'Runner 2' is the best of the 'Bit.Trip' [REVIEW]
The "Bit.Trip" series has always been about melding music and gameplay. Rarely, however, did any games in the series embrace a traditional sort of gameplay to promote the music. Most often it was a rudimentary kind of setup, as simple as batting away floating notes with a pong-style paddle or sucking them up into a two-dimensional sphere. It was always obvious - these are the notes and this is how you play them - until Gaijin Games proved they had more to offer than some very cool dynamic music makers.
With "Bit. Trip Runner" Gaijin threw in your classic side scrolling hero, dashing through stages, hoarding collectibles. What made it stand out was everything he did was a musical note. It was pretty good, if a little grueling, but now we have "Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien." It feels like the first fleshed out "video game" from Gaijin, and it's an absolute triumph in doing that thing they keep trying to do - melding music and gameplay. Neither exist in any meaningful way without the other, and when you're jamming, and I mean that in the coolest way possible, it feels like the team found the perfect formula.
With a visual upgrade, moving the series on from 8-bit reincarnation to a more modern, yet still blocky look, players control Commander Video in what is, basically, an auto-runner. He doesn't stop moving to the right at a steady pace, but you can tell the Commander to jump, duck, block and float his way over an ever-increasing load of obstacles. Describing it that way sound all-too familiar, but it's the music that counts.
Each of the 100 levels spread out through five worlds (and 25 hidden retro levels), starts off with a simple, techno-synth beat to get you going. Add to it yourself by clearing obstacles and grabbing gold bars, and now you're feeling like you've strung a sweet suite of notes together. Hit a red plus-sign symbol, throw in another undercurrent rhythm. Get all four by the end of the level and not only have you likely acquired an enviable "Perfect" rating, you've allowed the game to compile a pretty rad beat to bounce around in your head.
Play that same level again and you may notice that grabbing the same gold bars presents slightly different tones, and you start to realize how truly dynamic the design is.. It's quite impressive how Gaijin put these morphing beats together, I have no idea how it's done, and they've obviously had a good bit of practice.
The level design isn't quite as punishing as in the original "Bit.Trip Runner," thanks largely to a friendly checkpoint system, with one or two plopped down in the middle or each run, and three variable difficulties that don't affect progress differently. New abilities combined with new, harder obstacles ramp up logically though getting your hands to do exactly what your head wants them to do takes a bit more work than you might expect. The controls are, well, they're abundant with things to do by the end of the second world, and it's not like they've been standardized genre-wide like our friends in the FPS world. It takes some acclimation, but once you've got it down, you've got it down.
Level variety, for the most part, is handled with rising difficulty and some well-considered, if quirky visual design. You won't have much occasion to spectate if you're on the controller, but any onlookers should be entertained by the frowning mountains, floating UFOs or any of the other odd touches thrown in. The look is clean, colorful and it gives the game a visual charm reminiscent of its music. Presentation outside of the game is complimented by a wacky narrator and some cartoonish, if disjointed and pointless, cutscenes.
And then it's on to 100 percent completion, climbing leaderboards and unlocking new characters and costumes. If you're looking for a reason to stay, there are plenty, especially considering the lower, download-friendly price point. "Runner 2" is $15 on Steam, Xbox Live, the Playstation Network and the Wii U eshop. And it comes highly recommended on any platform.
(Note: Gaijin is working on a patch for a couple versions of the game. I'd recommend heading over to their support forum to make sure the version you're looking for is whole)