There is a long list of things I do when I get together with my friends. Sometimes we play games, watch a movie, or eat some snacks. There is almost always some sort of alcohol involved. I do have one peculiar friend that has been hanging out with me for almost five years now that always wants to do the strangest things – usually a lot of running, jumping, kicking and sliding. I’m probably one of the least athletic people you’ll ever meet, but my friend CommanderVideo makes a compelling argument as to why these activities should be fun, and necessary for saving this and all other worlds.
The last time CommanderVideo (you may know him as protagonist of the Bit.Trip series) and I hung out, we were paddling his way across the stars. At the time, we thought that would be the last we ever saw of CommanderVideo, but Gaijin broke one of their own tropes and announced they were making Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, which was the first true sequel to the fourth installment of their six part series. The fact that they were reusing a previous mechanic was enough to irritate an army of Internet trolls, but then they took their blasphemy a step further – they were going to change the graphics and music style as well. After one particular Bit.Trip fan (me) stopped rolling his eyes and scoffing enough to actually look at Runner 2, it was clear that this would be a game worth checking out.
At its core, Runner 2 plays just like the first Runner game. It is an auto-run platformer, which means the character’s forward movement is automatic and it is up to the player to initiate actions that will keep the character from face planting into the insane amount of obstacles between him and the finish line. While this isn’t a wholly original idea, it is one of the first games of this type that incorporated rhythm elements into its game. Once you get the hang of the beat, it’s all a matter of having fast enough reflexes to be able to predict the correct timing of your life saving button presses.
When you hit an enemy or obstacle, and you will do this often, one of two things will happen. Either your chosen character will fly back to the beginning of the level, or if you chose to take the checkpoint in the level you’ll go back there and you get to try again. There is a benefit to skipping the checkpoint, because not only will you skip the point penalty you take each time you start over from the checkpoint, but you also get a point bonus at the end if you skipped it. This feature, along with the new adjustable difficulty makes the game a lot more accessible to a wider range of players.
For those of you who have played the original Runner, don’t think for an instant that there is nothing new for you here. CommanderVideo and his friends have quite a few new moves, such as a sliding jump (which means you’ll be gliding through some very tight nooks and crannies) and the ability to initiate some dance moves that rack up points each time they’re executed successfully. There are also branching paths, unlockable characters and costumes, retro themed bonus levels, and scads of other goodies. Runner 2 is just a huge bundle of classic Bit.Trip goodness presented in a whole new and interesting way.
The guys at Gaijin have already proved that they really know how to make an eye-catching game, and they took it a step further and really outdid themselves when designing Runner 2. The color palate manages to be bright and vivid without looking gaudy, and the art style is distinctive enough that there is no worry of this game being mistaken for another. Clearly a lot of time was spent on visuals, and they’re presented in such a light hearted and whimsical manner that a lot of players will find it difficult to fully explode in a fit of anger at this game, even when playing the most punishing levels.
As previously mentioned, Runner 2 is a game with strong rhythm elements, so the sound design is a very distinctive element of the game. The soundtrack is filled with toe-tapping tunes that are easy to groove to, which is good because grooving will be essential if you want to complete this game. Just like the other Bit.Trip games, the songs in each level gain more layers as you collect the score multiplying power-ups, so you’ll have to grab them all to hear the song at it’s fullest by the end of the level. If you’re lucky enough to play this game on the WiiU, try plugging headphones into your GamePad and turning its volume up to experience the music at its best quality and as loudly as you can bear without worrying about disturbing your neighbors, or rupturing your ear drums.
If you had doubts that an actual sequel would work in the Bit.Trip universe, or about a more modern approach to the game’s graphics and sound, then please immediately cast those doubts aside. Runner 2 is an excellent game that definitely reaches the high bar Gaijin set for itself, and perhaps even pushes that bar up a few notches. It has been designed in such a way that Bit.Trip newbies will appreciate it, but veterans that are willing to give it a chance will dive into it for another adventure in the strange universe of CommanderVideo. Just don’t get mad at him when he comes over, forgot it was his turn to bring the beer, and has a whole posse of similarly shaped, uninvited people with him. They’re good people too, and they really know how to spice up a party.
Pros: This is a gorgeous game that really knows how to get your heart racing and will challenge even the most seasoned of gamers.
Cons: Runner 3 hasn’t been announced yet.
Value: $15 is a tough price point to push on eShop customers, but it’s definitely worth the money. Once beating the game you can easily get some replay value by perfecting each level and unlocking all the bonus stages.
Verdict: Runner 2 has easily established itself as the standard by which all auto-runners will be judged.