As a hardcore gamer, I obviously have a pretty high opinion of myself when it comes to the realm of gaming. I have masochistically forced myself through many a brutally difficult adventure, and have tediously pursued dozens of irrelevant trophies and achievements for my various digital showcases. I have overcome the infamous Land of the Livid Dead in Rayman Origins, taken on Ornstein and Smough without assistance in Dark Souls, and toppled every optional boss in every Final Fantasy game known to man, and yet, there are still games that can crush me without fail, despite my ego and aptitude for the hobby. Bit.Trip.Runner is one such game.
When I initially picked it up, it was for the meager amount of $1.99 on Steam. “What a score!” I thought to myself as I downloaded it to my library, completely unaware of the eventual cataclysm that would strike me down, drowning my happy pride like an unwanted litter of kittens. I had no idea what this game would do to me, and perhaps that was a blessing. But let’s go back, back to the beginning of my downfall, to the start of my unending failure in the one place where I thought I was beyond such things. This is the story of how I learned that my best simply wasn’t good enough.
Bit.Trip.Runner is a rhythm-based platforming game with retro stylings and an addictive soundtrack of cheerful chiptunes. Sounds familiar enough, right? Starting with the first few levels, the player is introduced to the simplistic play mechanics: Jump, Duck, Attack, etc. Commander Video runs automatically from one end of the stage to the other, all you have to do is get him there without hitting any of the obstacles that stand between the beginning and the end. I played through 10 stages of this formula in about half an hour, occasionally failing, but undeterred by the unforgiving level design, which sends you back to the start after a single mistake.
Then came 1.11, the dreaded Odyssey. Unlike the previous 10 stages, The Odyssey was a level that was staggering in its length and totally masochistic in its design. It took everything that players had been taught over the earlier levels and crammed it all into one disastrously long trek, forcing you to utilize every move in the game with scarcely a second’s notice. There were color-coded bouncing balls, all manner of enemies and obstacles, and the same soul-crushing music playing on a loop over and over again with each subsequent failure.
Ultimately it turned out to be too much for me. To date, I have played The Odyssey for a mind-numbing 2 1/2 hours, to no avail (thanks Steam library, for recording exactly how much time I’ve wasted on this stage). Though on one bittersweet attempt I made it a single bouncing ball from the end, I have never managed to finish this stage, and to this day Bit.Trip.Runner remains a depressing black mark in my gaming library, a game that not only was I not good enough to beat, but neither was I proficient enough to even make it a full third of the way through the entire adventure.
I have since traversed the wastelands of the internet in search of solace, and though I have found many who share my terrifying tale of digital failure, Runner scholars have told me of a mythical 3rd world stage that is even more difficult than The Odyssey, a thought that has caused me to awaken with a chill over many a restless night.
The sequel, Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, a title I did manage to finish, had the good graces to at least put a checkpoint system into place. And though I feel a partial sense of redemption at finishing that game, Bit.Trip.Runner remains a skeleton in my closet, one I can only hope to have the gall and skill to one day exorcise.