contains a hopper; they are integrated intelligently throughout stages to prevent tap-exhaustion.
Another ingenious streamlining is the combination of similar actions. In Runner2, kicking an obstacle or blocking a beat utilized two different buttons. In BIT.TRIP RUN!, both actions are performed by swiping right. The game recognizes the context and performs the appropriate action while still requiring players to be alert. “The controls are the trickiest thing to deal with because it’s hard to know when they’re good enough,” Johnson said. “The team gets so adept at the game that it is hard to see the faults.” After our brief hands-on time with BIT.TRIP RUN!, we can safely say Gaijin is on the right track control-wise: swiping to direct CommanderVideo feels intuitive and responsive, demanding but not draining. Johnson added, “What people may not know is that there has been more time spent revamping the menus to be touch-based, which is unexciting but necessary work.”
Those menus are critical in this new version of Runner2, as a number of features that previously existed within stages are now separate unlocks. Instead of finding cartridges and costumes while running through the game’s levels, both of these—as well as additional stages—can be purchased at any time, in any order, with the in-game gold CommanderVideo picks up. “Bringing the game to mobile meant that we had to reconsider if all of our design decisions were appropriate anymore. The major change was to modify all of the levels so that they are still tough but fair with the new control style,” Johnson said.
“The retro cartridges, keys and alternate exits proved confusing for some, and this was the chance to streamline the flow of the game. The costumes are really cool, but there were people that never got to see them, so we made costumes and characters more accessible. Ultimately, we targeted the experience more toward a pick-up-and-play style that is appropriate for the device while keeping true to the original game.” This revamped menu, with levels flowing linearly from start to boss, and extras unlockable as you see fit, definitely makes sense in the shortform mobile arena. The currency system we saw was also very reasonable, with characters costing 500 gold and individual costumes requiring only 50 gold a piece (stages typically award 40-60 gold each). While these might not be the final rates, they indicate BIT.TRIP RUN! likely won’t be making a run for your wallet.
The touch screen and organizational changes to BIT.TRIP RUN! may highlight its place as a new game, but the visuals and smorgasbord of content certainly won’t. Players will be treated to richly detailed and highly polished worlds that could have been copied straight from Runner2, complete with epic boss battles and Big Foot traipsing through the Supernature. “The goal was to retain as much as possible and only scale back where players would not notice,” Johnson said. “These tiny devices are pretty darn powerful, though.” Powerful enough that repeat players may actually notice a few upgrades: “Our animator even got the chance to go back and improve some animations on the characters.”
Those characters are the same seven from the vanilla Runner2, such as Reverse Merman and Retro CommanderVideo, and come complete with all 40 costumes. “I have a fondness for all of the costumes because I’m actually the one who made all of them,” Johnson told us. “I like CommanderVideo in the Turkey Suit because I was able to bring to reality one of the jokes we made in the video from early on in development.”
With BIT.TRIP RUN! being the third installment in the Runner world, Gaijin also has a fondness for the series itself, turkey costume or not. “Our team and the fans all seem to gravitate toward Runner as a favorite of the series. All of the games are great, but Runner holds a special place in our hearts,” Johnson said. “Runner2 was our way of refining the experience that so many people loved while also taking a new approach. Then the Flash game CommanderVideo was another way to give back to the fans while doing something small and fun.” Despite this affection for Runner, the other BIT.TRIP games are never far from their mind, including more mobile ports. “Mobile is definitely an option we want to explore, but with a small team we can only do so much,” Johnson said. “For the original [BIT.TRIP] series, the intention was to bring them to the PC first, and even that is still ongoing.
“At some point, you want to move on from what you have done and start making new stuff. So we were excited to get started on Runner2, and had to shelve any side projects. With Runner2 finished, we now have the time. It also helps when a game is fresh in your mind, otherwise you can forget how you made it in the first place. Once we proved that the game could work on mobile, we saw this as our opportunity to expose the game to a whole new audience.”
The thought of playing the entire BIT.TRIP series on iOS is almost too exciting to even entertain. For now, we’re content to wait for the confirmed and already quality BIT.TRIP RUN!, the future legend of rhythm games on mobile.