BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
Even though you’re always running it never feels like you get anywhere when it comes to the auto-running genre. Gaijin Games’ Bit.Trip sequel, Runner2, never feels that way. Though Commander Video automatically runs left-to-right there’s an undeniable sense of player agency and personal progression that’s usually lacking in other similar titles.
Runner2, like the platformers of a largely bygone era, has a world map with each of the game’s many, many stages. Players have the choice to play any stage they’ve unlocked in any of the three different difficulties, meaning you can knock down the difficulty on a level you’re stuck on, continue, and then resume playing at the previous difficulty. This freedom allows any player access to the vast majority of Runner2‘s offerings.
For players looking for more of a challenge, Gaijin has loaded the title with dozens of secrets and tons of alternate routes, which are 100% optional. Easy routes, marked by green signs, will always lead you to the normal exit via the easiest route available. Red signs denote the harder routes, which are often littered with tons of hazards and obstacles, but usually lead to secret stage entrances or other perks.
Players wanting to see every corner of Runner2 will have to plumb the depths of every stage to find VHS tapes, gold bars and keys. But on top of that, if they want the best scores possible, they’ll have to push themselves to follow the hard routes, netting the most points for successfully dodging more and more hazards.
“The beauty of Runner2 is in the perfect, uninterrupted runs”If those options aren’t enough, Gaijin goes the extra mile and then some. Each level has a checkpoint, providing a handy respawn point for most players and an exciting risk/reward proposition for dedicated individuals. In a unique twist the checkpoint can be skipped entirely, giving the player a score multiplier. Of course, if you die during the second half of the stage you’ll be sent all the way back to the beginning, but the beauty of Runner2 is in the perfect, uninterrupted runs. Like Super Meat Boy and other recent hardcore platforming games, respawns are nearly instantaneous, so you’re always teased to keep going until you’ve nailed your current run.
Along with the normal slew of abilities that Commander Video possesses, including sliding, jumping, kicking and blocking, dancing plays an important role. If you want to climb to the top of the leaderboards, a feeling that seems common in a game of this nature, dancing plays an essential role at any moment you aren’t avoiding hazards or collecting gold bars. You have to learn the proper windows where and when you can do it, but it adds yet another subtle layer of challenge to the game while adding an additional nudge of style.
“The result is a game that is almost always a joy to play”Runner2 is in many ways the perfect platforming game. Its union of sound, timing and mechanics is deceptively simple, but the result is a game that is almost always a joy to play. Some of the bosses require a little more trial and error than the rest of the game warrants. Each of them have their own attacks that you have to learn to recognize, which can be an unwelcome departure to the easily recognized foils the game throws at you in any normal level.
In the final area the aesthetics of the level design also crop up as an issue. One of the normal obstacles is a door that needs to be kicked down. These doors are always signified by a red switch that accompanies them. In the final world, which I won’t spoil, the red switches can easily become lost in the background, creating a real problem considering the speed at which the game regularly moves.
In the grand scheme of things these nuisances represent minor blips on Gaijin’s otherwise outstanding work. Part-music game, part-platforming love letter, Runner2 is as hard, as easy, as deep or as shallow as you want it to be. Nearly everything it sets out to do it does remarkably well, and in many ways, Runner2 feels like the pinnacle of the fledgling genre its predecessor helped create.