Skipping a Beat with Bit.Trip Presents... Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm AlienA game review article by: Nick Boisson
Well, they did it. Somehow, Gaijin Games managed to make a sequel to my favorite game in the franchise with a new look, new characters and some modified gameplay and made it even better than the original game. Somewhere out there, dreams really do come true...
For those unfamiliar with the series, BIT.TRIP is a collection of music games with an 8-bit aesthetic starring the congenial captain of commendable character, Commander Video. Each game takes on a different classic gameplay mechanic and turns it on its ear by setting all actions you conduct to music and keeping you at a rhythm. The first game in the series – BIT.TRIP BEAT – took the classic Pong mechanic, made it one-sided and all sorts of hectic. What BIT.TRIP RUNNER did was take the platform game where your platform is constantly moving. Commander Video is always running and it is up to you to get through all the obstacles in his path without stopping him. In BIT.TRIP Presents... Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, Commander Video, after the events at the end of RUNNER, was hit with a reality un-fusion beam and is thrown into a different reality. And this reality has a third-dimension!
For those who are familiar with the series, do not let the game's new style fool you. It is still very much a BIT.TRIP game. While I was a bit turned off when I first saw that Runner2 was leaving the retro-style environments and characters that I had grown to love with the series, all my reservations went away when I started playing it. While it may have more colors and you cannot count each faux-pixel the game shows you, you still get that beautiful warm color palette from RUNNER. The 3D character and environment models actually manage to help the game quite a bit, not hinder it. As you play, everything is always moving. The non-playable characters in the foreground, the environments and characters in the background and those little red sneakers on Commander Video's feet are always in constant motion. This could never happen in the original BIT.TRIP series. And, even if it did, you wouldn't really be able to notice it anyway. That's the thing with Runner2; everything is still there from the original BIT.TRIP RUNNER, but tweaked ever so noticeably and ramped up to awesome.
Runner2 still has all the platforming goodness from the original RUNNER with some added moves. Imagine Sonic the Hedgehog, except Sonic just can't stop. Commander Video is a-runnin' to get home and obstacles just keep trying stop him from making it back; robots, robots with electric shock capabilities, robots that form walls. They just keep trying to get between Commander Video and his wonderful 8-bit reality that those of us ill with '80s nostalgia all love so dearly. To make your way through this soundtracked obstacle course, you must jump, duck and kick your way through. Runner2 also brings new mechanics like the long jump and the springboards. All the while, you collect gold pieces to pay your way through to get more levels and open up new worlds, each more beautiful than the last.
But the nostalgia doesn't end there. The level selection now looks taken right out of games like Super Mario World, where Commander Video travels along a world map, selecting each level and unlocking some more as he collects more gold. You will also find certain collectibles, like NES cartridges, that will give you an extra in-game level where you collect more gold in an 8-bit style. It's a nice call-back for the fans as well as a fun collection grab for the platformer fans in us all.
The series' difficulty is present and accounted for, but this game adds some features to help those that ended up throwing their Wii-mote at their television screens in despair. First off, Runner2 has a multi-tiered levels of difficulty. If you need it to be easier, go ahead and play on the lower level. Each level now also has midway checkpoints for the rage-quit inclined. While in the original RUNNER, if you were right in front of the finish line and you forgot to kick, jump over or duck below the final obstacle, you were sent all the way back to the starting line. With Runner2, you'll just lose the last give or take 25 seconds of progress. But that doesn't mean the game's difficulty cannot be experienced by the die-hard fan of the series. You can also choose to treat said checkpoint as an obstacle and just jump over it, skipping the checkpoint altogether. Doing so will give the player a higher score and maybe even a nice sense of pride...at least until they run into an obstacle and are sent flying back to the level's start. Not feeling so smarmy now, are we? That'll learn you!
And the music? Yes, the music is still fantastic! Gaijin Games' use of chiptune-inspired tracks both bring a level of nostalgia while also bridging the gap to make Runner2 one of the best modern examples of a music game. Every time Commander Video dodges an enemy, grab a collectible or make a special move like running on the giant loop, the action plays like a note on the music track with each one having its own sound effect. As you gain momentum, the music will also grow faster to keep up with you. You are creating the melody for this track and, if you mess up, you will feel less anger about starting at the beginning again but more remorse for ruining such a catchy tune.
But one of my favorite bits in the game is the voice-over introductions by none other than Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario! He opens the game with a humorous “previously on” animated segment that is reminiscent of the narrator on The Adventures of Rocky & Bulwinkle & Friends. Definitely a different take on the BIT.TRIP series, but one that all of us gamers and fans of classic animation will enjoy all the more.
BIT.TRIP Presents... Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien may not look like a BIT.TRIP game, but once you play it, you certainly will not argue that it doesn't feel like one. Runner2 is easily a game that you must download on your favorite console or home computing device. It's funny, gorgeous, sounds like how I want my world to sound and, most importantly, it is just so damned fun! And while I stated so many times above how this truly feels like a BIT.TRIP game, I should also note that Runner2 is like no game I have ever played before it. Gaijin has done something here that many have tried but few have succeeded. I look forward to what Gaijin Games will have in store for us next with great interest.
Be sure to check out our interview with Gaijin Games co-founder, Alex Neuse, only on Comics Bulletin!
Pop culture geek, Nick Boisson, lives in front of his computer, where he is Section Editor of Comics Bulletin's video game appendage and shares his slushily obsessive love of video games, comics, television and film with the Internet masses. In the physical realm, he works in Guest Relations for Florida Supercon in Miami as well as a day-to-day job, which he refuses to identify to the public. We're thinking something in-between confidential informant and professional chum-scrubber.