Do you ever wish that your life was narrated by Charles Martinet (voice of Mario), and that your daily routine consisted of dodging enemies and debris and collecting gold bars, all of which chime musically as you pass by them? No? Why not?
Runner 2 (or BIT.TRIP presents…Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien) is the latest installment in the trippy and colorful running/rhythm game, and allows you to do just that. You play as the courageous Commander Video and his brigade—A pickle, a fish, a guy with a cheeseburger for a head, etc.—in a quest to stop the Timbletot from destroying all worlds.
How? By running, of course!
Well…not just running. Running, jumping, gliding, blocking, sliding, kicking, bouncing, springing, loop-de-looping, square-de-sqaring, boosting, floating, grinding, hanging, slide-jumping, slide-kicking, jump-kicking, and jump-blocking. I might have missed a few.
Case in point: Runner 2 takes the features of the original and goes wild. While the original only had jumping, sliding, kicking, springing, and blocking, it still managed to feel varied and entertaining most of the time. It was, however, notoriously difficult, especially cruel to perfectionists, and many dismissed it as a lesson in both futility and hapless memorization.
Runner 2 rectifies a good deal of the matters that made playing the original a bit tiresome. For example, the difficulty level is adjustable, which tweaks enemy placement and the degree of difficulty while still keeping the general landscape of the level. This is great for two reasons: it keeps the blistering parts for purists while not detracting from the overall experience by ramping up the difficulty too much; if it ever gets too hard, after all, you can just adjust the difficulty.
If you are a purist or a masochist like me, you might worry that Runner 2′s difficulty is scaled down. It’s not. At all. I was rather skeptical myself, both of the new artstyle and the addition of…checkpoints(!?) A lot of people found the game too hard, apparently. But fret not. While they are in all levels, they serve as a chance get a lot of bonus points if you skip them—a simple hop to do so. The checkpoints are fairly apparent and predictable, so you won’t often find yourself having to manually restart because you accidentally triggered one while going for the high score. The bosses, however, do have mandatory checkpoints, which is at once a relief and a disappointment; a lot of the fun of the boss-fights in the original was triumphing after a flawless run.
Speaking of art-style, Runner 2 reinvents the half-pixellated-half-cubist world of the original in favor of a stylized 2.5D claymation-esque world. I wasn’t too keen on it at first, but it really grew on me, especially when you notice the attention to detail that wasn’t possible in the original. As you pass by certain enemies, you’ll notice their eyes follow you. Other floating-boxing enemies take a swing at you but then miss (hopefully) and spin around. The backgrounds, instead of being static fields with repeating segments, are dynamic and much less recycled, which makes every level feel unique and hand-crafted.
The characters themselves, thanks to the new style, have a sizable collection of unlockable costumes for the fashionably inclined. What’s more, the new graphical style looks quite impressive in full 1080p, with no small deal of thanks to the colorful, vibrant art direction. One thing that’s the same is the quality of the sound-track. It’s not only varied from level to level, but now it utilizes a mixture of retro bit-music and brief interludes of orchestrated guitar, drums, and other instruments, making for a perfect mixture of the sounds of the original with the innovation of the new one. The score kicks ass, in other words.
As for the actual gameplay, the controls are tight. The only times I blamed the game and not myself for botching an otherwise perfect run were when I tried to time a slide-jump spontaneously, which makes it look like you’re further forward than you actually are. Runner 2 is paced almost perfectly (on normal, at least). You never feel like it has suddenly spiked or dipped like it did in the original. I’m looking at you, Odyssey. But when it ramps up around worlds 4 and 5, and holy crap does it ramp up, that’s when Runner 2 truly shines. On one hand, you panic at the sheer density of the stuff you’re dodging, but on the other hand, you’re amazed as your reflexes react with precision and you finish a level in one try.
The retro segments also make a return in Runner 2, but instead of being bonus stages, they are hidden cartridges in some levels that you have to search for, and can be retried at any time from the over-world menu. The bonus for a perfect run is now a much more reasonable (but equally frustrating when failed) cannon mini-game. In a way, it’s great for most people because it’s just a chance to net some points. But, again, if you’re a perfectionist, the only way to be truly perfect is to get a bull’s eye on every single level. Every. Single. Level.
Obsession aside, there are still a few problems with the game. A dance feature has been added, for one. Dancing allows you to earn some extra points in the rare moments during the game where you aren’t sliding and jumping for your life. However, what often will happen is that attempting to dance will cause your next move to be off-time and usually cost you the run. It’s great for veteran players as a chance to top the leaderboard, but the temptation to dance uncontrollably at every opportunity made me lose just about every time. After enough failures, I had to stop altogether and just focus on the unbridled, undancing fun of the core game.
Also, Runner 2 adds a few more new features, namely the addition of forked paths, alternate exits, and a lock-and-key system (collect the key from a specific level to open the lock on other levels). As a feature, it does add a lot to the replayability and fun of the game. However, in terms of fully completing a level, it’s frustrating to have to beat a level once and then come back and beat it again once you’ve gotten the key. I respect it as a design decision, but my personal preference sets it as a minor annoyance to have to backtrack to get the full experience of each level.
I still occasionally fall into the trap of trying to time my button hits with the sounds instead of before. And no matter what I tell myself, I just can’t get over the fact that there are checkpoints. An option to toggle them off altogether would do a lot to alleviate my perhaps unreasonable qualm. But minor issues, all in all.
Runner 2 is a niche sort of game, there is no way to deny that. I recommended the original to a few friends, and with mixed reactions: some loved it, some hated it. The same can be said about Runner 2. However, it’s hard to deny that it’s a great, polished game, with the opportunity to get several tens of hours out of it. I can’t recall the last game that made me grin and even laugh while I played it because it was so whimsical. I also can’t recall a game that made me want to punch a person in the face at certain points. I can’t recall any game that made me feel both of these emotions at the same time. If you liked the original, you’ll love Runner 2. If you had mixed or even impartial feelings for the original, you might just have your mind changed by Runner 2. It’s the first game in recent memory that not only lives up to the original, but builds on it in all the right ways. It’s also one of the few games that I’m not hesitant about shelling out the extra five bucks to get the sound-track.