Bit.Trip presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (Runner 2) is the latest game in a series of titles that I’ve never heard of. The Bit.Trip franchise follows Commander Video through various adventures and game styles. Runner 2 finds Commander Video hit with a ray of energy, which sends him tumbling into an alternate dimension. In order to get back home, Commander Video has to run, jump, duck, dive, and dodge his way through 5 strange worlds. Other than a few humorous cutscenes, there is very little plot involved in Runner 2. Thankfully, the upbeat mood, constant humor, and ever-evolving gameplay keep you more than hooked on playing.
Runner 2 feels like the combination of many smaller games, with the most similar game being The Impossible Game. Your character stays on the left side of the screen and constantly runs forward. It’s the player’s responsibility to make Commander Video survive the level and make it to the other side safely. This includes: jumping over obstacles, kicking down walls, running through loops, sliding under objects, blocking projectiles, and sliding on rails. While this sounds overly simple, the speed and complexity of the levels steadily increases, making for a challenging experience. While you guide Commander Video through the levels, there are collectible bars of gold and red crosses, which boost your score and can change the music.
The best part about the gameplay of Runner 2 is that the pacing of the levels are set to music. Every jump, slide, kick, etc. adds to the music playing. By following along with the music, it can help you time every jump and duck. Not only does this make Runner 2 into a more immersive and pleasant game, but it creates one of the more unique rhythm games I’ve played. It creates the feeling that you’re conducting the music, all while narrowly avoiding obstacles or enemies. The assistance you receive from the music is more than welcome, due to the precision required for completing the levels. Even on the “Normal” difficulty, each action needs to be precisely timed, in order to proceed. If there were load times or a restricted number of lives, this would prove to be a very frustrating game. Thankfully, Runner 2 is more forgiving of mistakes, only forcing players to start from the beginning or checkpoints if they die (and they will die. A lot.)
The graphics are a blend of contemporary HD backgrounds and enemies, with a 70’s retro style on the menus and cutscenes. You’ll never run out of beautiful things to look at, but the gorgeous settings can often distract you and get Commander Video killed. This is one game that you don’t want any distractions while playing. Commander Video travels through a world made of Clouds, an ocean themed world, a massive forest world, a fiery volcano world, and finally, into space. There are also hidden portals in the levels, transporting you to a very old-school themed level of Runner 2 that take place in a 16-bit-esque look.
The music of any rhythm game is the largest concern, but Runner 2 delivers on an interesting and well composed score. Primarily made up of electronic beats that echo the music from classic days of the NES and SNES, Runner 2‘s score is upbeat, fun, and give the entire game a light-hearted feeling. Each of the worlds that the player travels to will change the style of the music according to its theme, for example, “The Emerald Brine” world has its music infused with sounds of the ocean and acoustic guitars. The main melody of most of the songs stays fairly similar, but this change in musical style per world really keeps the sound fresh and happy.
The only problems of Runner 2 come with the repetition and replayability. Since the core gameplay is always going to be Commander Video running forward, it’s easy to become tired of playing the game. Even with the multitude of different obstacles and methods of passing them, players could be tired after an hour or two of constantly having to be on a split second attention span. Also, once you’ve beaten the game, there’s nothing else to do, other than beat it on higher or lower difficulties. While there is a leaderboard to submit your high scores to, there’s no other game modes or multiplayer. Even though the single player campaign is wonderful, I feel that Runner 2 could have really benefited from a competitive or co-operative multiplayer mode.
The achievements are nothing you wouldn’t expect out of an Arcade title. There are 400 possible points to earn, split between 26 achievements. There are achievements for beating each of the worlds, as well as a few for unlocking new characters or dancing a certain number of times. The real meat-and-potatoes of the list comes from unlocking “Rewards”. You can unlock Rewards by doing various objectives or actions, such as jumping over enemies or kicking down walls. For every ten rewards you unlock, you’ll get an achievement (up to ninety rewards). Most of the achievements are pretty easy to unlock, but there are a couple that would take some serious dedication and grinding.
Runner 2 is easily one of the most unique downloadable titles I’ve played, and has become one of my favorites. Every element in the game comes together, immersing the player in a light-hearted, funny, but challenging world. Even though the gameplay only clocks in at around 5 hours and it can become repetitive, Runner 2 is still streets ahead of the average Arcade game. Although I’ve never played any of the previous games in this series, Runner 2 was enough to convince me that Gaijin Games knows how to make quality titles. I can only hope that this studio will continue to make games on the Xbox Live Arcade.
I give Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
4 “Whetfart Cheeseburgers” out of 5
By Blake Edwards