Onwards and Upwards: A BIT.TRIP Runner 2 Review

BIT.TRIP Presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is an exhortation. It’s a celebration of light and sound, an experience that is inclusive without being patronizing, expressive without being overbearing. It’s a game that encourages you to play it on easy, just as long as you’re playing it. It’s about passion and excitement.

It’s something that will get you smiling, will make you laugh, and will surprise you with its poignancy.

BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a game I can whole-heartedly recommend to anybody who has ever caught themselves smiling while on the couch, controller in their hands.

Mechanically, it’s very similar to the original BIT.TRIP RUNNER, a hybrid of endless runner and rhythm game. Each stage finds you running to the right, jumping and dodging past various obstacles in increasingly complex patterns. Runner 2 adds a few new moves to BIT.TRIP series protagonist Commander Video’s arsenal, including a slide, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before if you’ve played any of the spate of titles available on iOS like Temple Run.

What sets Runner 2 apart from those games you play while waiting in line at Chipotle is the musical aspect that’s part of every BIT.TRIP game. Each object you interact with, be it a robot you slide under or a bullet you block, creates a tone. As you progress through the stage, these tones all start to merge together, creating the background music for the level. In addition, each level has four objects that, when collected, add another layer to the beat, each stage building to a crescendo of sound. It’s a subtle effect at first, obstacles being few and far between, but by the end of the last world you’ll be creating complex melodies and, in some cases, doing things without even having to look at the screen, the rhythm aspect entirely driving your movements.

Runner 2 is far more than the sum of its mechanical parts though. Unlike the first game, which required a lot of memorization and practice to get through, it’s fully possible to beat most of the levels in Runner 2 on your first try. It’s all about getting into the groove, feeling the music, and letting your hands become an extension of the tempo of the level.

Patterns are slowly introduced at the beginning of a stage, new abilities layered on top of each other in a very natural way, obstacles increasing as the music soars. It’s rare for the game to throw something at you that you aren’t prepared to handle, especially in the earlier stages. Even then, death never puts you very far away from where you left off, developer Gaijin Games having learned their lesson from the infamous checkpoint-less ‘Odyssey’ level in the original BIT.TRIP RUNNER. If you’re having a hard time with a stage, you can always set it to the “Quite Easy” difficult level with no penalty for doing so.

There’s also a “Rather Hard” difficulty, but Runner 2 isn’t a game about challenge, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s about climbing, reaching, and moving. It’s about sitting down and playing a game for a while, not getting stuck on a single stage and being unable to move past it. It’s a game that wants you to experience it, wants you to conquer it, and wants you to feel good while doing it.

The only game I can compare it to is thatgamecompany’s Journey. Both are about flying, upwards and forwards, into a strange world that’s studded with things that might be familiar but seem alien. They’re games that exalt the act of playing above struggle and challenge, where difficulty isn’t a barrier to enjoyment but a choice made to augment it.

Runner 2 isn’t perfect: the boss battles are confusing and unnecessary, some of the obstacles can require a little too much precision, and requiring that you hit a bull’s-eye at the end of each stage for the vaunted Perfect+ rating can be frustrating, but that’s not entirely the point. It feels good to play this game, something that can’t be said of many titles this generation. Just the act of running, jumping, and sliding is enough to bring a smile to your face, the beat climbing upwards with each bleep and boop.

There’s something magical in Runner 2, a sense of joyous abandon that infuses everything from the bizarre advertisements that open it to the selection of bizarre playable characters that includes a Reverse Merman (it’s exactly what you think). It’s a refreshing shot of reckless fun in a world full of dismal dystopian futures and overly bright lens flares. Gaijin Games is laughing so hard that all you can do is laugh along, even if you don’t entirely get the joke.

Pixels or Death gives BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien a 4 out of 5.

PC version played to completion, blisters be damned, for this review. Currently available on Steam, Wii U, and Xbox 360, with a PS3 release on March 5th, 2013.

  • ConorT5

    I think that the game, (at least on “Just Right” mode), wasn’t that hard. Each boss’s pattern was easy to memorize and the obstacles just took a little trial and error. And this is coming from a person who got all perfects on the levels during my blind run. I think the difficulty curve is easier than the first Bit.Trip Runner and they prepare you well in the first three worlds for what they throw at you in worlds four and five. I would give this a 4.5, but that’s just me. (Also, this game is right up my alley, so reply if this is considered hard for the average gamer.)

    • Jason Rice

      My biggest issue with the bosses was that the various mechanics were never quite as clear as in the rest of the game. After spending hours knowing exactly what to do in different places, it’s a little jarring to suddenly have to recognize that there’s a tiny slot in a wall that requires you to slide-jump through it.

      I agree with the difficulty though, Just Right was perfect and a massive step up from the first BIT.TRIP Runner, which was plagued with seemingly random obstacles that would require different responses at different times. I can see how, for somebody who’s new to the genre or isn’t super comfortable with a controller, Just Right could be difficult though, as it does require a certain amount of muscle memory in certain places.

      • ConorT5

        The slide-jump mechanic took me FOREVER to actually get used to. The timing for it seemed nearly impossible and caused me many, many deaths. Especially since I tried to get all of the gold, power-ups, and chests on my first run through of the game. Again though, I’m probably one of the only people insane enough to do that. I also agree with the complaint about the Perfect+ because to get one of the achievements on Steam, I have to get a triple Perfect+ on each level. At that point, the Perfect+ just seems a bit unnecessary. I will do it eventually though, even if it takes over a year.