With the retro aesthetic, infectious music, and colourful visuals of their first series, Gaijin Games have endeared themselves to the hearts of many. What the Bit.Trip titles lack in excellent high-definition visuals and Hollywood budgets, they make up with a vibrant artistic style and actually substantive rhythm-based gameplay.
Beyond the addictive gameplay that can unintentionally leave one playing for hours on end, Gaijin Games subtly weaves an intriguing tale about man’s journey through life. Bit.Trip RUNNER shows Commander Video’s journey from adolescence into adulthood. Essentially, it is a story about the maturation of this man, his existential plateau, and his climactic moment.
Born and set on a course that is largely predetermined, man begins a race pursuant to goals. When we enter the world, facts like where we are, our physical appearance, the parents we are born unto, and ultimately who we are as people has already been decided regardless of whatever our opinions may be on the matter, as is the case with Commander Video. In Bit.Trip RUNNER, Gaijin Games places the player on a path that is entirely predetermined.
Commander Video runs on a single plane, at a fixed rate from right to left. Much like ourselves, Commander Video cannot change the pace of his life. He lives in the present moment – forever moving forward. He may not stop and linger in any moment in time, no matter how he may wish to. Before he knows it, in what might seem like the blink of an eye, a boy becomes a young man. Soon enough, that very same youth is but a distant, fleeting memory.
Like all men, whatever act of fate determined Commander Video’s location also decided the obstacles placed in his path which ultimately challenge him on the road to success. However, one thing that is not predetermined is the manner in which someone overcomes those obstacles. Nothing dictates how they go about achieving success and the level thereof. Some are comfortable with mediocrity and just scraping by, while others strive with all their might in order to reach the highest pillars of success.
This gameplay concept was introduced to the Bit.Trip series during VOID. Notions of greed and freedom of choice were introduced into the series’ gameplay, which were previously unseen in BEAT and CORE. In RUNNER, this concept makes a return with the introduction of the gold bars. The player can progress without collecting a single one and the journey will be easier because of it.
Conversely, some might find it rewarding to take up the challenge. Given a certain level of skill and persistence, these individuals will receive certain rewards for their efforts: i.e. various in-game music, visuals, high-scores, and the Pitfall-inspired bonus levels.
Of course, failure will happen at some point or another. However, by no means does failure signal the end of a journey. It is temporary a set back. Bit.Trip RUNNER makes it clear that one can always get back on the proverbial horse and try once more.
The only thing holding an individual back is their own frustrations. We can do anything if we put our minds to it, put in the effort, and never give up. Just like the challenges the game throws at the player, life can be unfair at times. However, no challenge is insurmountable; they make individuals grow, become stronger, and learn to appreciate their triumphs.
Within modern society, one way to measure success is based on how much money an individual makes. This is illustrated in Bit.Trip RUNNER with Commander Video and the collection of gold bars. The gold provides an incentive to undertake certain challenges.
Sometimes we become far too obsessed with the incentives attached to a particular situation and forget to enjoy the actual journey. Aside from the sense of accomplishment and personal bragging rights attached to doing well for one’s self in RUNNER life, the endless pursuit of money is largely meaningless.
It is a common sentiment that one cannot buy happiness. True enough, you can receive enjoyment from capital expenditures. However, if you are truly unhappy with yourself, no amount of money will ever bring you fulfillment. No matter how high of a score the player receives from RUNNER, if they do not enjoy the gameplay, then they are unlikely to be pleased by the experience.
Like the colour and music of the Bit.Trip series, true happiness is something far different than an incentive attached to a challenge. At times, achieving happiness may require you to toil and reach for it, in other instances it may just land at your feet.
As is oftentimes the case, the more a man succeeds in modern society, the further he is from happiness. The terribly successful are often jaded by their accomplishments. As RUNNER progresses and Commander Video achieves more, life in turn is much more challenging and difficult for him.
RUNNER sees Commander Video journey from natural landscapes, to rural locations, and finally complex urban locales. Just as getting to the end of a game is seen as a sign of success, human development and urbanization is seen as progress. Commander Video journeys to the city, but when he gets there, everything is drab, dirty, and colourless.
In the city, the music grows far less intense and engaging. The city streets are strangely vacant and are very much unlike the early portions of RUNNER. These early stages, while simple and undeveloped, were teeming with life.
At the end of it all, we are left yearning for simpler times. It is tragic that when we are young, all that we want in life is the success and freedom associated with adulthood, and that as an adult, we desperately yearn for our youth.