Bit.Trip ReRunner’s Mario Maker-esque level editor makes a good game even better

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Cor, it sure is good to be back in Commander Video’s running shoes again. I know Bit.Trip Runner and Choice Provisions’ assorted Bit.Trip rhythm games have been available on Steam for absolutely yonks (and still are, in fact), but my memories of these are all on the Nintendo Wii. That’s where I encountered most of the games firs – and I haven’t really been back since. I dabbled in Runner 2 on the Wii U, but positively bounced off the 3D-ness of Runner 3 when it came to PC, preferring instead the clean, simple lines of its stark pixel sprites.

It’s with some surprise, then, that I’ve had such a good time with Bit.Trip ReRunner, the recently released fancied up version of the auto-running original that brings its rhythmic courses kicking and screaming into that third dimension. But it’s really more of a compilation game than anything else, packing in extra protein in the form of EP soundtracks and freshly-created course selections from all eight games in the series (mashing tunes from Beat, Core, Void, Fate, Flux into a Runner-style format), as well as lots of new tricks and abilities up its sleeve. But the crown jewel in ReRunner isn’t so much the joy of getting a fresh dose of OG Runner again, but seeing what its player base has already started making with its brilliant Runner Maker level editor. Yep, much like Super Mario Maker before it, Bit.Trip has opened itself up to the whims of would-be game making audience, and they are running with it (sorry).

I must admit, I’ve never been one for level editing. Faced with a blank canvas, my mind malfunctions and empties itself of all rational thought immediately – which might sound dumb when I’m faced with a blank page every day, but there we are. My brain just doesn’t work in level blocks. Only words, it would seem. Point is, I’ve never quite had the time or inclination to sit down and just… mess about in level editors. I’d much rather consume than create, and so far, at least, what I’ve played of the Runner Maker levels has been pretty darn outstanding.

It helps that every level in Bit.Trip ReRunner itself has been made using these exact same editing tools, allowing players to see and understand the game’s building blocks before putting them to use later over in the Maker. In case you’re unfamiliar with Bit.Trip Runner more broadly, it’s essentially a rhythm-based auto-runner where your jumps and actions build and crescendo in time with its chiptune soundtrack, creating a melodic, onward rush of slides, jumps, kicks, blocks and, eventually, blissful rainbow trails as you crash through obstacles, sail over chasms and slip between enemy attack patterns on your race to victory. Much of your enjoyment will, of course, depend on how much you get into the groove of its music, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Bit.Trip’s flavour of chiptune, and hearing these tracks again all these years later has just been exquisite.

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Choice Provisions

I do still have some minor gripes about how readable the main courses are in 3D, mind. While Commander Video retains his original flat, pixel look, the environments he’s running in are all three-dimensional, and with no option to turn off motion blur, much of ReRunner’s background scenery can descend into messy smears of distraction. Often I wasn’t able to parse what was even going on half the time because I was so focused on what was happening in the foreground. This is a shame, as the series’ ongoing drive for greater and greater levels of visual spectacle does, I think, detract from what makes Bit.Trip Runner so toe-tappingly brilliant in the first place. It’s always been the music and the precision of its platforming that makes Bit.Trip Runner sing, and I’d argue anything else just gets in the way of that.

Still, the straight, horizontal plains of ReRunner are, at least, a lot more digestible and less frustrating than the curvier spirals (and thus harder to judge) tracks of later 3D Runner entries, and the Maker levels are similarly all about making a great, left-to-right running course. It has a brief tutorial that teaches you the basics of creating obstacles and rewards to make an engaging course, but I can’t say I was overly inspired to continue tinkering with it after completing it. As I said, this stuff isn’t really in my wheelhouse. Still, in some ways, it makes what the community have created all the more impressive, as the tutorial is really very brief, and some of the levels I’ve played so far have shown a mastery of its rhythmic auto-running far beyond what it actually teaches you at the start. (Since writing this I’ve found there’s a much more in-depth tutorial on Choice Provisions’ website, which is worth a read if you’re interested!).

A black pixel character with rainbows streaming behind him runs at a UFO enemy in Bit.Trip ReRunner

A black pixel character kicks a pink rock on the moon in Bit.Trip ReRunner

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Choice Provisions

So much so, in fact, that there are some levels in there that I straight up didn’t know how to complete at first, mostly because they were utilising techniques and abilities that I was either still building up the muscle memory for, or that I hadn’t encountered in the main game yet. As such, I would strongly recommend playing the meat of ReRunner first before dabbling in its Maker levels, as there are new powers and button presses here that you really need to enshrine into your soul before tackling the community-made stuff.

Alas, you can’t tell in advance what abilities you’ll need to use in a Maker level, but you do get a rough difficulty indicator set by the creator, as well as the time it takes to complete the course in question. Some are tiny five-to-ten-second challenges that require absolutely pitch-perfect timing for a single, spectacular flourish if you get it right, while others are minute-long epics with hundreds of gold pieces to collect, offering even richer, more layered takes on its assortment of soundtrack options. There are even a handful that rely so heavily on tiny little booster springs to propel you forward that you can just sit back and enjoy the ride – and the music, of course. There are all sorts here, and if you make a mistake, ReRunner’s instant checkpoint reloads (with an all-important little breather gap to make sure you’re ready to go again) get you straight back up on your feet in double quick time.

A black pixel character jumps over wooden obstacles in Bit.Trip ReRunner

“CVs Never Say Die” by Stemage is one of my favs. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Choice Provisions

Sifting through to the really good stuff was a little rocky at launch, admittedly, but luckily it now looks as though it’s improved a bit. You can sort levels by downloads, total likes and total plays, as well as the total number of ‘bonks’ (aka: times people have died) to help get a reasonably clear idea about what’s in store and, crucially, whether it’s any good. It’s also easier to like and favourite levels after you’ve completed them now, too. I don’t remember this being an option when ReRunner first came out in September (if it was, it wasn’t very clear), and it was pretty unwieldy to dip back into its giant list of things just to give a level its proper due. Thankfully, this is no longer an issue, and the servers seem more stable, too, which is always a plus, making everything easier to enjoy.

So yes, you could still just get the original Bit.Trip Runner and have a great time with it. But when you’ve got an ever-increasing number of brilliant community-driven Maker levels, combined with its meaty main course of developer-made tracks with songs taken from all its different entries, Bit.Trip ReRunner is far from just another remaster also-run. Rather, it feels like a victory lap for the entire series, and as someone who’s previously only been able to appreciate and admire the likes of Mario Maker, Dreams and other level-editor-focused games like this (as opposed to getting any nourishment from the actual playing of them), I’d argue this is probably one of the most successful incarnations of this type of game I’ve seen. Time to make some new Commander Video memories afresh, perhaps? Just let me get my running shoes.

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