Game Review

BIT.TRIP Presents: Runner 2 Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

A bolt of bliss

There's a really strong sense of liberation to BIT.TRIP Presents: RUNNER2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, made more pronounced if you’ve hung with any of the six WiiWare entries of the series. In no small part is it because of all the running and jumping, which does metaphorically speak strongest to our sense of freedom — constantly moving, blowing past whatever challenge may come — but it’s more than just forward momentum at work.

It’s the living, smiling world rooting for you at every step, the ethereal soundtrack that effortlessly builds into a soaring crescendo and barrier-free motion, all contributing to the sense that star CommanderVideo and friends can do anything here. Few feelings are as liberating as the one of possibility, which RUNNER2 captures with gusto.

Much of it surely stems from Gaijin Games finding themselves suddenly unchained. Having worked within the constraints of WiiWare since the studio’s founding, knocking six BIT.TRIP games into the outfield or out of the park entirely, it became more evident as the series progressed how the studio’s ambitions outpaced their hardware home. Free of outdated tech and an archaic size limit, RUNNER2 feels like the result of a studio finally able to make the game that they’ve always wanted. And what a game it is: RUNNER2 takes what made the original such a rewarding experience — purity of gameplay, a sense of freedom, an uplifting soundtrack — and blows it out to fantastic effect, growing larger in scope than its predecessor to the point of making the original look like a pithy 8-bit prototype.

A surface-level look at the premise doesn’t sound all that special, perhaps even downright unremarkable: run, jump, punch, slide, another one of those endless runners that seem to hit with alarming frequency on mobile devices, but RUNNER2 is anything but a piece of me-too software. Yes, those same materials are here, but put to far more interesting use: Each of the 125 stages is designed to make your brain sweat and your fingers jitter by interweaving acrobatics with precise timing driven by a swelling soundtrack. That’s more than double the number of gauntlets for CommanderVideo and friends to run than in the prior game and seemingly just as many new types of obstacle to overcome, including a few environmental tricks and others that quote past BIT.TRIPs. It requires great focus and the will to put up with temporary failure, but successfully dancing through intricate strings of jumps, slides, impossible slide-jumps through narrow passages and between enemies, punches and grind rails yields great satisfaction.

One of the larger issues with the original outing was its uneven difficulty curve, now smoothed out to prevent more casual players from hitting an impenetrable wall while giving the Usain Bolt’s of the gaming world all the challenge they could want by including three difficulty levels to tune the game to your wavelength. In addition, stages have multiple paths of varying challenge, alternate exits to pursue and treasures to snag that allow you to further fine-tune that sweet spot. Around halfway through each stage is a checkpoint in case you kick the bucket, which you can jump over to reject for a score incentive. The choice is largely yours, which is a far better approach than frequently slamming against unforgiving walls.

No matter how easy or challenging a path you choose, death is inevitable yet painless as your character is snapped right back to the nearest checkpoint. Be it the beginning of a stage or its halfway point, instantly resuming goes a long way in keeping frustration at bay and facilitating an addictive “one more go” mentality. The tight controls provide a transparency between your own performance and the events on-screen so that where to assign blame is never opaque, spurring you to continue pushing to do better next time. And make no mistake: there will be a next time. With secret characters and costumes to unlock (a pink track suit a la Punch-Out!! being our favorite surprise), hidden retro stages, tons of gold to collect, targets to bullseye and subtle encouragement to best your online friends’ high scores, it’s clear that RUNNER2 has a lot of ground to cover.

The BIT.TRIP games have a surprisingly deep underlying narrative if you're willing to dig a little, so hardcore fans may be a bit disappointed to find that RUNNER2 is a side-story taking place between fourth title RUNNER and fifth title FATE, and thus somewhat inconsequential to the overall story. Picking up with CommanderVideo and his indie game compadres traveling through space, our lead is shot with a Reality Un-Fusion Beam and transported to another dimension. Really, though, it’s a setup for Gaijin’s artists to break free of their blocky 8-bit prison and go absolutely crazy with what seems to be a European/John Kricfalusi-influenced style. The difference is remarkable, going from a neat but restrained blocky diorama to a world bursting with life and a newfound sense of slapstick humor. From smacking in to walls to a dedicated dance button, campy narration and unlockables like playable pickle Uncle Dill or the Inverse Merman, RUNNER2's tone breaks away from the otherwise serious series to raise a few chuckles. Character animation is lively and chipper, and the background is teeming with so many interesting things to see that sometimes you wish the game would just play itself so you can watch. Which is, occasionally, annoying: Obstacles have a nasty habit of blending in with the often busy background a little too often, seldom enough to kill your momentum for very long but with enough frequency to register as irksome.

Save off-screen play on the GamePad, there isn’t really anything special about the Wii U version — not even touchscreen navigation in menus, even though their design is chunky to the point of practically begging to be poked. Given the series’ heritage the game definitely feels at home on a Nintendo platform — even more so considering Mario’s voice actor, all-around nice guy Charles Martinet, narrates — but you'll get the same core game here as anywhere else.

Conclusion

Both love letter to the purist gameplay ideals of yesteryear and free-spirited embrace into what the future may yet hold, RUNNER2 is the rare breed that wants to grab you by the hand and lead you on an earnest, cheerful adventure. This is a tightly constructed, demanding yet addictive title that is chock full of clever ideas and never loses sight of what makes games fun — even if the enthusiastic visuals obstruct from time to time. Smoothing out the difficulty curve goes a long way to open the game up for those who threw their hands in the air out of frustration at previous titles, accomplished even more impressively without dumbing down the higher end of the skill tree. With challenge as big as its heart, RUNNER2 is easily one of the best games on the Wii U eShop.

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User Comments (44)

Geonjaha

#2

Geonjaha said:

It would give me something new to play on my Wii U...but if I buy it in a steam sale I might get it for £3.00 and save £9.00. Nintendo obviously you see the problem here.

Mollutje

#6

Mollutje said:

Seems like a game I'd like to play. Unfortunate that there's no EU release mentioned yet. Also.. I wonder if this will strain my eyes.. It seems like it might.

Squashie

#7

Squashie said:

I much preferred the art style of the original, so I'm undecided if I will pick this up when it reaches Europe yet.

JayRydah

#9

JayRydah said:

Man I put in sooo many hours on this awesome game this wkend. Im on the 4th world now n it just gets better n better. Both my thumbs r still kinda sorefrom all the cconstant button pressing but its so much fun. I recommend any1 to get it. Great review n rating. Cant wait to get home n pass some more levels tonight. ..

Dpishere

#10

Dpishere said:

Looks fantastic! I am currently playing Bit. Trip Complete for my 3ds and having quite a bit of fun with it too. This is definitely a purchase once I manage to snag a Wii U.

DM666

#12

DM666 said:

It's coming to Vita and PS3 with cross buy, cross play and trophies!!!, Nintendo need to try harder I've nothing to play on my wiiu!!!!

NImH

#13

NImH said:

I am loving the demo right now! Being broke sux... but I knew the game was going to be great. Maybe it'll go on sale by the time I get some money XD

Dpullam

#14

Dpullam said:

Even with the possibilty of straining my eyes, I feel very compelled to get this once I get a Wii U. It seems like a must-have title and it feels like it belongs on a Nintendo platform. Great review!

Haxonberik

#15

Haxonberik said:

I can wait for a discount, I just downloaded bit trip saga anyway, and it seems inevitable at some point this year.

softserve

#16

softserve said:

Loved the original, this looks fun. I'm not sure how I feel about the art style, but I guess I'll have to get over it.

tlr3

#18

tlr3 said:

can anyone tell why it's rated T? my son (8) liked the original, as did i, and i'd like to get this one. . . but we don't generally let him play T games. i find it hard to believe this is T the same way, say, arkham city is T. . . any info much appreciated! (i can't even find the rating on the ESRB website!)

jon_simmons

#19

jon_simmons said:

@tlr3 I'm going to guess it is because of some of the humor used. But there is nothing offensive in the game. An example is a character named Whettfart. It just has funny things like that sprinkled throughout. I think it would be fine for a kid to play.

hamispink

#20

hamispink said:

@DM666 It isn't cross-buy, Gaijin is self publishing the vita version in the summer. Still, it is on sale for plus members.

tlr3

#21

tlr3 said:

@Five-seveN
and
@jon_simmons

ahhhhhh. thanks to you both, i see what's up now. i'll have to think about that. it's tough for my son when i'm playing a game that he can't. he told me to stop telling him about arkham city because it made him want to play it!

TheXboxHero

#24

TheXboxHero said:

I absolutely love this game and the review says all. I also love how Gaijin Games reacts fast with Runner2 problems. I need that patch! Online connection is terrible!

Blizzaga

#25

Blizzaga said:

What I got from this review:

"Runner 2 is better than its predecessor in every way! Yet Runner gets ten stars and I'm gonna give this one nine!"

Um. What.

Madmanonfire

#26

Madmanonfire said:

I value off-screen play over trophies, so I'm getting this on WiiU.

Edit: And after playing the first three levels, I really wish I had gotten into the series sooner.

iphys

#30

iphys said:

@Blizzaga Runner was also $8 vs $15 for this, so this should be better in every way if they're asking nearly twice as much.

klautrec

#31

klautrec said:

Great Review! I've downloaded this game and it's perfect! I already knew this series since WiiWare games. Totally worth $15!

rayword45

#32

rayword45 said:

John Kricfalusi is a pompous piece of crap who abuses limited animation while criticizing those who do the same, and who only made 18 half-hours of entertaining content in his life.

That doesn't affect my desire to get this game though.

47drift

#33

47drift said:

I would love to know if I need to have played the first one to get maximum enjoyment out of this. I didn't manage to play any of the Bit.Trip games, so this would be my first. Would hate if I miss some inside jokes or references or what have you because of that.

sgotsch

#34

sgotsch said:

@47drift I doubt it. (I'm from Europe and didnt play Runner2 yet) but the games didnt feature that much of a story line and were mostly pure gameplay. Plus the artstyle doesnt give that much substance for references.

arcnas

#36

arcnas said:

NO theres no date as of yet, which is annoying as i wanted on the Wii U, but i bought it on the 360 , so another loss of sale for nintendo lost, they need to sort out releases the same time as xbox and ps3.

luke17

#37

luke17 said:

The difference between this game and playing NSMB U on Time Trial mode is what?? Both involve running as fast as you can without getting hit. I'll get blasted for this post but it seems to lack creativity.

aaronsullivan

#38

aaronsullivan said:

@tlr3 I'm in the same boat. I have a 7 and 3 year old and the 7-year old LOVES the original Runner. It's actually pretty annoying in a game like this for a parent to decide. It'd be great if you could just optionally make it E and flip a switch. It also means my daughter won't be able to play it without using my login if we ever buy it and do decide it's okay. Is it THAT funny to be worth limiting the audience? Love the demo, btw.

@luke17 It's the music and the rhythm and the precision.

RetrogamerFan

#39

RetrogamerFan said:

I'll probably get this when it comes to Europe. I'm sure i've read somewhere Runner 2 is expected in April in Europe.
I have Bit Trip complete on Wii and liked the Runner game on there so this should be good. I really enjoyed most of the games on BTC and really welcomed the easy difficulty level, although i still found Core to be, for me at least, unplayable even on easy. Void, Runner and the two similar Beat games are great so will put some more time into those until Runner 2 arrives.

EDIT:
Downloaded it yesterday, a fantastic, fun game. Played up to first boss, and unlocked first key vault and will be putting more time into this at the weekend.

Henmii

#41

Henmii said:

Nice review and nice score! By the way: Kricfalusi influence? Are we talking about Ren and Stimpy here?! Now I am even more interested!

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