Indie developer Gaijin Games has made a name for itself with it's popular music rhythm style BIT.TRIP series, which up until now have only been available on the Nintendo Wii and PC. BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (that's quite a mouthful) is the sequel to the highly acclaimed and addicting BIT.TRIP RUNNER.
Those familiar with the Runner series will immediately notice the biggest change Runner 2 has going, the visual style. Gone is the retro 8-bit style that Gaijin Games has relied heavily on for it's entire BIT.TRIP series. The idea is that shortly after defeating his nemesis in the first Runner, Commander Video (awesome name) is sucked away into an alternate reality and trapped on a strange world where he must now search for a way back home.
I'll admit, it was a little strange to see Runner 2 stripped of it's pixelated aesthetic appeal and charm, and some long-time fans might even find it a little disheartening. But once I saw the game in action, my opinion was quickly drowned out by my newfound love for the new look. The colorful visuals, goofy characters and always animating backgrounds are reminiscent of the kind of crazy stuff you would come to see from something out of Adult-Swim. It's a quick reminder that sometimes change can be a good thing.
On paper, the gameplay is simple to understand and is pretty straightforward. You control Commander Video and must guide him from the starting line all the way to the finish. The catch, however, is that you're constantly moving and must navigate through a series of platforms and obstacles. Progressing through levels rewards you with new ways to avoid and interact with the obstacles in your way. You'll see yourself jumping, sliding, kicking and blocking your way to the finish line.
One thing that stays the same is the chiptune inspired soundtrack that unfolds as you make your way through obstacles. Every successful obstacle eluded by a jump or slide adds a note to the soundtrack. Throughout the levels are gold bars and plus signs scattered. Collecting these further increases and advances the music till you're left with a catchy tune at the end. Put it this way, the soundtrack can easily be described as a caterpillar in the beginning, slowly metamorphosing into a grand musical butterfly. Runner 2 also features fully narrated cutscenes in between each world by none other than Charles Martinet himself (the voice of Mario). Martinet is also the first thing you hear when you load up Runner 2, even providing you with some pretty comical fake advertisements here and there which are pretty great.
The first Runner was a little unforgiving in it's difficulty. Like it's predecessor, you are sent back to the beginning of the level should you fail avoiding an obstacle. However, this time around Runner 2 makes things a little easier with the introduction of mid-level checkpoints. These checkpoints are also optional, adding even greater challenge for those daring enough to skip them. Whereas the first Runner only had one difficulty option, Runner 2 helps make things even more accessible by adding multiple difficulties to ease gamers who might find the challenge too great to bear.
There's plenty to be done during your time in each level. As mentioned before, each level houses a number of gold bars and plus signs. Aside from providing synergy to the soundtrack, the gold bars and plus signs also factor into your overall score and rating at the end of the level -- making the collection of these a must for perfectionists. Optional paths can also be taken during levels that lead to more difficult areas with collectibles such as treasure chests that unlock alternate costumes as well as hidden characters or to retro hidden tapes that unlock secret 8-bit style missions. The amount of content for a game as simplistic as this is absolutely staggering.
From the minute I progressed through the first level and realized that it was my actions that were influencing the music that began to surround me, I quickly became entranced in everything Runner 2 had to offer. With a total of 5 worlds filled with over 100 levels, each more challenging than the last, vast amounts of content, charming visuals and a playful soundtrack that accompanies you till the end, Runner 2 is one of the best music rhythm games I have played.
This review is based on a download code of Runner2 on Xbox Live Arcade provided by Gaijin Games.