I’m Charles Martinet, and now it’s time for Bit.Trip Presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien!
The title screen says this every time you start the game. For the uninformed, Charles Martinet is the voice of Mario and various other Nintendo characters (and is also the voice of Orvus from Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time, which is where I’ve heard his name before). It’s not a high-pitched squeal, though, it’s a deep, suave, clean, introduction, injected with a bit of clever humor. And it sets up the tone of the game perfectly.
Runner 2 is a sequel, clearly: it’s the sequel to Bit.Trip Runner, the most successful entry in the Bit.Trip series of games, which prior to Runner 2 were 8-bit inspired rhythm games. The sequel has made the jump from an always-on retro feel to a full-fledged system of animation, which far from ruining the charm of the old games has only enhanced the quirky fun.
Even in a simple game like Runner, Runner 2 manages to improve on the formula from the first game. Actions in the first game were fairly simple: you could jump, slide, kick, block, and spring. There were various level mechanics through all the levels, but the method of dealing with them was the same.
In Runner 2, a very important extra mechanic is added: you can now “slide” at will, including while in midair. This opens up huge possibilities. Jump into narrow spaces, jump between enemies, grab gold whilst upright before ducking under obstacles and returning while still in midair to grab more gold. It adds a huge layer of depth without changing the Runner formula. There are also a couple of circular obstacles that can net points and occasionally other small rewards.
Oh, and you can dance for points. Dancing takes maybe a second to complete but leaves you defenseless. Score maximizers will get a kick of trying to find all the places they can get away with a dance or two, and casual players will think it’s cute. Neither view is wrong.
In its leap to three dimensions, Runner 2 also added many more playable characters, each with different skins to unlock, most of which are well worth the effort. There’s also “retro cartridges,” which are much more cleverly hidden items that teleport you to an alternate retro universe for gold prizes (and a fantastic reward for the lucky person to collect them all). Each level can be completed on three different difficulties, and the difficulty you’re playing on has no bearing on game progression—a welcome change from the first game. There is also a couple different levels of completion for every given level, where hitting a bonus bullseye after the level is completed nets you more points and game completion.
Runner 2 doesn’t let anything get in the way of the fact that it’s a game first and foremost. Some mechanics are ultimately pointless, like the new circular obstacles and dancing. They’re just there for points, right? What’s my motivation for getting the skins? Who cares?
I do. The game is intensely rewarding. Each of the five worlds has a secret character to unlock, various secret levels to visit, lock-and-key incentives to replay levels, a “rewards” system to augment the Steam achievements to keep notes on overall progress, and plenty of excitement even on more mundane levels.
Where Bit.Trip Runner was a tech demo, Runner 2 is a full-fledged game.
Let me justify that a little bit. Runner was a fine game. The game worked as advertised. Jump over obstacles in time with the beat, get through the levels, win the game. But let me follow that up by saying that I spent eight full hours on the first game, didn’t beat it, and got to a point where even playing a level on Easy felt impossible because of my inability to time arrow clicks correctly. Seriously. One of the last levels is nigh impossible, and if you can’t time about ten jumps and slides perfectly in one of the final tunnels, you lose the entire level.
But Runner 2 feels less biased against me at all steps. There are checkpoints halfway through every single level now, something that greatly speeds up the game and gives more incentive to try to explore a bit or simply collect all the gold without utter perfection. Even on the hardest difficulty, the game feels less about timing and more about the correct button press itself. Jumping in particular feels more fluid and being close enough visually suffices, which is more dramatic and more satisfying.
When I would play Guitar Hero at my friend’s house years and years ago, I wasn’t very good at playing on Hard, because that’s the first difficulty where you have to move your fingers to the orange button, and it was very very difficult. But playing the harder songs on Medium was a lot of fun, because the myriad notes were challenging to hit in succession. Even when I got better, I had a lot more fun playing moderately fun songs with varied guitar parts rather than just blind quick-strumming parts (something like “Ramblin’ Man” instead of the easy example “Through the Fire and Flames“).
That’s what Runner 2 feels like. Medium+ mode. More buttons and requiring quicker reactions, maybe, but a challenging and rewarding experience.
Right now Runner 2 is fifteen dollars on Steam. Which isn’t that much, at least not for someone like myself, who’s gotten sixteen hours of fun from it so far and fully intends to finish the game to perfection. Not because I’m a completionist in particular, but because it’s one of the most fun challenges in a game I’ve found in years. The soundtrack is beautiful: light and carefree in the first half of the game, progressing into heavier and deeper tones in the latter half.
I won’t put any sort of “if you like rhythm games, you should” or “should you find yourself with extra cash and time, consider” tripe down here. I’ll be moderately blunt. If you like having fun, and you do, pick this game up. You may consider using a controller to play, but it’s entirely optional and the game works nearly identically with a keyboard.
Seriously. You can purchase the game here. Don’t be shy. You’ll love it.