Game: Bit.Trip Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
Developer: Gaijin Games
Available on: Windows PC, Linux, Mac, PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Windows PC
The adventures of Commander Video in the Bit.Trip series have developed something of a cult following these past few years, and it’s easy to see why: the series’ whimsical charm, snappy music and intuitive gameplay make it accessible to just about anyone. Runner 2, sequel to the super successful Bit.Trip Runner, is the first game in the series to be made available to the masses by virtue of its multi-platform release. There are a lot of people eager to get their hands on Runner 2, so how did it turn out?
The last Bit.Trip Runner title is the most well-known in the eclectic Bit.Trip series. In Runner, you control Commander Video, the main protagonist of the Bit. Trip series. Commander Video runs, endlessly, from left to right, and it’s your job to guide him through the obstacles and to the finish. The game doubles up as a sort of rhythm action game, with your actions being played out through the game’s soundtrack. Runner 2 brings HD graphics to the Bit.Trip party for the first time, ditching the pixelated visuals of previous games.
STORY: Bit.Trip Runner 2 follows Commander Video’s fight against his arch-nemesis Mingrawn Timblebot, a bad guy straight out of videogames past. He’s a bad guy because he just feels like being a bad guy (think Dr. Robotnik or Dr. Neo Cortex, that sort of bad guy). Mingrawn Timblebot wants to destroy not only our world, but every world there is, so it’s Commander Video’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s not the richest of stories, but in a game like this, it really doesn’t need to be. It’s a classic tale of Good vs. Evil.
GRAPHICS: The most obvious change people will notice when jumping into Runner 2 for the first time will be the game’s new look. Gone are the chunky pixels of the prequel, replaced instead by slick character models, attractive environments and bouncy animation. The change is striking, and has a real impact on how the game is perceived.
Before Runner 2, the Bit.Trip games were designed to be played on PC or on Nintendo’s Wii or 3DS systems. Runner 2 sees the series crash into the current generation, with it being available on Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii U from the start. That gave Gaijin licence to update the game’s look, and they have done a fine job. Runner 2 pops with kindergarten charm, it’s characters, enemies and locales jumping off the screen and hugging the part of you that loves to smile. It’s look is comparable to Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet, which is praise indeed – Gaijin’s relatively small development team have produced a truly lovely-looking title. Five different worlds bring with them five different flavours of charm and joy, with backgrounds that are worth dying to get a better look at.
SOUND: Music is at the centre of the Bit.Trip experience, with your on-screen progress being transferred seamlessly to the game’s soundtrack, bringing the sensual experience full-circle – something that can’t be said for the majority of platform games. Then again, this isn’t a platform game in the traditional sense, as the pace is scripted and can therefore be tied into the soundtrack. This means every hop, jump, kick and bounce is represented in the music; the better you do, the fuller the soundtrack becomes. Collecting the PLUS collectables changes the soundtrack up, adding layers or changing the mood. The rhythm is hard to escape, dictating the flow of your game, edging you on to hear more, do more, make more music. The only gripe to be had is that the music doesn’t change a great deal across the five different worlds and 125 levels; there are changes that suit the change in environment, but at its core it’s the same piece of music with only slight differences from start to finish, except for some radical changes in the latter stages and boss levels. It’s only a small gripe, since the music is a dynamic beast that metamorphosizes into a subtly different tune at every turn.
GAMEPLAY: As alluded to already, Runner 2 is a rhythmic on-the-rails platform game, in which you guide Commander Video through the game’s many levels set against five different worlds. Runner 2 introduces the different commands slowly, level by level, adding a layer of difficulty now and then to keep things moving and feeling fresh. The first trick you will learn, and the most important, is jumping. Since Commander Video is always running, timing your jumps just right is important, since you’ll need to jump over enemies, through holes and up stairs. Get the timing wrong and you’ll smash into an obstacle and be dragged back to the start of the level, or checkpoint if you made it that far. As you progress through the levels, more actions are introduced, which are mixed up and conjoined to form complex moves, raising the difficulty level dramatically.
By the end of the game, you’ll be jumping, sliding, jumping while sliding, deflecting projectiles with your shield and hanging from rails. I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun. When you get deep into the game, the levels get frantic and become a matter of trial and error wherein you’ll be learning as you go, trying and retrying in order to make it to the finish line.
Sounds frustrating, right? Well, it isn’t, and that is testament to just how much fun Runner 2 is. I found myself repeating the same level countless times, trying to collect all of the gold pieces in order to maximise my score. The challenge here is inviting rather than frustrating. You want to beat the level, and you want to beat the level in the best way possible, dancing your way to a 100% finish.
Every level end is met with a screen that tells you how you did, what you missed and where you are in the world rankings. To get the best scores you’ll need to collect all the gold pieces, find any treasure on offer and skip over the halfway checkpoint. Oh, and hit the bull’s-eye at the end when you fire Commander Video out of a cannon for a possible 10,000 point reward for collecting all of the gold pieces on offer, a reward you’ll need of you are to get anywhere near the top of the leaderboards.
LONGEVITY: Bit.Trip Runner 2 is packed full of reasons to keep playing after the credits roll. Nearly every level in the game is just waiting to be revisited, its secret explored, the maximum number of points taken from it. Since there are 125 levels on offer, that’s 125 opportunities to bag yourself a number one slot in the world rankings, and who wouldn’t want that? There are keys and chests to find, which will unlock new playable characters and costumes, and even collectable cassette tapes that unlock a retro version of the level you happen to be on. The retro levels are hard as nails and offer a whole new level of challenge once the game is up.
VERDICT: Bit.Trip Runner 2 is cracking game, and sees Gaijin Games complete their evolution from cult indie studio to development big boys. A wonderful title that pours joy into the living room in a flood of musical wonderment. Challenging, inviting and long lasting, Runner 2 is a triumph.