Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
Genre: Rhythm Running
Developer: Gaijin Games
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: 2/27/13
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to just refer to this game as Runner2 for this review. That’s one hell of a name.
I was familiar with the name of the previous game, Bit.Trip Runner, and I’ve seen the protagonist Commander Video make an appearance in the game Super Meat Boy, however I never played the original title or any other bit.trip game. This is nothing against the developer, I’d only ever heard good things about the prior Runner game but I’ve just never been that interested in that sub-genre. As a worshiper at the temple of platform jumping games, the idea that you don’t control the forward movement of the main character seemed blasphemous to me, and kind of lazy. The handful of free iOS running games I’ve tried only reaffirmed that conviction.
Runner2 took that belief and smashed it against a rock. Runner2 is an amazing game.
As a reviewer and critic I’ve thrown a lot of games under the spotlight and dissected them, pointing out the graphics, the sound, the way in controls, evaluating the story, etc. When I do that I try to do my best to judge the different aspects that go into a game equally, though sometimes it’s hard when some aspects are tied into others. With Runner2 this kind of autopsy is impossible.
I could tell you that the game has a great graphical style to it, both colorful and unique. Everything drips with personality, the game worlds are all visually different with slight visual changes made to the enemies you’ve seen in other levels to make them seem more natural to the environment created. There has been a lot of detail spent on the backgrounds even though when you’re playing the game what is going on immediately in front of you captures your attention so it is possible to never notice some of this detail. There are different characters you can unlock and play as and it’s worth playing as them just to see the different animations each one has for different situations. My favorite is a hamburger man who discos across levels and is so funky that his meat patty wouldn’t be FDA approved.
I could say that the music is fantastic and relaxing despite the tense action on the screen. It’s a treat to just listen to. I’m listening to it in the background of writing this review.
I could easily go on and on about how even if you do not have control over the left to right movement of the character that this game is amazingly complex anyway, forcing me to use nearly every button on my 360 controller. While you do not control the forward movement, you control jumping, sliding, kicking, blocking, and often a couple of those things at the same time, and much more. The game is always throwing new concepts at you so that you can never sit back and rely on the couple of moves that you learn at the beginning of the game. Each new concept is woven into the already introduced ones in the level so you never know what is coming up next. This is all delivered at a fast pace, and requires precise reaction times. It is all so well done though at no point did I ever mess up and feel cheated, I always knew exactly what I did wrong.
I could say all that, but it would do the game a disservice, because none of these things exist independently of each other. The music is tied into the graphics, with the levels pulsing to the beat of the background music. The sound effects of the actions you take are a part of this music, until you realize you aren’t just playing a side scrolling platform game, you’re also playing a rhythm game. Instead of hitting the colored buttons on a guitar controller, you’re jumping, sliding and kicking to create the music. New ways of interacting with the environment are also ways of adding new sounds to the music. Every aspect of this game is tied together in a knot that makes it impossible to just separate out individual aspects of it and then judge those parts.
Individually it looks great, sounds amazing, and controls fantastically and is constantly adding new things to continue to challenge the player. The way these pieces fit together in a tightly developed game elevates the whole experience to another level and I love it.
In the game you play as Commander Video, who is flying with his friends (including Meat Boy) to stop his arch-enemy. The narration for the story scenes is also top notch, adding in an almost Adam West’s Batman sort of corny vibe while also being clever about it, which works with the game well. Commander Video ends up in an alternate dimension and then you have to run across a bunch of levels to fight the bad guy. The story isn’t going to win any awards, but it is well told within the game and as I said fits well within it.
There are different world hubs in the game with a bunch of levels for each world. The levels are laid out within these hubs as interconnects dots. You beat a dot, you move to the next dot. Some levels have alternate routes which unlock bonus levels, and other bonus levels are locked behind gold requirements, which you collect within the game. I know one of the other writers here hate forced collection in a platform game, but at no point is collecting the gold a requirement to continue on. Like one of the loading menus say, it is fun to collect however. As a rhythm game think of the gold as the line guide that you are supposed to follow so that you can hit the correct notes. Collecting the crosses in the game (not sure what they’re called otherwise) amplifies the background music. There are four to collect within each level and collecting those items and all the gold in a level let you shoot the character from a cannon at a target. If you are the kind of player that plays for high scores, doing these things all grant you a higher score. If you are a completionist this is the only way to get a Perfect+ rating on a level. Of course if you aren’t either than none of this is required, it’s completely optional.
In fact, despite being a game where reaction times are crucial, the game allows you to play it however you might be comfortable. There are multiple difficulty levels and no penalty of any kind for playing Too Easy or Too Hard. Within the levels there will occasionally be split in the path with an easy direction and a harder one. Sometimes the harder one will unlock a reward, such as a new character costume. Some paths will be blocked until you obtain the keys for that world, and in some levels have retro challenge levels to unlock. As if there weren’t enough reason to replay the levels you can also compete for a higher score. The game introduces some risk versus reward elements in the hunt for a higher score, for example there is usually a mid-level checkpoint that you can jump over for a score boost, except you will have to restart the whole level over if you fail. There is also dancing, as in you press the trigger button to dance. This gives you a bonus score, but you have to make sure you aren’t dancing at a time when you might have to do anything else for a second. I’ve probably died the most from being cocky and trying to throw in a quick dance move at a time when I shouldn’t have.
Just to repeat though, you can play and enjoy the game visuals and music on the easy level while not attempting to get a higher score or collect rewards or gold. The game has multiple layers to it so that it’s as complex as you want it to be.
Frankly this is one of the better games I’ve played, period. It’s addictive, deep, and just a tightly designed game where every part is connected to each other. A lot of games I’ve played lately feel like they’re developed with different ideas in mind, like a multiplayer hastily added in, or game mechanics that just exist because they were thought up at some point in development but never really integrated well. Because of the high production value of many AAA games we say they’re polished, but they really aren’t. Runner2 is polished, with every piece of it fitting perfectly together. It’s a game that you should experience, even it it’s only the demo.
Short Attention Span Summary: The way Runner2 mixes together the graphics, sound and the way it plays is both powerful and an example of what game design should be. It’s also really fun.