BIT.TRIP Presents: RUNNER 2, Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a ridiculously long game title and the direct sequel to BIT.TRIP RUNNER. Runner 2 was my first experience with the Bit.Trip universe and boy, what an absolute blast this game is. The smooth moving levels, the absolutely terrific music, and the all out ridiculousness that is the Bit.Trip universe is a true delight to just be in for a while. There is certainly a learning curve to the deceptively difficult levels and the always fun compulsion to collect everything in sight.
Runner 2 is a platformer that features the idea of constant movement, meaning that Commander Video, the main character, is always moving from left to right without the player’s control. What the player does control is Commander Video’s other movements such as jumping, sliding, kicking, dancing, springing, and so on. At first the levels are simple and straightforward; run to the finish line and hop over some obstacles with well timed jumps. These early levels are very easy and allow the player to slide into the driver seat without too much frustration. In the early levels it becomes commonplace to just listen to the music, which is killer, and enjoy the visuals which range from beautiful to bizarre. However, that relaxing pace quickly dissipates as the game becomes a frantic rush of colors, sounds, and treasures.
When Runner 2 gets moving the game becomes a platformer unlike any other. Runner 2 consists of five unique worlds each consisting of smaller levels unto themselves. Each world has its own unique visual style that stays constant through the entirety of the world’s playthrough but that’s the only element that stays constant. Each level changes up the gameplay in ways both subtle and frustrating. For instance, one will teach you the mechanics for kicking or sliding and a level or two later will remind you, in a very crushing fashion, that there is more to the game than these actions. This reminder usually comes in the form of two or three obstacles that require a kick or slide to complete followed by a completely different obstacle that, when hit, results in instant failure and a level restart.
Failures in Runner 2 are handled extremely well as the moment you crash into an obstacle or fall off the world you’re transported back to the start of the level or a checkpoint. Checkpoints in Runner 2 are optional which is an extremely smart design choice as it means you can tailor each level to be as easy or difficult as you’d like it to be. Jumping over a checkpoint gives the player a bonus to their overall score which is tallied up at the end and can be viewed on a world leader board, making each level an obsessive stride towards a high score. Things like picking the harder of two branching paths, collecting every gold piece, finding unlockables, and hitting the bullseye at the end of a perfect level all add to your score as well as your collectibles. Collectibles like costumes and characters help keep things fresh and also make the harder paths more enticing.
Each world ends with a boss battle that throws everything the player has learned right back at them in an extreme fashion. While the first two boss battles are far too easy, the remaining three are perfect in the way they challenge and creatively play on the basic controls from previous levels. Finishing up Runner 2 is far from the end as each level can be perfected as well as hitting the final bullseye to complete the coveted “Perfect +”. Oh, did I mention this can be done up to three times per level, once for each difficulty level? If the regular game wasn’t hard enough you can up the ante by bumping up the difficulty or take it easy by bringing it down a notch with no punishment whatsoever. No punishment on the easier mode is definitely a nice touch for beginners and would-be runners of the world but the normal mode is just right in terms of difficulty.
The original Bit.Trip Runner took advantage of everyone’s love of old 8 and 16 bit games but Runner 2 aims to create its own beautiful aesthetic with a childlike glee that surrounds the world. Weird creatures roam the backgrounds of levels; quirky visuals collide with artistic beauty in nature, space, the sea, and other wonderfully crafted backdrops that set the scene for each world. Personally I had an absolute blast with the final world as it returns Commander Video to space with a style that, while certainly obtrusive at times, blew me away with its vivid colors and truly playful look. Some levels can be frustrating when differentiating between the level and the background becomes difficult but those levels are few and far between. The overall style of Runner 2, from its delightful worlds to its simplistic and beautiful cutscenes, is just a happy experience to romp through.
Perhaps the only thing more enjoyable than the visuals in Runner 2 is the amazing soundtrack by Disasterpiece (Fez). Much like in Fez where the world is richer because of the music, Runner 2 gains a boost as well. A drum beat as you kick an obstacle or a xylophone ting as you hop up a stair really makes the world come alive and reminds you that you’re a part of this world rather than a distant observer. Each of the five worlds has its own soundtrack and each does a great job of bringing the world to life in truly spectacular ways.
Runner 2 is a game filled with beautiful visuals, a lively and strong soundtrack, and truly smart game design. At no point did I feel like I didn’t have the tools to complete a level nor did I feel as though the game was too difficult or wasn’t giving me proper direction. Sure, I died a few times before figuring out some solutions but I never felt as though it was due to poor design or unfair mechanics. The controls are tight, the levels are fun to look at, and the music will have you sucked into the Runner world in no time.