So, I'm just going to go with it. Without further ado, here's my attempt to explain the radness of Runner 2 to a fictional, random gamer. Hey, there's this new Runner 2 thing on Steam/PSN/XBLA/the Nintendo eShop. I wonder-
Dude. DUDE. That game's great. You should get it.
Is it? Runner 2 sounds like one of those infinite running games I play on my smartphone/iThing.
No way! Well, actually, it is like those, but it's also kind of not.
That... doesn't tell me much?
Do you know the Bit.Trip series at all?
Okay, so, Bit.Trip is a series made by Gaijin Games. It's an independent studio that uses retro music and visuals to-
Wait, is this some pretentious, artsy-fartsy indie game?
No no! I mean, it is artsy, but it's not layered with deep symbolism about life or companionship or why you got dumped or anything like that. It's artistic in the way it combines gameplay, music, and visuals to be something unique. The original Bit.Trip Runner was heavily inspired by 80s games, complete with a chiptune soundtrack. Runner 2 follows up on the formula, but it uses more modern visuals and music to make the setting feel very different. The backgrounds remind me of the sort of surreal stuff you'd see in 8- and 16-bit platformers – you know, weird geometric structures, things just floating in space, clouds and hills with big, smiling faces. It's really bright and colorful and just has this delightfully upbeat atmosphere all around.
You've got this little dude – his name is Commander Video, and he's the alien mentioned in the subtitle. He automatically runs through each level at a consistent pace, and he's faced with all kinds of obstacles that must be avoided.
Doesn't sound terribly special so far...
Where it gets interesting is the way the running gameplay combines with the music. See, Runner 2 is more of a rhythm game than anything. All the obstacles, collectibles, high-flying trampoline jumps and loops, they're all synced to the beat of the soundtrack. Playing the game essentially lets you make a beautiful song, only your prompts to play the right notes aren't circles or colored bars, they're enemies and spikes and flaming meteors out of nowhere. In short, Runner 2 combines the conceits of a running game with those of a rhythm game.
That does sound pretty cool.
And there are a lot of optional collectibles in the stages, too. You can grab gold bars for points and little cross-shaped objects to increase your multiplier and add a layer of instrumentation to the music. Some branching paths have hidden secrets and the potential for higher point rewards, but it's usually in exchange for a trickier set of obstacles. You can unlock new stages and characters and costumes –
Typical unlock stuff.
– But! There are also these retro challenges you can unlock by finding an item that looks like a Famicom cartridge. It's even got the volt stripe that a lot of early FC games had.
Yeah! And then you get to play a special stage with visuals and music modeled after a Famicom game, like how the original Runner's retro challenges were modeled after Atari 2600 games. These are tough, and you can even get game over.
Wait, so you can't die in the main game?
No, you can, and you will frequently. It's just that the main game doesn't have lives. Get hit, and you are sent back to the beginning of the stage or the last checkpoint. It's pretty easy at first, but Runner 2 keeps on introducing more and more maneuvers and skill combinations as you go on. It teaches you how to use them by forcing you to execute and adapt to them immediately. Then it mixes things up by throwing them in with everything else you've learned. It can get repetitive if there's one section you just can't seem to get right, but it's very satisfying when you finally clear it.
It's all easy to control, just direction or button presses. And really, every time you mess up, it's your own fault – you just need to react faster or pay a little more attention to the music and use that to judge your timing.
So you have to perfect every stage?
You have to dodge all the obstacles, yes, but to truly perfect a stage, you'll want to collect everything and get a high score by shooting yourself into a giant target at the end of the level. Even then, there are hidden Key Vault stages that unlock extra paths, and you can also sneak in dance moves for score boosts. Let's just say that if you're a perfectionist, you will adore this.
Well, that's cool, too. The need to flawlessly dodge every obstacle can be frustrating, but the game does let you adjust difficulty on the fly if you'd prefer a breezy, semi-relaxing run. You earn fewer points on lower difficulties, but then you're probably not in a competitive mood anyway. And even if you do get frustrated, the goofy narration by Charles Martinet himself makes it hard to stay angry.
I think I'm sold.
Excellent. Oh, you should also keep an eye open for odd little details the designers threw in.
Background elements and little character quirks. Some of the characters and costumes are adorable, like Whetfahrt Cheesborger, the German, disco dancing, leisure-suit-wearing fast food mascot. Other characters are the stuff of nightmares. Reverse Merman in particular seems to... well...
Let's just say you'll know it when you see it, and that you can't unsee it.
But yes, Runner 2 is absolutely worth playing, so long as you can deal with its unforgiving and occasionally frustrating nature.
Got it. Boy, being able to rave about a game to an imaginary person must be fun, huh?
Gotta feel sorry for the Metacritic people, though.
They have to take some sort of pull quote from this.
This review is based on a Steam download of Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, provided by Gaijin Games. Runner 2 is also available on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and Wii U. iOS and Vita versions are planned for this summer.
Heidi Kemps is an intrepid freelancer living in the lap of luxury in Daly City. Her work has been seen on G4, GamesRadar, GamePro, @Gamer, GameSpot, and a wealth of international publications, some of which do not start with the letter G. You can follow her ongoing freelance adventures at @zerochan.
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