BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Bit.Trip Runner – one of my favorite independent games ever. For those out of the loop, the two games are rhythm-based platformers in which you (as Commander Video) are kicking, jumping, and sliding towards the end of each level. Unlike traditional platformers, your character is constantly running (think Robot Unicorn Attack), and unlike traditional platformers, getting hit once sends you back to the beginning of the 30-second-to-2-minute stage. The gameplay is cruel, unusual, and insanely fun, and the sequel looks to take the magic of the original, improve upon it to incredible proportions, and turn that into a sequel.
As for whether they succeed or not…read on.
While the original had a simplistic retro-inspired presentation, Runner2 is now in beautiful HD and proud of it. While some may fret over the more modern-sounding soundtrack and updated graphics, the presentation feels like a natural evolution. Commander Video looks fantastic while running, the backgrounds have cool stuff going on, the cutscenes (narrated by Charles Martinet!) have a great art style, the music has more layers while being as catchy as ever, and, at least from the outside, the game has all-around excellent production value.
The gameplay, while not significantly different, does show many updates and improvements. The originally linear levels of Runner now have multiple pathways, varying in difficulty, with some pathways leading to rewards, bonus retro-styled stages, and even alternate exits that lead to bonus levels. More importantly, new obstacles and moves have been added. A dance button allows Commander Video to dance for bonus points while not being bombarded with obstacles, loop-de-loops (and square-de-squares) are neat obstacles that offer points, with new things like boost pads and grind rails to offer diversity within the game’s many levels. Most importantly, however, the rhythm game is as tough, euphoric, and fun as one might expect.
Speaking of challenge, Runner2 is far less intimidating for those entering the series for the first time. Rather than one punishing difficulty, this game offers three difficulties of varying punishment: Quite Easy, Just Right, and Rather Hard. Adequately named, Quite Easy has more forgiving obstacle layouts while still providing some level of challenge for beginners; Just Right is good for newcomers who want some kind of a challenge without getting insanely stuck; Rather Hard is for those who want their Runner sequel to be as unforgiving as the game that came before it. Perhaps a bit unfortunately, the game is still a bit easier than Runner in my opinion, but there is still all of the hard-to-get gold and bonuses you know and love.
The other big change is in the challenge department, there are now (mostly) optional checkpoints to enjoy for those who don’t want to replay the same 60 seconds over and over again to make 5 seconds of progress at a time. Running through it gives you a restart point at the middle of the level, while jumping over it gives you some extra points. Although the option is appreciated for those who want it, I wish there was an option to disable them from the level entirely. Running through a checkpoint accidentally requires a menu restart, and while minor, it certainly is an inconvenience. Even worse, the boss fights have automatic checkpoints, and requires a menu restart every single time you lose if you want to beat them the old-fashioned way. I’m actually a bit perplexed as to why a boss fight would need checkpoints in the first place, let alone forced ones.
On a way more positive note, the amount of content this game has to offer is jaw-dropping. Compared to the three worlds and 36 total levels of the original Runner, Runner2 has five worlds with twenty(ish) levels each, totaling around 100, and well surpassing that when things like bonus retro stages are calculated in. To add to this, the game brings online leaderboards (making your scores matter more than ever before), several playable characters, new reasons to replay, and a bunch of costumes for each one. While a smaller percentage of levels in Runner2 are memorable (I still remember the terror of 3-11 and 3-9 in the first game), the bevy of things to play more than makes up for it.
Even accounting for my several minor complaints, Runner2 is a really great game. If you’re a newcomer to the first-class Bit.Trip series (which also includes five other great games), Runner2 is a perfect place to start. And at only 15 dollars on Wii U’s eShop and Steam (not to mention soon-to-release PS3 and 360 versions), I can hardly recommend it enough.