When those of us who run for leisure talk to those of us who don’t, the conversation is fairly predictable. “How could you run for fun?” ask the uninitiated. “Running is tiring and difficult. How could you think of it as a fun activity?” For those of us who do run regularly, the answer is difficult to put into words. It’s a feeling, we say. Explaining why running is enjoyable is hard; it’s tiring, it’s time-consuming, and it’s not the most flattering pastime in the world, either.
If only we’d thought to fall back on the time-honored tradition of running in video games. From 1985’s Super Mario Bros all the way to 2009’s Canabalt, running is an important and oft-overlooked part of this storied medium of ours. The ability to move faster to escape threats and chase that high score or best time is paramount to our enjoyment of video games. Perhaps there’s something of that primal desire to “go faster” in the thrill we get from running as a leisure activity, too.
Our subject today is not “games in which you can run”, but rather “games in which you must run”. The aforementioned Canabalt is the progenitor of this genre, with many other similar titles springing up in its wake. For today’s title, Run 2, we’re moving away from the endless sprint of games like Canabalt, and towards more finite experiences like Bit.Trip Runner and Super Mario Run. Run 2, just like its predecessor Run, comes to us from US-based developer Joseph Cloutier. Will this game on Poki.com take its place among the pantheon of auto-runner greats?
The objective of each of Run 2’s stages is refreshingly simple: reach the end of the level. There’s no narrative to bog the experience down, which is really for the best; games like this thrive on the raw gameplay they offer, so surrounding the core mechanics with unnecessary fluff and waffle wouldn’t benefit Run 2 at all. What we have here is a stripped-down auto-running platformer inspired chiefly by its aforementioned predecessors, with a little bit of 1998 PlayStation puzzler Kula World thrown in for good measure.
Let’s back up a little bit. Run 2 sees players take control of one of two avatars: the Runner and the Skater. Each one controls a little differently, with the Runner offering a tighter control experience but a shorter jump, while the Skater is capable of an extended jump but moves in a more slippery fashion to compensate. What’s impressive about Run 2 right out of the gate is that each character has their own set of levels, designed around their particular strengths and weaknesses. This essentially means you’re getting two games; the aesthetic and general feel of the stages is similar, but the layout is different, so there’s a serious abundance of content on offer for those who like the game.
We say “those who like the game”, but frankly, it’s difficult not to. Both the Skater and the Runner take the form of adorable little aliens with antennae for ears. Their animations are fluid and well-realized; it’s a joy to play the game just to watch the little things move through their respective environments. The aesthetic of Run 2 is fairly minimalist, with geometric shapes making up the majority of each stage and nothing but the vacuum of space to provide a backdrop for the player’s exertions. This complements the game’s design perfectly, though; a lack of distractions focuses the experience purely on the movement mechanics and platforming, with the visuals augmenting the game rather than overwhelming it.
Of course, it’s the gameplay that’s the real star of the show here, and Run 2 excels in this department. Movement and control are simple, with the left and right arrow keys used to move and the Space key utilised for jumping. The Kula World influence comes into play when players touch an adjacent wall; touching a wall flips the stage 90 degrees, creating a floor out of the wall and completely changing the player’s perception of the stage. It’s a smart, consistently surprising mechanic that, just like Portal or the aforementioned Kula World, forces players to think about their environment in new and exciting ways as they play.
Run 2 is all about its central gameplay loop, and there isn’t much to do beyond the game’s core set of stages. There are bonus blips to collect in each level, each of which requires a degree of mastery over the game’s central gameplay loop. We strongly recommend not trying to get all of these on your first playthrough; focus on mastering the game first, then come back for the bonus blips when you’re more confident.
Put simply, Run 2 is a tremendous amount of fun. The insistent, hypnotic techno soundtrack lends a casual urgency to proceedings, while the stripped-back geometric aesthetic complements the central run-and-jump gameplay perfectly. Mastering each environment is great fun, and when you finally reach the solution for a particularly tricky stage, the satisfaction you’ll feel is second to none. Trust us when we say that running in Run 2 really is fun.