BIT.TRIP Presents: Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (Runner 2) is a balancing act between delight and frustration. It’s a game with a deceptively happy and cheerful style that merely masquerades its challenging, and often unforgiving gameplay; which in the last few years has almost become its own sub-genre with entries like Super Meat Boy, FTL, and Spelunky.
As opposed to the original BIT.TRIP Runner’s faithful 16-bit style, Runner 2 revamps its visual presentation resulting in a vibrant and colorful 3D look that is all its own. With the plethora of “indie games with an 8-bit style” that can take up your time nowadays, the style has nearly become over-saturated. With that in mind, it’s much appreciated that developer Gaijin Games tried something different with Runner 2’s presentation, and it has definitely paid off.
Runner 2’s combination of music and gameplay is at the core of the game. The rhythm of the music played during each level is paramount to timing jumps, slides, and kicks. Actions such as collecting gold stacks or jumping over an enemy generate a sound when performed, which further contribute to the fantastic background tunes.
Runner 2 gives the impression of an incredibly simple game in its initial levels, starting out with rudimentary jumps and slides. After not too long though, you’ll find you’re using nearly every button on the controller. With each new ability comes a period of a lot of failing until you can master it. In later worlds the game becomes less about introducing new mechanics, and more about finding new ways to make you use the ones you have with more expertise.
One of the greater improvements in Runner 2 as compared to its predecessor is the addition of mid-level checkpoints. A big complaint of the first game was how unforgiving it was at times; with one mistake sending you all the way back to the start of a stage. To appease this issue, Runner 2 has checkpoints in every stage that can be found about half way through. As a nod to the fans who enjoyed the challenge of the first Runner, checkpoints can easily be jumped over completely, and doing so grants a generous point bonus at the end of the stage. That definitely makes even the hardest of stages more bearable.
With each world comes a new character to unlock, each having its own stage to complete. While the characters’ designs share in the humor of the rest of the game, the changes are only cosmetic. The game play is completely the same, so it comes down to pure preference. Each world also has a few retro stages that can be found mid-stage. These stages launch you into a retro-style stage, complete with 160-bit visuals and sounds. After discovering these stages for the first time, they can be accessed from the world menu as you please.
One of the only complaints I can muster up about Runner 2 is its sometimes wonky hit-boxes on enemies. There were many times I collided with an enemy when I felt like I shouldn’t. The poor range of collision is made more obvious when you’re required to combine sliding and jumping. It led to countless failures borne out of pure frustration.
Magic is achieved in BIT.TRIP Runner 2 when its excellent level design, tight controls, rhythm-based gameplay, and smile-inducing music cohesively meld into something you’ve never seen before. It integrates music directly into gameplay better than any game I’ve played before. While it abandons its retro inspiration from a visual sense, it’s done so for the better; especially in an era when seemingly countless retro-style games are being released each year. Runner 2 still asks for the precise control and brutality that most games of new simply don’t. Even when I was deep in the trenches of its most frustrating stages, Runner 2 never failed to put a smile on my face.