As a drummer, I can be picky when it comes to music games. Too often they come with controls that don’t do enough to compensate for lag or latency, or just plain don’t match up with the beat. So imagine my disappointment when I began hearing rumblings that the recently released BIT.TRIP RUN! (out now, $3.99) had major control issues. As soon as I had Gaijan Games’ rhythmic platformer in my hands my fears were realized: the game had two left feet. I had to train myself to tap and swipe half a beat earlier than what felt natural in order to pass levels; an awkward solution, but one I grew accustomed to after completing the first of the game’s three available worlds. Then, a small miracle: the game was updated with vastly improved controls! At last, my taps and swipes were registered at the correct times and I could hop, dance, and kick through levels with ease. However, small problems still persist as of this writing.
The worst of these is that in rare spots in certain levels the jump swipe simply doesn’t register. It’s an odd bug, but one I’ve found several times (the jump right after the 25th gold in “Winding Wild Windworks”, for example). Luckily you can switch to the original tap-to-jump controls which seems to fix it. Also, when using the swipe-only controls you have to swipe up to fire cannons into bullseyes (which appear when you’ve completed a stage perfectly) which feels bizarre. It makes the new controls feel somewhat rushed, but at least the latency is better.
Another issue I had while playing is that the runner you’re controlling, Commander Video, is somewhat hard to see, despite constantly flailing around. There are several reasons I’ve come up with to try to explain this: For one thing, on my iPad it seems like he’s right in the blindspot of my vision. I’m always looking at the right side of the screen to anticipate upcoming obstacles and he’s this tiny little thing bopping around on the left. Also, the fact that he’s almost entirely dressed in black doesn’t help, especially in the final night time world (though in fairness you can switch to one of the seven other brighter characters). Finally, everything in the background is as clear and sharp and animated as everything in the foreground, making your little runner even hard to spot from the corner of your eye.
Everything bad out of the way? Good. Because strap in, the rest of this game is amazing.
Let’s start with the art. Quite simply, it’s stunning. Everything from the characters to the backgrounds is vibrant, quirky, and gorgeous. It’s not just the in-game visuals, either. The menus in the game are colorful and deliciously retro, so much so that part of me wishes the entire game was done in that art style. The animation is pretty spectacular as well; in particular, I love the way the little runners flail their arms and legs as they get sucked back to a checkpoint when you screw up.
Gameplay-wise, it feels a bit like a musical version of Joe Danger. Each level is littered with traps, cliffs, stairs, springs, and other obstacles to be raced over, under, on, or through. You have three control options (post-update), each performing great for the most part, though I did find myself switching between them to beat certain levels due to the aforementioned problems that still rarely occur.
In each level you’re judged on how many of the three different items you’re able to collect: “tap” signs, plus signs, and gold. Collect them all and you’ll have perfected the level, and seeing the level select screen filled with your accomplishments in this regard is mighty satisfying. While tap and plus signs don’t do much outside of the levels, the gold is used to buy costumes, characters, and unlock bonus levels.
Making up these bonus levels are 12 challenge levels and 15 retro levels, which are pretty much how they sound. The challenge levels are indeed more difficult than the regular levels, though not by much. Still, they do a lot to extend the replay value of the game, giving you a dozen more “perfect”s to chase down. The retro levels are also great, because they look like something out of an old Commodore 64 game. These levels are much shorter and don’t reward you for collecting everything, but they are a really cool addition nonetheless.
In spite of a myriad of small problems I had with the game, none of them do much to make a dent in the overall package. It’s got tons of levels and things to unlock, and the art and gameplay are both fun and upbeat to match the music. What more could you want in a rhythm game?
iFanzine Verdict: While the first half of my run-through of Gaijin Games’ BIT.TRIP RUN! was plagued with control issues, luckily a quick update made the second half a much more enjoyable experience. And while they still aren’t quite as perfect as I’d like, they more than get the job done. The fine controls paired with the stunning visuals and fun gameplay make this beat hard not to dance to.