BIT.TRIP Presents... Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
Wii U Download | Gaijin Games | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | $14.99
Controller Compatibility: Wii U GamePad
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25th March 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Armed with an entirely new outlook for atmosphere, the team has stirred the pot once more in hopes of crafting a blend with a less classic-minded style. Using BIT.TRIP RUNNER as the foundation, they've concocted a new recipe by the name of BIT.TRIP Presents... Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. While comparisons to past efforts are bound to arise, Runner2 takes you on a ride so exciting, overruled by a design focus so captivating, and with an effect so uplifting that measuring it against its relatives seems almost unfair. Runner2 has upped the ante tenfold, not only rectifying every last possible complaint that could have carried over from the original, but even making drastic changes to its core to become something glorious in form.
As a canon junction between BIT.TRIP RUNNER and BIT.TRIP FATE, Runner2 adds a side-chapter to the ever-enigmatic CommanderVideo's exploits of self-discovery. By this point, he's joined by an entourage of allies, but little does he know that his posse is about to get five times bigger as he is sent hurtling into an alternate universe while his present remains on hold. As luck would have it, his nemesis has a presence here...but so does his female companion, CommandgirlVideo. And so it is without any hesitation that CommanderVideo plunges himself into this mysterious land, seeking escape with the help of some charming (and edgy!) new friends along the way. To put things into perspective, Runner2 is to BIT.TRIP FATE what Lion King 1½ is to Lion King 2 -- the prequel to a sequel that already exists, a previously untold part of a story with an ending you're already aware of. Unfinished business, you could say. Evidently, RUNNER demanded a follow-up the most out of all the entries in Gaijin Games' celebrated series, so this explanation of how it fits into the scheme of things doesn't require a suspension of disbelief. Wild though it may be, both CommanderVideo and Gaijin Games maintain the same gumption they've always had, as Runner2 is simply an extension of this under a new and frankly more thrilling context.
Instead of going for familiarity in visual dynamics, players are immediately greeted to a new art direction that, while putting itself at odds with the retro flavouring of other BIT.TRIP titles, carries an organic feel that breaks positive boundaries for the series. A paper-centric and illustrative art style is in place here, with the overworld and all its contents presented as interactive treasure maps or posters. Inversed landmarks are set behind as transparent prints, while character drawings, symbols, and landscape elements dominate and bring a healthy dose of personality that fits right in.
In normal BIT.TRIP fashion, each new world you visit will begin with an animated cutscene, but these are, again, more illustrative in make than has been the case previously. These, along with map selections, are narrated by none other than Charles Martinet, whose talent of speaking rapidly without jumbling words is put to good use in creating some comical dialogue that will surely result in an outward smile. Aside from the slight bother of having the intro movie play each time the game is loaded, all of these touches make for an instant draw, as they are empowered by bold colour usage and the sort of layouts you'd associate with a children's storybook.
Getting into gameplay, your main objective is to gather all the Gold Bricks en route to the finish line, collecting Mode Power-Ups to advance to the next musical tier that brings added tension through bass, sound effects and string instruments, to point out a few. Runner2 follows after its predecessor in that while it's a rhythm game and, as such, stays on-tempo, it's not rigidly confined to beat timing and notes heard in a given composition. Because of this, in some sections you may observe a small offset in enemy placement when matched with background beats. But it's always been this way that the music is used as a loose tool, with some occasions where the design will play to or obey the arrangement in a more consistent capacity.
Platforming is much the same as before: jump (B Button); slide (Down); spring to launch yourself from springboards (Up); kick to knock down hurdles with a stop sign (Y Button); and use your paddle shield to send beats back in the direction they came (Right). Now, though, you have an added move set that builds upon CommanderVideo's original skills to a degree that feels just right for a sequel without lacking elegance. When two enemies are positioned close together along the same Y-axis, slide-jumps allow you to sneak through the middle gap by way of a limbo move, while physical hurdles found directly after this will call for a slide-kick. On a more unusual note, kick-leaps are required when a straight platform leads into an upward-facing baseball diamond, intuitively having you press A, X, Y then B in a counter-clockwise fashion and in time with each corner CommanderVideo meets with. When an upcoming platform takes the form of a loop, the R-Stick is used to follow CommanderVideo up to the top and down the other end through a tracing motion.
Compared to the original where the bulk of abilities weren't made available until half-way in, Runner2 introduces new elements at a faster pace, and in so doing, gives you all the resources you need early on so that the focus is kept on the level designs, rather than having them gradually ease you into mastering each move while the level design takes a slight hit for accommodation purposes. It makes for a compelling mixture in this regard. Similarly, the ways in which Runner2 has transformed a game that was mostly linear into a game that presents choices is rather clever, considering the movement mechanic at work. RUNNER featured a number of stages in its third world especially where multiple pathways granted a bit more freedom, but Runner2 makes this idea of exploration and experimentation a much more key component from the very beginning. This is all done while still remaining within the model's outline and not overstepping how it takes control with the base linearity of the auto-run, auto-scrolling mechanic.
As early as the fifth level, players are exposed to branching forks that are in connection with one of two main objectives. It is either that one of the two-way intersections lead to (A) a chest for unlocking costumes for the eight inspired character choices (three being alternate skins for CommanderVideo), or (B) an alternate exit that segues into a stage away from the main course. Paths containing goodies are often blocked by a large lock, and a gold key becomes visible only after visiting a stage labelled as 'The Key Vault' in the respective world.
These systems are all worked into the designs rather well, and because not all paths yield the best results in terms of Gold, selecting the path that's ideal for a perfect Gold Bar count will take some experimentation on your part. All of this adds worthwhile replay value to stages, and it that much better helps you to better realize the impeccable nature of some of these levels on your second or third go, rather than quickly zipping by and them not really having an impact unless you meet with repeated trouble. And even without a great end-influence to toy with, these ideas make certain that this is still by far the more engaging lot of stages.
Probably the most valuable criticism the team took away from the original is that of its punishing difficulty, and I say this because Runner2's newly-implemented checkpoint system has done wonders for the vivacy of the game. Unanimously, the formula is significantly better with this inclusion, because while the game was dancing on a fine line before, the frustration has all but disappeared from the equation. The game's reasonableness in this area makes it infinitely more welcoming, especially for the way it makes checkpoints optional. If you have something to prove -- or, in less cocky terms, you're looking for a Perfect+ ranking -- you can jump over the half-way markers. This provision takes nothing away from the game's difficulty, and to make certain of this, there are now three difficulty settings to customize the game to your skill level. Whereas this wouldn't have gone as well with the original's linear design, Runner2 can rightly qualify for this adjustment now, and it's fantastic that levels experience worthwhile and careful alternations, not just forcing more involvement through an increased barrage of obstacles.
One less drastic improvement has to do with the old-school bonus levels, triggered in the original after clearing levels with all Gold collected. There's been a revision here, too, as what are now called "Retro Challenges" are accessed via secret cartridges or tapes hidden within levels. As a replacement, what now marks your feat at the conclusion of each level is a brief target mini-game that similarly can only be accessed when the same conditions as before have been met. They're not an additional diversion, but they don't detract from the experience either, and this direction is preferred far more for the sake of flow and uninterrupted progression.
You know, I can't over-emphasize just how remarkable Runner2's design is, even genius at times. It's a major improvement over the original, and you can detect this just in how surreal gameplay becomes -- and so early on, too. For me, this took on great meaning during the second world and near the beginning of the third, but for you, it might be someplace else. Either way, once you hit a stride, you're absolutely hooked. It's super easy to just lose yourself in the side-scrolling where reactions start to become natural and smooth, and this is something that remains true during the game's entertaining boss encounters. I felt this strongly at one point where the side-scrolling was so intense and had me so focused that it looked as though my TV was moving to the right. Crazy, I know, but when this happened, it really affirmed for me just how engrossing the game is for it to have a palpable, real-life effect.
Just as a general point of interest, a mild Jet Grind Radio flair is brought to the fore in the game's second world thanks to the inclusion of a rail skating mechanic that results in some excitement mid-level segments. But the enduring strength of the level design goes much deeper than that.
In the level, Fish Boulevard, there is an early indication how to grab an airborne Gold Bar that requires precise timing, and this methodology is replicated towards the end of the same level. Also within the same world, Aquatic Symphonic is but one example of a level where things get really tense and lively but not to a nerve-wracking extent. In actual fact, even when you're hit with a series of trials to overcome on your first go, the reactions are second-nature because of how well-designed and well-proportioned the level is. Really, this is a running theme throughout, and as you witness some superb sections in Low-Hangin' Fruits, where the timing of elements are so evenly-matched with the music that a rhythmic drum effect is created; or when engaged in Sweaty Dangle's bouncy affair; or when sensing feelings of ascension in the levels leading up to the final boss, you experience for yourself that Runner2 is abuzz with moments of brilliance that make for design of a mesmerizing kind.
With all that said, there are a few imperfections to take note of. Probably the most aggravating is when the block ability doesn't register after a jump or slide, but even just while walking it'll act up on occasion. This slight inconsistency is limited to the Circle Pad, though, so as awkward as it may be, using the D-Pad in its stead will erase that problem. The other thing is that because the game is so engrossing, there are a few places where it's hard to keep track of what's going on. This is primarily the case during the final boss, where some may not react too kindly to the continuous flashes and the overall epileptic pace of things. But even prior to this, there are areas where elements blend in and are hard to distinguish in the face of fast motion and reactions.
To make sure Runner2 won't soon be forgotten, online leaderboards have been included to provide added motivation among registered friends and other worldwide players. There wouldn't be as much scoring potential if each stage had a cap that could be reached without adding anything extra on your part, but as a fitting substitute for self-created beats, Runner2 gives CommanderVideo and all his buddies a dance ability (ZR Button) that will have them tiptoeing, waving their arms, sidestepping, shuffling, and doing the worm to earn bonus points during short blocks between patterns. It's a great incentive both on paper and in practice, because as the intensity builds and you risk defeat in trying to squeeze in one last dance move, it gives players a new sort of "perfectionist's obsession."
I was initially apprehensive this ability would become overkill, but it's something you quickly warm up to it, partly because it cements the carefree spirit of the game, but more importantly because of the hidden depth it affords. And even while it may not make a colossal difference in scores, it becomes another super fun mechanism that does much for the replay value and really concerns players with all of their runs. The one issue I have with the leaderboard system, even with its many stat-tracking initiatives, is that it overwrites scores made on other difficulties, even if the sum is lower. So hopefully that'll be fixed soon in an update.
As a final word on the game's production values, Runner2 excels with active backgrounds and both familiar as well as unique level trademarks, in combination with a gripping soundtrack that gets you to visualize both immediate surroundings and even vibes that extend beyond the individual stage. Cheerful acoustics are heard, for instance, while traveling along tropical docks in The Emerald Brine, which are set to the alluring backdrop of an unpolluted seascape. As well, jazzy and soulful overtones perpetuate much of what's played when trekking through the far-fetched wilderness of The Supernature, while active factory-esque settings in The Mountain Sadds convey a mechanical unity that references BIT.TRIP FATE's own soundtrack. The final world, The BIT.TRIP, is just wonderful for its many visual attractions that give the penultimate stages a very climactic feel. Through and through, the soundtrack remains tremendously heartwarming, and with the all-encompassing vision giving rise to positive enhancements that coordinate with the engaging art direction, Runner2 is no outcast among of its peers. You might even say it's a leader in many respects, mainly for its willingness to show all sides and colours unreservedly.
BIT.TRIP Presents... Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is an altogether masterful creation, not just within its own realm and for its ilk, but based on its own glory and merits it is unlike anything seen before. Even when compared with the original, it's fascinating just how much grander Runner2 is in scope and execution. The directional changes have gone well above embracing ordinary sequel philosophies, demonstrating corrective tailoring in its design that has led to an incredible experience brimming with joy and wonder. There are some minor drawbacks, but truth be told, these are extremely minor nitpicks for a formula that is so well-honed and carries a very authentic and genuinely thrilling hook. Runner2 brings out an escalated joy above what all other BIT.TRIP titles have been able to accomplish, and what I find must stunning is that the game doesn't need to drag it out of you. Attachment happens so easily and appreciation flows so actively, it's actually scary. When you look at all the bits and pieces that have gone into this incredibly cohesive and magnetic whole, it's hard to imagine Runner2 being a more successful, more imaginative take than what it is in its current form. Glowing brightly, Runner2 stands as a supreme example of wholehearted, spare-no-expense design that exceeds every inch of the original's fundamentals, and as a concept bearing much heart, its stellar execution causes it to stand alone.
29/30 - Excellent
Gameplay 9/10 - Exploration ideas worked into the design very well, exceptional level design, well-executed checkpoints and mechanics, minor nitpicks
Presentation 10/10 - Fantastic soundtrack, elegant art direction with an instant draw, super production values aid considerably in the immersion
Enjoyment 5/5 - Surreal how easily things flow together, zone into the game so deeply, some hidden depth, much more welcoming, more compelling
Extra Content 5/5 - Secret retro challenges, fun costumes and alternate skins, strong replay value added through leaderboards and difficulty differences
Equivalent to a score of 97% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System