Four years ago, a colorful Pong-like rhythm game came out of nowhere to become something of a surprise hit on Nintendo's precarious WiiWare service. A gem hidden in the most unlikely of places, the title garnered a cult following thanks to charming retro aesthetics, an infectious soundtrack, and seductively challenging gameplay. A sequel arrived shortly thereafter, followed by another. And then three more!
In two short years the series had reinvented itself time and again. So, when the series came to a stunning and bittersweet conclusion in Bit.Trip Flux, I found myself wondering what trails the designers at Gaijin Games would find themselves blazing next. As it turns out, none. Perhaps fittingly for a studio with one foot firmly planted in yesteryear, they've instead decided to tread familiar ground.
Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a continuation of the concepts and themes first explored in Gaijin Games' fourth title, Bit.Trip Runner. And while it may look a little different than you remember, prepare to cast any fears and aspersions aside. This is still very much the Bit.Trip you know and love.
Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (Mac, PC, PlayStation Network, Wii U eShop, Xbox Live Arcade)
Developer: Gaijin Games
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release: February 26, 2013
When I first laid eyes on Runner2, I was a little skeptical. The retro-style visuals were a large part of what made the Bit.Trip games appealing in the first place. It seemed like an odd choice to eschew something so characteristic of the series in favor of a new graphical design. It's not like I thought the new style looked awful per se, but it was a far cry from the nostalgia-laden aesthetic that had won me over years ago.
That said, it didn't take long for Runner2 to win me over. I had a very different reaction when I sat down to play the game rather than just looking at screenshots or video. It's difficult to fully explain, but the colorful new look really grew on me. And sometime over the course of the eight hours it took me to leisurely jog through Runner2's campaign, I came to prefer its vibrant and cartoon-like visuals over that of its predecessor.
More than anything else, though, the change brought the other parts of the equation to the forefront. The gameplay is as solid and engaging as it ever was, perhaps a tad more so, and fans of the original will be pleased to hear that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Commander Video is still set in constant motion and requires the player's help to overcome the obstacles that have been placed in his path. Platforming is more nuanced this time around, as there are new and different aspects of the game's various environments that help keep things fresh and interesting.
Of course, like any Bit.Trip game, the music is still the star of the show. Runner2's soundtrack is similar to the chiptune-inspired beats of the original Runner, but it's not without subtle enhancements. Each of the game's five worlds has a distinct theme and the music very much corresponds to them. Perhaps the most notable example of this is the title's second world, where the songs take on a very Caribbean vibe. It's a nice touch that really goes the extra mile to nail that beachy atmosphere.
The entire package just feels like a very natural progression for the series. Runner2 is familiar and inviting, but it definitely takes things to that next level. I'm excited for more players to experience its warm embrace when the game releases next week.