Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, Bit.Trip presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a game that never stops moving. But does Gaijin Games’ latest keep up the pace, or finish last?
Picking up where the story left off in previous Bit.Trip games, the protagonist of the series CommanderVideo and the friends he picked up along his previous journey are seen flying through space, when suddenly the evil Timbletot shoots him with an unreality beam and imprisons him in an alternate dimension located only at the apex of light and matter. His only chance of escape is to do what he does best: he has to run.
In Bit.Trip Runner 2 CommanderVideo is always rhythmically running forward, so it is up to the player to jump, slide and kick his way past any obstacle that get in the way. The game is set to a musical backbeat that is always playing and every action makes a sound that adds to the song. If you hit an obstacle the song stops and you are teleported back to the previous checkpoint and have to start that section of the level over again. Unlike the previous Runner game, the difficulty ramps up slowly and steadily and new mechanics and abilities are introduced far apart enough that the player never feels overwhelmed.
The presentation in the game drips with style. From the very beginning, voice actor Charles Martinet – best known for being the voice of Mario – delivers a fun and humorous narration, both in the whimsical story and in the commercials for fake products that play whenever you start the game. The menus and cut scenes are brought to life with a 2-dimensional animation style reminiscent of 1960s cartoons, while the game itself is rendered in 3D, for the most part. The characters are all animated with care, each given a distinct style and personality. The backgrounds are almost distractingly good looking, well animated and full of gags and references, and the five worlds are completely distinct and memorable.
The game can get very challenging, but Runner 2 allows players to tailor their gameplay style beyond just choosing a difficulty setting so that it is the most fun for them. For players who want to get their name to the top of the leaderboards, there are several optional mechanics that make the game harder and boost their score. Checkpoints have been added to the levels at the half-way point, but these can be jumped over for a big boost in points. Beats, colorful blocks of sound that come flying at the player can be blocked for extra points, but are sometimes better to avoid for players taking the easy route. The player can also dance while running to get extra points, but if you start to dance right before an obstacle you will crash right into it. At the end of a level, if you have gotten a “perfect” by collecting every gold bar, you then get into a canon and have the chance to get a “perfect plus” by shooting yourself at a giant target. This mechanic can be annoying; early on in the game it can take away from the feeling of being awarded a “perfect” if you do not get a bull’s-eye, but later it becomes too easy to hit the center once you have figured out the timing. The canon shoot is annoying at worst and trivial at best.
The level design is far more complicated than in most games of the endless-runner genre. Levels have branching paths, secret exits, hidden costumes, and unlockable retro levels that keep you coming back to play again and again. The paths are often separated by difficulty, red for hard and green for easy. Sometimes though, a blue path appears that leads to a secret exit and unlocks a new extra level. In every world there is a secret level that, once beaten, unlocks secret keys in levels throughout that world. Going back to that level unlocks a new path that was previously locked and the chance to grab a treasure chest with a new costume inside. Runner 2 also boasts a cast of crazy characters that are unlockable in each world and 25 retro challenge levels that throw CommanderVideo into an 8-bit version of the game.
As great as the level design is, the biggest flaw in the game are the boss levels. The bosses themselves are boring to look at, and the levels are less fun to play. Perhaps worst of all is that the music remains unchanged. The music associated with bosses in games should be big and memorable, but in Runner 2 the boss levels are played to the same theme song of their respective worlds. In the end, it almost seems as if the boss stages are just ticked checkboxes.
Despite the uninspired boss battles and a few superfluous new mechanics, Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is an absolute blast to play. The always positive and uplifting music keeps you going forward, the subtle curve in difficulty makes you feel like you are ever improving your skills and the intricate design demands multiple playthroughs of the 125 levels. Runner 2 just finished getting ported to Playstation Vita and iOS, so we all hope to hear news of a sequel soon.