Runner 2 is a brightly coloured rhythm-adventure with excellent art and sound design, simple but intricate levels, and filled with more content per square-inch (of your hard drive…space…memory?) than almost any other indie game I can think of right now. Perhaps more than a number of triple-A releases.
More importantly than any of that, it is fun. Which is what a video game should be.
(Please note – after a hilarious Japanese translation of the first BIT.TRIP Runner game, the full title of this sequel is actually BIT.TRIP Presents – Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. For the sake of my fingers and your eyes, I’ll just call it Runner 2 in this review.)
Playing Runner 2 is kind of like learning to play an instrument. It starts off easy, fumbling your way through your first song note by note, but once you’ve practised, you’re pulling of moves you would never have dreamed about at the start. In its simplest form, the game is a side-scroller, tasking you with getting from one side to the other whilst avoiding the obstacles and pitfalls in your way. It starts innocuously enough – jump this gap, grab these points, slide under this baddie – but in the final levels you’re pulling off double back flips over enemies and sliding down tunnels under fireballs. It’s pretty mental.
The BIT.TRIP games have always been about rhythm and music, and Runner 2 is no exception. Every gold bar you pick up, every enemy you jump over or slide under plays a pleasing note. Going up and down stairs plays a scale, all in tune with the bass-heavy backing track. Anyone with an average sense of rhythm should be able to at least know when to time their jumps, if nothing else. To experience the full orchestral-electro-trance tracks, however, you’ll need to hit every note. It’s a tall order, especially on the harder difficulties, but pulling it all off makes you feel like a musical maestro, as well as a retro-gaming god. The game always supports you too, never punishing you for failing (levels are short and have checkpoints).
Visually, the game is gorgeous. Levels are brightly coloured and intricately stylized, even if they aren’t in the traditional 8-bit style of other BIT.TRIP games. The simplicity of the games means that great love and attention have gone into the backgrounds, and if you can dare to take your eye off Commander Video for a few seconds, you’ll see some great backdrops (and no small number of jokes). Menus are crafted like carboard collages that you might stick to a fridge. The ‘story’ is utterly nonsensical, which is brilliantly in keeping with the rest of the game, and the whole thing is narrated by Charles Martinet (aka Mario). It all works together so well.
There is a colossal amount of pure game to enjoy here. Let me break down the mind-boggling amount of content Runner 2 provides for you:
Included in your entry price are 100 levels, each with three difficulty modes. Each level has a single, double and triple Perfect award, as well as a single, double and triple Perfect+ award. With regards to unlockables, there are eight characters for you to find (ranging from a gherkin to an inverted mermaid), with 48 costumes between them. There are also 25 retro levels to be found as you play, levels designed in the 8-bit style of the original Runner. There are 100 in-game mini-achievements, and 26 external ones (on Steam). The levels themselves also have multiple paths. Sometimes these will have rewards at the end, other times they’re just there for you to enjoy a bit more of a challenge.
This game makes me happy. I’m not sure if it’s the bright colours and gherkin-men appealing to my inner-child, or the beautifully crafted levels bringing out my inner-musician, but it’s fantastic. I don’t know if I’ll ever get 100% completion, because it’s so huge, but whilst I’m trying I will be loving every second.