As perfect as CommanderVideo’s pirouette

BIT.TRIP RUN! is a shining example of how to port a game to mobile.  The tightly responsive, elegantly fluid experience of BIT.TRIP Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien on PC and consoles has been translated to iOS with nearly identical content, quality, and fun intact.  Despite being best experienced with a controller/gamepad, the transition to touchscreen controls has been superbly executed, presenting mobile players with gameplay perfectly adapted to the platform without feeling watered down. 

That gameplay pits players against the same finite running levels found in Runner2 as they control the always-ambulatory CommanderVideo.  The dangerous, robotic minions of Mingrawn Timbletot are spread across three worlds—the Welkin Wonderland, Emerald Brine, and Supernature—in an attempt to stop our hero from escaping his current imprisonment in an unknown dimension.  Players of BIT.TRIP RUN! will be treated to the same story, Charles Martinet-narrated cutscenes, and even wacky commercials available in Runner2, although the final two worlds—the Mounting Sadds and Bit.Trip—will be released in a future, free update.

BIT.TRIP RUN!

Each level requires transporting CommanderVideo or one of his seven unlockable friends—like CommandGirlVideo and Reverse Merman—from start to finish while dodging everything from bottomless pits to boxing robots, spiked balls to wooden bot blockades.  Our always-in-motion characters can perform most of the same actions they utilized in Runner2, with a few changes made specifically for the touchscreen format.  Players will tap to jump, hold to glide, swipe down to slide, swipe right to kick or block, and swipe left to dance—a stylish move used only to rack up points, but one that BIT.TRIP RUN! would feel incomplete without.  Because tapping is inevitably slower than button-mashing, many of the stairway sections of levels have been fitted with automatic trampolines that propel CommanderVideo up and over without requiring the player to tap themselves to death.  Other springboards have also been automated, activating when run over instead of via player input.

These changes serve to make BIT.TRIP RUN! more accessible on touchscreens rather than simply easier.  The obstacles and challenges that remain in the game still provide plenty of opportunities for failure or frustration, as well as exuberant celebrating once they are conquered.  Runners will still find themselves pitted against multi-jump challenges and sections that demand lightning-fast finger swipes to jump-slide-jump-kick-glide.  The three difficulty levels allow players to tailor their experience accordingly, as well as replay stages in an attempt to earn a “triple perfect” by collecting all the gold and mode-ups on each version of the stage.

BIT.TRIP RUN!

That gold, in addition to being used for completion standards, can be spent on unlockable levels as well as purchasing extra characters and costumes.  In Runner2, players unlocked new characters by playing their specific stage, and new costumes and retro stages by finding treasure chests in the levels.  On one hand, this gave added purpose to levels with hidden bonuses; finding a chest or cartridge and unlocking something new felt like a significant achievement.  On the other, it also required hefty backtracking and replaying of levels once you opened the necessary treasure chest “key vault” in each world.  BIT.TRIP RUN! has done away with all of this in favor of rewards that are immediately available, so long as you’ve acquired enough gold. 

In a similarly player-friendly move, each world is also open to explore from the beginning; you don’t have to finish the Welkin Wonderland before trying out the Emerald Brine.  Individual levels do unlock in sets of three—meaning you can’t play the final level of a world without completing the ones before it—but this is much more accessible than the single-level and world progression of Runner2.  This also negates one of the most consistently frustrating aspects of either game: the boss battles.  While they still exist in all their not-so-fun glory in BIT.TRIP RUN!, you at least don’t have to complete them in order to move on.

All of this openness, while mostly welcome, does lessen the incentive to follow the “hard” path in each stage.  While BIT.TRIP RUN! retains the path splits at certain intersections—one leading to an easier, less dangerous road and one to a more enemy-filled hellscape—there’s rarely a reason to follow the harder path outside of masochistic high score-seeking.  They no longer contain costumes or alternate stage unlocks, and even the one item they do offer instead—a TAP button added in as an extra challenge to mobile players—is not required to earn a perfect stage completion, a poor replacement for the shiny treasure hunt of Runner2.

BIT.TRIP RUN!

With two worlds yet to be released, we’re curious to see how BIT.TRIP RUN! will tackle some of the more challenging obstacles of Runner2‘s later stages.  The Mounting Sadds pitted even Quite Easy difficulty players against enemies that required frequent slide-jumps and slide-kicks, abilities that are currently very difficult to accomplish via the touchscreen controls.  Runner2 allowed for indefinite sliding or kicking, so long as the button was held down; BIT.TRIP RUN! activates each move upon swipe for a preset period of time, giving you only a short window to perform dual actions.  Based on the inclusion of auto-jumps, Gaijin Games likely has a similar plan up their sleeve, but we’ll have to wait to find out what it is.

As a port, BIT.TRIP RUN! is perfect, standing up to its predecessor while simultaneously meeting the challenge of an entirely new control scheme.  Runner2 on PC is still the definitive version of CommanderVideo’s colorful, rhythmic runner, but BIT.TRIP RUN! is the best possible iOS iteration we could have hoped for, and one of the most must-play games on mobile today.