My familiarity with the Bit.Trip series doesn’t extend far past the initial reaction of â€œWow, there sure are a lot of releases of that game.â€ Not realizing, of course, that there are actually six different games in the series, each with varying genres. I suppose they are quite similar to the PixelJunk games in that way, each one belonging the same franchise but have next to nothing in common with each other. The latest release in the Bit.Trip series, the mouthful that is Bit.Trip Presents…Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, is a direct followup to Bit.Trip Runner and one of the few titles on the Wii U’s eShop that makes for a worthwhile acquisition. Let’s take a look.
Runner2 seems to have some semblance of a plot, and it tries its best to summarize the events leading up to the beginning of the game. That said, the short scenes that precede each chapter are more for laughs than any sort of meaningful world building. In fact, the only thing I recall from the opening sequence is Commander Video getting hit with a beam, sending him to a mysterious world. Now, in order to escape, he must run… run so far away. Oh, and Charles Martinet’s voice. But we’ll get to that in a second.
The biggest change between Runner2 and the earlier Bit.Trip titles, is that this one looks decidedly less retro. Rather than the pixelated Atari-esque graphics of its predecessors, Runner2 opts instead for a more HD appearance. The game is still played from a 2D perspective, but the backgrounds are laden with features that look like they were pulled out of a Tim Burton film. The hills quite literally have eyes, as do the trees and random other inanimate objects that will surely distract you as you try to sprint past them. There are also a number of structures and billboards advertising such things as Burger Mouth, and other humorously named businesses and products.
As was alluded to earlier, Charles Martinet is the narrator for the game as well as the voice for the menu screen. If you’re not entirely sure who that is, you might recognize him more as the voice of Mario and nearly every character in the Mario universe. His work alone would eclipse near everything else about the sound design in the game, if it weren’t for the rhythm based gameplay involved.
While I did describe the title as being a rhythm/platformer, I still don’t feel that is an accurate description of what you actually do. When you begin a stage, your character will continuously run from left to right regardless of any input on the player’s part. What you have to do though is hit buttons in order to react to the obstacles that lay in the character’s path. At first, it will seem as though all you can do is jump, but the game does a great job of introducing you to new functions at a reasonable pace so as not to be overwhelmed by all of the things available to you. You’ll eventually gain the ability to kick things, slide under them, block attacks and even dance (which so far as I can tell doesn’t have a purpose other than awarding points). Some of these abilities may need to be combined depending on how certain obstacles are set up, such as doing a slide jump to leap over an obstacle while remaining below the reach of another, or jump kicking enemies that are suspended in the air while you cross over a gap. Throw in things like springboards that will function differently based on their appearance and whether or not you choose to actually activate them or not, and you’ll find a ton of variety here.
Where the actual rhythm part comes in, aside from the importance of your timing in all of this chaos, is from the music. The soundtrack will play along with what you’re doing, as if an orchestra were watching your every move. Clearing obstacles and kicking bad buys will make instruments play, as if they were organized to the tune of the music. And if you happen to biff it, the song will loop itself around in such a convincing way that were it not for the game mimicking your actions, you wouldn’t realize it was happening at all.
Aside from just getting to the end, there are a number of collectibles that can be picked up as you go along that not only increase your score, but are used to unlock bonus stages found in each world. You might also run across keys and chests that open up new costumes and characters to play as (I spent most of the game as a giant pickle with glasses). If you manage to nab everything in a level, you get to hop into a cannon in order to get shot at a target with the hope of racking up your score even more. Scores get posted to a leaderboard, so you know what to aim for if you want to beat your friends.
And that is the basic gist of the game. It’s an incredibly simple concept, that succeeds in being both fun and challenging for all types of players. The later levels do get to be overwhelming at times since you are tasked with performing so many different actions quickly, though there are three different difficulty levels, which helps accommodate varying skill levels. The last stage of each world even has a boss battle that you can engage in, which as you might imagine, requires you to react to their attacks in a certain way in order to bring them down. You might also find cartridges during a stage that will transport you into an 8-bit environment and challenges you to find as many gold bars as you can before you reach the end.
There are roughly 100 stages in the game, if you include all of the bonus stages, plus some have multiple routes through the level. That may seem like a lot, but you don’t have to worry about racking up extra lives or anything like that, as failure will get you sent back to the beginning of the level or the last checkpoint you hit. Granted, this may seem like a big punishment if the game sends you back a long ways, but many of the stages can be completed within minutes, while others rely on a little pattern recognition in order to conquer.
One nice thing about the Wii U version is that the game can be played entirely from the gamepad without any need to have the TV on, making the title slightly more portable than the other versions. I actually prefer this over having some gimmick shoehorned in, as the game moves too quickly to have to alternate screens. Also, I rather enjoy having the TV freed up for something else. On the other hand, this version of the game has a freezing issue that occurs anytime you exit the game (which has since been patched), which is especially troublesome since the only way to restart the system is to unplug it. Oh, how I hate that interface so much.
I’ve always had a hard time justifying the $15 price point for indie titles on services like the eShop, PSN, or Xbox Live Arcade. However, Runner2 does a lot to earn that value by providing a high level count, multiple difficulty levels, and leaderboards. Oh, and Charles Martinet. It has inspired me to check out the other games in the series, and that’s honestly one of the top honors I can give.
Short Attention Span Summary
Bit.Trip Presents…Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, aside from possessing one of the most unnecessarily long titles I’ve ever encountered, at least provides a game experience that is of respectable length. Running through each stage and reacting to every obstacle that you see at the last second is akin to doing a speedrun of a Sonic the Hedgehog game, but with music that plays along with your actions. The controls are responsive despite the impressive repertoire given to Commander Video, and underneath the simplicity lies a game with a surprising amount of depth. If that sounds like a recipe for success to you, then I suggest you run out and go buy it.