Developer Choice Provisions has fashioned themselves quite an expansive universe, as in 2009 we were first introduced to CommanderVideo in Bit.Trip, who then made an appearance in Bit.Trip Runner in 2010, subsequently spawning two sequels. The latter of these, entitled simply Runner 3, sees CommanderVideo return once again to... well, run, keeping with the 3D graphics introduced by the second runner game, this time introducing Switch players into the mix as well.
Nintendo's hybrid console is where we actually chose to play the game, and we should start by saying we really enjoyed it in both modes. When at home and sitting down we were sucked into the action with a Pro Controller in hand, but when we took it away with us in portable mode we had just as much fun with it out and about, and what's more is that both versions looked the part and performed well, even when the action was at its most intense.
But onto the game itself, and if you're a newbie let's just preface it with a warning: it's brutally difficult. The premise in itself is simple, as you're constantly running and need to use simple commands like jump or kick to navigate obstacles, but with scarce checkpoints and zero room for error, you'll find this simple premise catching you out even during the first few levels and you'll have to attempt the same sections repeatedly. If at first you don't succeed try, try and try again, as they say.
What the game is good at is introducing new elements gradually. The first level teaches you clearly how to jump, for instance, but after that a new element is introduced one at a time, like ducking under obstacles, kicking through walls, double jumping, and launching off of jump pads. This stops everything from getting too overwhelming as you fumble for the buttons as well as doing a good job of teaching you the instinctive movements you need to survive.
As mentioned, the difficulty comes not only from the delicate margins for error within the levels, i.e. tight gaps between one obstacle and another, but also from the speed at which you're forced to play, meaning you need to transition yourself between actions extremely quickly most of the time. This makes level knowledge a key component to keep yourself from screaming and waking the neighbours, as you'll find yourself not really looking at the specifics of the level, but more operating on muscle memory as you retry a section for the 40th time.
Everything looks smooth if you do decide to stop and smell the flowers and that applies most of all to the animations, and you can actually combine a lot of these too. For instance, by holding down and then tapping A you can kick while you're sliding, meaning you don't have to go from one move to another, which makes things a lot easier in the grand scheme of things.
The environments are perhaps the best-looking side of Runner 3 though, as they're all wild and colourful and unique, whether you're running in verdant green fields or in a freezer full of jelly and ice cream. The obstacles are specific to the levels too, like jelly cubes you can bounce on, for example. Choice Provisions always keeps you guessing about what's coming next.
You won't always be running either (shockingly) as there are some sections that see you take to a minecart or an airplane to add another layer of challenge, so it's not as if you're doing the same thing over and over again. Occasionally the perspective even changes to keep you on your toes, like when it switches to a moving the camera behind your back so you're running away from the screen rather than side-to-side like a platformer.
What might also come as a surprise is that this isn't just a linear selection of levels on a map, but there are branching pathways too. For instance, there are extra side levels to unlock if you collect enough gold bars on the map, but there are also other pathways within the levels themselves too. After one run you may unlock a new pathway for extra collectibles, or even meet a mysterious figure that'll give you a side quest based around certain items to collect. It's far more than just a platformer then, even if its initial basic premise may give that impression.
And speaking of collectibles, the game is built with collectors in mind, as just like Crash Bandicoot you get a scoreboard at the end showing how many of each item you've collected in the level, which is bound to send the brains of certain players itching if they realise they've missed one out of the 100 gold bars, for example. It's very arcadey in this sense, and replayability comes in chasing these high scores.
This is also no doubt built for speedrunners too, as each level can be completed in a certain amount of time and without deaths, the latter aspect being perhaps the most challenging, requiring the creme-de-la-creme of platform enthusiasts to be able to hit the specific cues and timings for all the levels, especially when you get to the impossible difficulties later on (they're not actually impossible though, the game assures us).
All in all it's like Runner 3 was made for the Switch with its short bursts of fun, arcade-like premise, and colourful visuals, but it's the kind of game that can get you both sweating and swearing profusely, so best not take it on the train if there's young children present. If you can handle the stress and the challenge, though, it's incredibly rewarding, and gives a lot of different avenues for players to keep chasing long after you've completed the main levels.
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