Review: Bike Rider DX2: Galaxy (3DS eShop)

Giro della Galaxy

Last year’s Bike Rider DX was a pleasant surprise, bringing auto-scrolling precision platforming to the eShop in a charming, polished, pedal-powered package. Now, fresh from the first game’s world tour, our tireless cyclist returns to take to the stars in this space-themed sequel, Bike Rider DX2: Galaxy. Keeping the same great gameplay firmly intact while covering plenty of new ground, Galaxy is a lovely little game that will delight fans of simple, speedy platforming.

As in the first Bike Rider, the basic goal in Bike Rider DX2: Galaxy is simple — players guide a tiny, constantly-cycling character through short, auto-scrolling stages, jumping across gaps and platforms, avoiding obstacles, and gathering three gold coins on the way to the finish. All of these acrobatics are the result of a single button — press ‘A’ to jump — along with the D-Pad for quick adjustments, though the simplified control scheme also plays host to one of the most satisfying platforming mechanics we’ve ever come across: a double-jump that can be extended almost indefinitely with the proper timing. By feathering the button in the right rhythm, you can rocket into the air with a sextuple-jump, breeze steadily across wide gaps with several successive hops, or triple-jump across the finish-line flagpole just for fun. It feels fantastic, and makes riding through, over, and across each stage a joy.

With such simple controls, Bike Rider’s challenge is all in the routes, and Galaxy’s short courses shine with top-notch level design. Each five-stage area is themed around a different zodiac sign, and the colourful, creative interpretations of those constellations kept us smiling throughout our galactic journey: Aries is represented by sky stages full of sheep and clouds, Gemini is an Area 51-style clone factory, Virgo is a Lite-Brite wonderland of neon colour, and Libra is an Escher-esque, monochrome world of scales and mirrors. Along with returning elements like disappearing platforms, springs, canons and air currents, you’ll find floating bubbles to ride on, spider webs to slow you down, lasers to dodge, switches to activate and enemies to defeat, with birds, fish, and red rival cyclists all awaiting a well-timed hop on the head. Some levels even bring new environmental effects - the Aquarius stages, for example, feature underwater sections which have you pressing ‘A’ to swim upwards.

While power-ups featured in the first game, Galaxy ups the ante with several new ‘suits’ that change up your rider’s abilities for a limited time. The Drill suit, for instance, lets you bore through blocks, opening up alternate routes and cleverly playing into gold coin collection, while the Propeller Jump suit grants you helicopter hops with sustained upward spin, and picking up the Wing Rider lets you fly by flapping frame-mounted fans.

These new powers are fun to play with, even if the execution is a bit hit or miss — the ‘miss’ being exemplified by the adorable but ultimately unwieldily Frog Rider suit, which replaces your standard jumps with a charge meter mechanic: the longer you hold the button, the higher you hop. It sounds fine, but it’s frustrating in practice; frog jumps are much harder to time than normal jumps, but not much higher — and again, with a bit of button-pressing finesse, you can leap almost indefinitely with the standard setup anyway. Worse, the suit slows your rider down considerably, and while that’s presumably to make timing tricky frog jumps easier, it’s also simply not as much fun. Fortunately, power-ups are almost always optional, and we happily hopped over every frog suit we saw without running into any problems.

Getting through each stage is one thing — later courses will test the reflexes of even the most talented cyclists — but the real challenge in Bike Rider comes from collecting the three gold coins in every level. In early stages, all three coins are placed in plain sight, and easy to grab with a jump or two, but it’s not long before you’ll find them dangerously out of reach, on alternate paths, or even right at the top of a bottomless pit, where only a deftly-timed double-jump can get you the gold and still get you out alive. They’re fun to collect, true tests of platforming skill, and an excellent incentive to replay stages; it’s not uncommon to spot a coin after it’s already too late to reach it, and we found ourselves heading right back in to try and grab these new discoveries every time — not out of completionist compulsion, but because the level design makes tracking down & reaching each coin genuinely enjoyable.

Platforming perfectionists will also be happy to hear about Bike Rider DX2: Galaxy’s new gold crown, an extra award granted for collecting all three coins in one run without once touching the D-Pad. Going for gold crowns had us thinking about the levels in completely new ways; when you leave the D-Pad behind, Bike Rider changes from a precision platformer into something resembling Runner 2, with wonderful results. It becomes entirely about timing, reflexes, and reading the course, and you’ll feel like you’ve fully mastered a stage when you earn a crown.

Beyond the Galaxy Tour mode, there’s also a Grand Prix, which lets you see how far you can get in a randomly-generated endless stage. You can change the course’s appearance to any of the zodiac themes you’ve already played in Galaxy Tour, and select between Normal and unlockable Hard difficulty levels. In a first for the series, you’ll also be able to see how your best Grand Prix distances stack up in online leaderboards, with both all-time and weekly rankings available. Of course, since each run’s track is procedurally-generated, comparing distances is never going to be completely ‘fair’. Still, while we can’t see Bike Rider DX2 hitting the tournament circuit anytime soon, the leaderboards offer up a great way to see how your general galaxy-cruising skills measure up, and the weekly refresh will give competitive players a reason to keep coming back.

A surprisingly robust system of achievements known as Awards rounds out the package, where players can earn bronze, silver, or gold medals for feats like collecting five crowns, pulling off a septuple jump, or reaching 1000m in Grand Prix mode. They’re not just for bragging rights this time around, either; amassing enough Awards will unlock extra stages to spin through. If you’re looking to extend the experience further still, there are also a few different DLC level packs for download. At the time of writing, these included one free five-stage ‘Moon’ level and two paid ten-stage packs: one made just for the game’s Western début, and one extremely challenging set designed to challenge even the craziest of cyclists.

Like its predecessor, Bike Rider DX2: Galaxy rolls along on a simple but charming presentation. It’s clean, colourful, and full of little touches that show there’s a lot of care put into the look, like the sparkle effect which accompanies each successive jump, and progresses from fairy-dust flicker to full-blown fireworks as you string together more and more hops. Or take the titular Bike Rider, a teeny sprite that initially seems like placeholder material, but becomes decidedly endearing once you notice it pedalling away with all its heart in an adorable animation. Our only issues with the presentation are some surprisingly fuzzy fonts, and a lack of clear delineation between art and obstacles in the course designs. Objects which could conceivably crash a bike but don’t — like cacti and road barriers — frequently appear in the foreground of the stages, and on the same plane as the player; that's even with the 3D effect enabled. Veteran Bike Riders will know what to look out for, but we could see first time players being confused by the non-obstacles; at the very least, it seems like a missed opportunity for stereoscopic separation.

The soundtrack was a highlight of Bike Rider DX, and this sequel boasts a collection of equally excellent tunes to accompany your pedal power. While each zodiac sign has its own track, the background music stays within a consistent style of synth-led pop and electronica that fits the upbeat action well. The soundtrack also feeds into the game’s pleasing sense of flow; the music plays continuously through both the interface and levels, without stopping or resetting when you restart a stage, and helps to keep your momentum going for ride after ride.

Conclusion

Bike Rider DX2: Galaxy is a blast. It takes a simple gameplay concept, adds in a fantastic double-jump mechanic and several layers of skill-based challenges, and polishes it into a gem of a game that’s easy to pick up and play, but with enough depth and variety to keep you smiling through marathon sessions. If you enjoyed Bike Rider DX, you’ll have just as much fun here — Galaxy adds in new power-ups, online leaderboards, and a whole new set of wonderful levels, making it well worth a spin for fans of the first game; if the original passed you by, the budget price point makes this the best place to hop on and start your ride.

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