Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a title I will only type once, so there it is. It’s grating and obtrusive. Luckily, the game is anything but; as wonderful a mix of running, platforming and rhythm-ing as you could imagine. It is a flawless game – only slightly held back by its scope – that proves beyond the faintest whisper of counterpoint that great games can be small, perfectly-crafted and as un-blockbuster-y as possible. Coming in with a lean price point, it would be a bargain at twice the cost. Let’s talk about why.
All Game, No Shame
The gameplay of Runner 2 is the game. And I mean that beyond the pejorative or the sarcastic. Plainly put, the narrative is of little consequence; the why, where or how unimportant. What is important is the gameplay. And in Runner 2’s case, this is running through levels and jumping, sliding, kicking, bouncing, dancing, boosting, blocking and every mix possible of these actions until you get to the end where – if you’re skillful or lucky – you are promptly shot out of a cannon.
It is through the simplest of input that the most complex of levels are traverse , making each one a variation on theme rather than a hammering-home of whatever dull gameplay your shooter is currently employing.
Control and Response
Controlled uber-responsively, Commander Video is a direct avatar of your reflexes. He can only go as far as you can, the blame for failure always yours and not his. Either way, dying is something you do often a’la Hotline Miami or Super Hexagon – those short bursts of colorful, lime-syrupy gameplay occupying the space between your deaths rather than the other way.
What makes this sort of gameplay so successful in this game is twofold. Firstly, the levels are masterfully laid out. The difficulty is right on, also, allowing you to feel omnipotent when you beat a level on-the-fly yet also making you work very hard on the optional paths. These harder paths allow you to scoop up treasures, alternate exits and higher scores, but never impede the progress if you don’t want them to. Likewise, each level has a midway checkpoint that is completely optional at the buy-in of forsaking some extra points. The second big reason to keep playing is the presentation.
A World Worth Running Through
In a complete, divorce-with-no-custody separation, Runner 2’s presentation is nothing like the previous installments in the series. Where the older titles were retro or pixel art, Runner 2 showcases a wonderful, colorful, clay sculpture-like look that is a blast. Boasted in a loading screen’s flavor text, “Not every game has to be brown.” This is readily apparent. Such care has been given to each asset – the background dancing along like a New Super Mario game’s flowers – that I found myself playing the game just because I enjoyed the world.
The other hugely-integral half of the presentation coin is the music. The Bit.Trip games live and die by their audio. Here, each obstacle has a sound associated with it that adds to the growing composition. However, it is the way that the gameplay and the presentation mesh that is remarkable. Like a Guitar Hero or Rock Band game, I discovered certain parts of the game’s rhythm that I simply loved to play and would return to them for sheer pleasure. What’s more is that each piece of music has five versions to unlock as you run, so it’s ever-changing.
Content with Lots of Content
Without any narrative thrust – outside of the ridiculous Charles Martinet narrations that accompany every scene – the game does a great job of giving the player a reason to come back. Perhaps its biggest flaw is that if you are not a completionist or a costume aficionado or interested in the retro levels or don’t want to get all levels perfected or open up all paths, you only get to play the wonderful title once-over. Sure it’s a lot of replay value but, in all honesty, I could see how some people just wouldn’t be interested. In other words, it’s all more of the game and doesn’t change the core experience. It’s what I call Nintendo DS Extra Content and it’s a pitiful concern, I know.
Some other small things that should in-no-way dissuade you from purchasing this game can be found but are truly nit-picky. For example, I got annoyed that there was no gameplay rule established for latching on to rails. Sometimes you’d enter from the bottom and stay on the underside while other times you’d immediately hop on top. Another thing would be how it never tells the difference between a Perfect, a Perfect! and a Perfect +!. You kinda just have to figure it out as you go or commit that specific instance to memory. Still, stuff like that is no reason to steer away.
So, yes, Runner 2 is a fantastic game. It is incredibly well-made, well-realized, well-imagined; a colorful sprint past competitors and past accomplishments alike. With oodles of replay value and stropped gameplay, I find it very hard to think that anyone anywhere would dislike it. It excels in the corner it occupies and manages to consistently dazzle with level design and variations on the rather simplistic formula. Runner 2 is a masterpiece platform, rhythm and running game all at once.
Review Platform: PS3