By the time Bit.Trip Runner burst onto the scene three years ago, Gaijin Games had already established itself on WiiWare with a trio of some of the best games on the platform. The retro-inspired rhythm series shared certain core tenets, but always placed a clear emphasis on reinvention. Runner took that to the next level, shaking the abstract presentation of its predecessors for a much more mainstream look and appeal.
Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien picks up where that game left off. After seemingly defeating his nemesis, protagonist Commander Video is sucked into an alternate reality where things look eerily similar yet unmistakably different. Trapped in this strange new land, our hero begins a new journey in search of a way home.
Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation Network, Wii U eShop, Xbox Live Arcade, iOS)
Developer: Gaijin Games
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release: February 26, 2013, March 5 (PlayStation 3), Summer 2013 (Vita & iOS)
Rig: Intel Core i7-2670QM @2.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, GeForce G 540M, Windows 7 64-bit
Runner2's most marked difference from the rest of the series is most definitely the visual style. There's just no way around it: Runner2 looks different. It's not what fans are accustomed to and to be honest, I was less than thrilled by the change at first. Much of Bit.Trip's appeal in that retro aesthetic style, so to see Gaijin Games shift away from that was kind of distressing.
After seeing it in motion, however, I've come to prefer the new look. The warm visuals, distinctive characters, and varied settings have really won me over. And once the accompanying chiptune-inspired soundtrack kicked in it was like nothing had changed. Runner2 may not look exactly like a Bit.Trip game but it feels very much like a worthy successor to the series.
Subdued at first, the game, like the music, builds upon itself into a crescendo. The player controls the constantly-moving Commander Video and must guide him through a series of platforming obstacle course. Slowly but surely the game introduces the player to new and different ways to interact with the environment. In no time at all Commander Video will be leaping over, sliding under, and knocking down whatever is placed in his path.
The Bit.Trip series is well known for its difficulty. All six of the previous games are extremely challenging and can verge on seeming onerous and unfair. Runner2 is a little different in that respect. True to form, traversing the game's levels are all about reflexes and persistence. Similar to Super Meat Boy, screwing up once will mean getting sent back to the beginning of the level. However, there are no game-over screens so death rarely feels overly punishing.
Things get even more accessible this time around with a tiered difficulty system and (largely optional) mid-level checkpoints. These additions go a long way to make Runner2 more inviting to newcomers or folks that have struggled with the Bit.Trip series in the past. Unlike past entries, this game isn't terribly imposing. Those looking to experience the game on one of the lower difficulty settings are almost certain to be able to get through Runner2's five worlds without too much frustration.
That isn't to say that Runner2 is a cake walk though. Far from it. The impetus for challenge, however, is left to the discretion of the player. Scattered throughout every level in the game are dozens of items that serve to enhance the challenge. Some are easier to obtain than others. Commander Video must oftentimes put himself in harm's way to acquire them but with that risk comes reward. Upon coming into contact with gold bars and the like, the objects will emit notes that compliment the music, giving the gameplay a synesthetic quality.
While Runner2 is a platformer, it has decidedly arcade sensibilities. Amongst other actions like hurtling over obstacles or dancing if you have a free moment, collectible items contribute points to an overall score. After a level is completed, these are fed into leaderboards, allowing players to compete with friends and the community at large. If you're anything like me, you'll be looking to one-up your comrades at every turn. Prepare to crank up the difficulty and strive for perfection.
That competitive atmosphere helps flesh out the campaign a great deal, but Runner2 certainly isn't hurting for content. With over 100 levels, the game features branching paths, retro challenge levels reminiscent of the original Bit.Trip Runner and various unlockable characters and costumes. Having invested over a dozen hours into the game thus far, I'm still just scratching the surface when it comes to all the extra content.
Although the game is pretty stellar overall, it could have used some streamlining; it forces players to sit through a number of menus to get to the action, an issue exacerbated by some lengthy loading times. It's a minor complaint, but also one that speaks to the quality of the game. In the moments between levels, I just couldn't wait to get back into the thick of it.
Runner2 feels like a very natural progression for the series. The team at Gaijin Games has crafted a more nuanced and impressive follow-up to what was great title in its own right. Avant-garde but with a healthy respect for the past, Runner2 is a marvelous rhythmic platformer that just about anyone should be able to enjoy.