Since its inception, no series has better defined the WiiWare service than Gaijin Games’ retro inspired BIT.TRIP franchise. Beat, Core, Void, Runner, Fate and Flux each provided hours of unique precision gameplay all wrapped in a sweet, nonsensical, Atari-esque world. Now Gaijin is hoping to define another Nintendo online service in its infancy with BIT.TRIP Presents: Runner 2: Future Legend Of Rhythm Alien. Does this sequel to Command Video’s greatest adventure reach new levels of auto-running bliss or does it run straight into a wall?
For the uninitiated, Runner 2 is an auto-running 2D platformer, however unlike the countless imitators that line the virtual shelves on your cell phone's marketplace, it’s actually (gasp!) pretty good. Following from where the original left off, Runner 2 follows the valiant Commander Video as he chases his nemesis across the globe. It’s not long, however, before our hero falls prey to some sort of reality distortion beam and enters a world far more fantastic than his 8-bit home ever was.
That’s all well and good but nobody picks up a BIT.TRIP game for the story (and if they do they probably have a doctorate in the philosophy of abstract computer sciences). No, the reason we’re all here is for the world class gameplay and in this sense, Runner 2 does not disappoint. Everything that Command Video could do in the WiiWare original he can do on the e-Shop, so the learning curve is pretty slight for gamers who have already played through the first Runner, but it’s not long before a whole new bag of tricks open up the experience.
First, there's a whole new move-set for Commander Video. He can now perform some actions while sliding (slide kicks, jumps) as well as some rhythmic quick-time-events where you can’t fail but earn points for your accuracy. While these new ideas really do add a whole new layer of moves without forcing gamers to re-learn the game, it’s the lesser used modifications that I found myself wanting more of. Later on in the game, you will encounter a level or two where the perspective shifts or maybe you’ll even start running in the wrong direction (blasphemy!) but these levels are few and far between and, in the end, just make you wonder what else they could have cooked up with these ideas.
But these minor annoyances are just road bumps on what turns out to be a fun experience. While the core of BIT.TRIP: Runner has always been perfecting your jumps, slides, kicks and blocks, Runner 2 introduces us to a whole new element for the series… exploration. Levels are now littered with secret exits, unlockable costumes and characters and special 8-bit levels forcing you to push your BIT.TRIP skills to the limit to find them all. The series also, finally opens its arms to newcomers by introducing mid-level checkpoints, though the adventurous among us will always find a reason to skip over them.
Runner 2 is also very good at easing you into its various controls, never introducing more than one new element per level and overwhelming unnecessarily. The Wii U Gamepad is utilised perfectly, with no ‘gimmicks’ like touch screen or motion controls to convolute the game. In fact, where the game really shines is when it’s in the palm of your hands, allowing you to focus in on every detail and trying to spy a hidden treasure chest.
If I have one wish, however, it is that the developers would have taken one more step and introduced some sort of new gameplay mode to compliment the main mode. Leaderboards and treasure hunts are great but how about some multiplayer? Or some time attacks against the development team's best runs? As it stands, Runner 2 is a great experience, but one that’s as slim as Command Video.
When you first boot up Runner 2 you will notice two things: 1) that this game looks nothing like any of the six original BIT.TRIP games, and 2) that it looks nothing like any game before it. The art style and graphics have been totally re-imagined with a Tim Burton meets Alice in Wonderland meets something elicit vibe. When the new art direction was first revealed I got some serious deja-vu of the shocking Wind Waker reveal and honestly did not care for it much. But after playing through the game I really do dig the new visuals and their wacky animations.
Speaking of animations, everything in the game that moves really does come off as being ‘alive’. The small motion of Command Video stretching before a run or his little legs dangling after being launched from a cannon are both hilarious and show a great amount of attention to detail. Even the backgrounds feel real, with sighing moons, blinking hills and all sorts of unmentionable oddities.
Runner 2 follows the same pattern as the original, where every power-up you get makes the music more intense and every action is an accent to the song. The difference here is that the soundtrack is so much more varied and the songs are both soothing and energising at the same time. On top of all that the game is narrated by none other than Charles Martinet, who does an incredible job of bringing the zany world of Commander Video and friends to life.
Earlier I mentioned a bunch of new additions designed to help make the game more accessible and less daunting for new players. And while these additions do take some of the bite out of the experience, Runner 2 is still a hardy challenge… sort of. Once you've completed the third world, you’ve pretty much seen everything the game will throw at you and the game never gets anywhere near as complicated as the later levels of BIT.TRIP Runner senior. The levels become so rehearsed, so logical, so repetitive that you will never really find yourself in a situation you can’t get out of after a few tries.
I’ve always considered any of the original BIT.TRIP games to be great deals on their own over on WiiWare, but with Runner 2… I just don’t know. Even after finding all the secrets and extra levels the game still only lasts about 5 hours. After that, all you have to go for is the high scores and challenge the online leaderboards, which on its own isn’t all that thrilling. Maybe I’m asking too much from a $15 game but it felt like it was over and done with far too quickly.
Make no mistake about it; BIT.TRIP Presents: Runner 2: Future Legend Of Rhythm Alien is a game practically begging for your attention. From the wacky and imaginative art style, to the stellar gameplay, right down to the name itself. This is a game that wants you to experience all it has to offer and you should definitely take it up on that deal. And while, yes, the original BIT.TRIP: Runner did provide a meatier challenge than its futuristic, legendary and rhythmic counterpart you simply will not find a better game on the Wii U e-Shop right now.
This review is based on a digital version of BIT.TRIP Presents: Runner 2: Future Legend Of Rhythm Alien for the Wii U e-Shop.