PEGBRJE: Combo Postage and Runner3
WE GO AGAIN — that’s.. what both games are about.
Combo Postage is an action puzzle game made by HacksawUnit, a solo dev out of the United States and frequent Ludum Dare participant. In this title, players are Sue who has recently gotten a summer job at a postage warehouse of some kind, preparing the packages with a cool tape gun and sending them on their way afterwards. Only thing is, these packages must all be non-fragile because the warehouse’s storage system is via drops.
Sue likes to live dangerously, or perhaps this job has no workplace safety; regardless, players will be trying their best to avoid the crushing death that is falling boxes while taping them and crushing them up. Thankfully the system informs Sue which row the boxes are dropping down, along with a nifty timer on the side to help inform how much time til drop and what is coming down. The cool tape gun issued allows for Sue to prep boxes by running up the side of them, or by stomping the box below her. Once taped, boxes can be stomped on once again to send them off, removing them from the storage area and giving Sue some glorious points. The more boxes she stomps in a column, the more points she gains for that combo. It becomes a stressful situation as the boxes begin to stack higher and higher, closer and closer to the ceiling: do players go for the 5 stack box combo, knowing that another box that drops in that column will spawn a burner block? Or do they play it safe, keeping the boxes low to allow for some reaction time? And what in the heck are laser boxes doing in here?!
Much of the gamefeel is rooted in this constant need for quick action and decision-making reminiscent of older titles that utilize area management such as Tetris combined with the action platforming of one of my favourite Flash titles, Tetris’d. Players need to constantly be on their toes to see which box is coming next, where it will land (which happens in an instant upon the timer running out) and if there are easy pathways to taping the boxes. While stomping does tape as well, Sue will find herself much more vulnerable to attacks thanks to it being a bit slower, and she can only tape the top box. All boxes below that aren’t taped remain the same, so she’ll have to go down one by one unless the sides can be cleared up. Proper planning can alleviate much of the stress created, but as the game picks up speed it becomes harder to accurately avoid the crushing boxes while mapping out a proper route. Especially when hazard boxes such as lasers arrive that shoot periodically. They can be stomped without taping, but getting on top of them is dangerous on its own.
Thankfully, Combo Postage never feels like it is attempting to crush players with its difficulty, instead simply offers the default gameplay and advertises the no-stakes attitude that players can take. There is no ‘end’ to this shift for Sue, and with no online leaderboards there’s no pressure to beat anyone else except for yourself. Custom shifts even allow for the altering of how the game plays, such as the removal of lasers and hazards completely, difficulty speeds, and even more. Or, just chat with Darryl in the Records room about how bad of a day he’s having.
It’s a small game, but it pivots on a tested formula to mix up the gameplay just enough to keep it interesting while maintaining a lot of the old arcade vibes. The game cannot be beaten, but it can be enjoyed for as long as you wish to see how far you can go. If you’ve got a few minutes and want to see how long you can last in a box haven, this is a title to look in to.
Runner3 is an autorunning rhythmic platformer made by Choice Provisions, an indie studio based out of Santa Cruz that have been operative since 2004 (although were known by Gaijin Games Inc. until 2014). Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of them in either iteration of the studio until this title, somehow avoiding their relatively large portfolio of nearly two dozen titles. Runner3 fits into their most renowned Bit.Trip series which has been released since 2009 and follows the protagonist Commander Video’s adventures. In this title specifically, it appears that evil has not been fully vanquished and must be thwarted before it can resurface once again. However, they aren’t all that close, so it looks like Commander Video is going to be running.
Commander Video has no time for stopping, so he runs along the path set in front of him until the checkpoint is reached, while avoiding being stopped by anything getting in his way and collecting as many gold bars and gems that he can. The player is what ensures that he is able to make it there with a plethora of different abilities, with the most notable and useful being the ability to jump. There is a double jump, but it’s not as necessary and usually makes me lose — it’s usually safer to just hold jump to extend the distance. As players progress, they’ll be introduced to more abilities such as the slide to get under tall objects, kicks to break through fragile walls and jump pads to activate. These quickly become used in tandem as players will rapidly be needing to jump over an object only to immediately follow that up with a slide to drag them down to the ground to ensure they don’t land on a spikey ball-robot. Precision is key, and it doesn’t get any easier; the world is in 3D, which means there will be times where the camera angle isn’t favourable to figure out how close or far away the jump is as it rotates to give a more cinematic shot of the background. The checkpoints are littered throughout the world to help alleviate this, especially since nothing is lost by ‘dying’ but the frustration of dying right at the end of a segment will never fade.
Of course just getting to the end is relatively straight forward, but there are enticing collectables that Video wants, especially since they can be used to unlock ‘side levels’ and customizations for our protagonist, which open the map up to many more possibilities. Of course, this also is how many players end up hitting a wall and having to restart at a checkpoint, or raging out of a level as they miss the final one and receive 99/100 gold bars. While the gold bars are the ‘staple’ collectable found in the vanilla runs, beating a level will unlock a secondary ‘gem’ path. Playing on this path opens up the map to different areas where forks in the road can be jumped between to gather different items than the previous run. There are also hidden collectables in various forms, from VHS tapes, Gildans, playable characters, puppets and more to find and explore. There are tons of things to find and do if up to the challenge.
What makes Runner3 so fascinating to me is the part of the game I’ve neglected mentioning from the description: “rhythmic”. See, many of the jumps made in the game (either for collectables or to avoid stopping) are relatively synced up with the backing audio track. The beat gives the ‘hint’ of sorts as to when players can jump for many things, with all items giving off a piece of the music as they are collected that matches with the song. It’s quite ingenious to help give players another way of thinking about the game such as by simply feeling the beat to jump around. Giving new ways to approach a game is always fun, and combined with the variant difficulties it just makes for a solid combination.
While I’m not familiar with the series as a whole, Runner3 definitely blew my expectations out of the water. I wasn’t sure what I was in for, but I can safely say that Commander Video’s adventures are something worth giving a shot if you’ve ever enjoyed platformers. I’ve seen some comments about this one being ‘different’ than the previous iterations, but the amount of style and references to other titles made it a treat to play and watch. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, give it a run.
Join Sue at her summer job as she dodges, tapes, and stomps boxes with a high-tech tape gun! Intense risk-vs-reward…