BIT.TRIP Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a hell of a name for a downloadable game. It’s big. It’s delightfully bizarre. It’s complex. And, if anything, it grabs you. Considering the previous and first entry in the series was merely called BIT.TRIP Runner, it’s easy to question why so many nouns and adjectives are thrown in there. To put it plainly, this isn’t just a simple sequel. Gaijin Games is taking their running and rhythm formula and making it into a full-blown experience. But what in the world is a ‘Rhythm Alien’ and is it any fun? Read on to find out.
Sound & Story
Where Runner 2’s bare bones plot is funny and charming, the true heart of this game is in the sound. The game’s soundtrack, use of rhythm and beats, and sense of timing make for one of the most blissful experiences offered in any game to date. While this statement reeks of hyperbole, those who have played the original should be able to recognize its validity. In Runner 2 every obstacle, jump, enemy, and item makes a sound. Collecting some gold, smashing a barrier with a jumping kick, or sliding under an enemy will produce a sound. These sounds are integrated into the level’s music adding beats and notes and filling the track with rhythm. Instead of a stage turning into an obstacle course, it becomes this aural delight that suddenly transcends gameplay.
As the player guides Commander Video through increasingly complex levels, something incredible happens. Navigating tricky roadblocks with precise timing suddenly becomes second nature as the music grows and fills the ears and the visuals whiz past as Commander Video auto-runs through everything. Where a casual observer might get dizzy with even a passing glance, the player has entered a trance-like state. The rapid series of jumps, ducks, and dodges just comes naturally no matter how complex. Part of this can be attributed to the rote memorization of a course the player achieves after several mistakes; but the rest is because Runner 2’s sound is so exhaustingly incredible. Outwardly and on mute, Runner 2 looks like a frenetic and pretty platformer. Plug in some headphones or blast the surround sound and its obvious that it is a music game through and through–one that could rival even the best Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution titles.
Runner 2 trades in the pixels of the previous entry for polygons. And it turns out that this alternate dimension Commander Video has found himself trapped in is stuffed with activity and gorgeous worlds. The updated graphical palette solidifies the concept that Gaijin Games was pulling out all the stops for Runner 2. Runner 1’s look is perfectly representative of what the BIT.TRIP series was trying to achieve but the 3D models and HD graphics distinguish Runner 2 as its own entity worthy of praise.
From the well animated cutscenes to the rainbow trail emanating from Commander Video, the game draws you into its world and aesthetics. Just like with the audio, visual cues will begin to seamlessly guide you through obstacles so the whole picture begins to meld cohesively. One of the biggest sins that Runner 2 might commit is that it could use a few more background and character swaps. Through the course of the game’s different worlds, the background action of the forest, water, and other sections don’t change that much. The same bouncing palm trees and enormous smiling mountains will stare out from behind the course with only a few variations. Yes, they are still beautiful but it would be nice to see what other inventive environments could be have been offered. Very rarely a player might mess up or get knocked back because it wasn’t completely clear where a jump or kick should be placed. More often than not, though, this would be due to a lack of good timing. Truthfully, sometimes the visuals are so nice and weird that they can be distracting and lead to a player’s fumble–and that’s far from a complaint.
Auto-running games aren’t that uncommon anymore. Games like Canabalt or Jetpack Joyride or Temple Run use the formula with a great deal of success. The player character moves in one direction, usually forward or to the right, while obstacles come from all other directions. Quick reflexes are critical to success and a high score. The Runner series excels because it offers so much gameplay variety into the simple formula.
Jumping is key to avoiding several problems that can interrupt the wonderful rhythmic flow a player has going. Ducking and kicking are the second most important methods of dodging. Runner 2 more than doubles the move set of the original. Sliding kicks and jumps, dancing and running and hanging on rails are just a few examples. Because there are so many inputs, it’s hard to imagine playing on anything but a controller. Finger acrobatics are a must when completing some of the extremely complex stages. The quest to get a double or even triple perfect score can be difficult but completely worth it.
Variety is the spice of life and Runner 2 provides many improvements and noteworthy additions. A checkpoint system is now in place that will make some jump for joy. One of the biggest barriers of Runner 1 was that some of the more trying stages could take a long time to finish just because one little mistake was made close to the finish line. The checkpoint can help players fine-tune their running skills on both ends of the course or they can jump over it for a lot of points; presenting that option is very welcome. Some levels have branching paths that that lead to bonuses or new levels. Keys can be found that unlock chests, retro levels are still in place but harder to find and with a life system. Only a few actions don’t really resonate well (primarily the timed loop sections requiring accurate right stick movement or face button presses) but they only affect the high score and not the enjoyment. When it is all put together, the gameplay truly sings and there isn’t much like it.
The Wii U Difference
The Wii U version of Runner 2 is the standout across all platforms. Initial loading times are a bit long but feel nonexistent afterwards. The biggest benefit is obviously the Wii U GamePad. Runner 2 can be played on the biggest television or on the GamePad’s tiny screen. Obviously the visual quality takes a marginal hit but headphones or the GamePad speakers can’t make up for a really nice sound system. Since the Wii U doesn’t tether you to a computer or a TV, it might be the best version to pick up for those who have one.
BIT.TRIP Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is one of those unique games that provides so much enjoyment from what looks like a small package. Few games have the ability to draw players in as much as this one can. Those who hate having to constantly replay long stretches of levels or games that require quick reflexes and memorization may be hesitant to invest in Runner 2. By simply selecting the lowest difficulty and turning up the volume on their television those fears will be subsided. Let Commander Video hook you in, weird name and all.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated by the publisher for the purpose of this review.