Commander Video, Running Again
Everyone’s favorite rhythm platforming series, BIT.TRIP, is back. BIT.TRIP Presents … Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien—yes, that’s really the name—keeps all the franchise’s trademark features, upgrades the graphics, and offers a more reasonable difficulty curve for beginners.
If you didn’t like BIT.TRIP before, you won’t like it now—there are still plenty of things about it that are frustrating. But fans of the series will find more than 100 well-designed new levels, and newcomers will find the friendliest BIT.TRIP experience yet.
For those who haven’t played the original BIT.TRIP: Runner, here’s how it works: Your character, Commander Video, for some reason cannot stop running. Rather, as he sprints from left to right in a series of 2D stages, he has to react to obstacles in a wide variety of ways—such as jumping, sliding, jumping and sliding at the same time, whipping out a shield, and kicking. If he doesn’t get the timing quite right, he instantly warps back to his last checkpoint.
The world Commander Video is stuck in is loaded with gold bars and assorted other goodies, and each makes a sound effect. In an amazing coincidence, the pace of Commander Video’s running is just right to make all of those sound effects work with the background music to create a melody. For all you nerds out there, this effect is known as “synesthesia.”
Structuring the stages this way can make BIT.TRIP Runner feel mechanical at times—you’re basically learning to enter a precise series of button presses in time with the music, and the timing can be incredibly demanding. But this technique also gives the game a flow that most other platformers can’t match. Conversely, the platforming gives the game a sense of purpose that most other rhythm games lack; how many hours have people wasted learning to push buttons on a fake guitar?
The new stages here will certainly please longtime fans. Over the course of the early levels, the game gradually introduces new maneuvers and ramps up the difficulty. While Runner2 gets tough soon enough, it doesn’t mount the same all-out assault on your patience that its predecessor did. And the stage design is terrific; it’s always amusing to see how various platforming sections match up to the catchy melodies you’re helping to create.
There’s also just a ton of content here. In addition to the standard levels, there are bonus stages accessible via hidden exits, extras, “retro” stages, characters to unlock, and plenty more. Further, because many of the gold bars are difficult to get, you can extend your playtime by trying to collect them all rather than just trying to run through the stages without getting killed.
Runner2 is a nice step up in terms of graphics, too. The franchise has traditionally had something of an old school aesthetic, but here the graphics are in full HD, with a 2.5D effect. Purists might be irritated by the departure from convention, but it’s hard to deny that Runner2 looks great. And those purists can hunt down the hidden stages designed with an authentic 8-bit pixelated look.
One downside to the improved graphics, however, is that they can make the controls feel less precise. With the series’ traditional graphics, it’s very clear where Commander Video ends and his obstacles begin; with this more lifelike look, objects can overlap a little bit visually before they collide. This can make tricky moves even trickier
Unfortunately, Runner2 still doesn’t quite nail the difficulty, at least not in my view. On the “Just Right” difficulty setting, there’s a checkpoint in the middle of each stage, but you still have to play perfectly for a considerable amount of time before your progress is safe. I found it highly frustrating to play the early stretches of each checkpoint section over and over again just to reach the parts I was having problems with. Switching to an easier setting helped, but it also killed the intricate genius of the stage design. Though I must say, I did enjoy making sure that my profane outbursts occurred in time with the music.
This problem is compounded by the fact that, like Ms. Splosion Man, Runner2 depends more on memorization than on smooth, clean reactions. The difficult sections here—and there are plenty of them—are simply too finicky, requiring you to press buttons in exactly the right pattern with hardly a split second to spare. If you don’t know what’s coming before you see it on the screen, you can’t win. If I want to memorize things rather than playing a game, I’ll break out a history book and at least learn something useful.
But anyone who’s played BIT.TRIP before knows it ain’t easy. In fact, for the series’ hardcore fans, the high difficulty, unforgiving stage design, and refusal to provide frequent checkpoints are all part of the fun. And if that’s fun for you, Runner2 will be fun indeed.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
They’re a big step up over the original game. 3.5 Control
They’re not bad, but they feel imprecise sometimes. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Like all BIT.TRIP games, Runner2 relies on music to make the platforming flow. 4.0 Play Value
There’s just a ton of content here. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|