The original Bit.Trip Runner made me feel old; not because of the retro look and sound, but because I didn’t feel like my reflexes were fast enough to play it. Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien allows for relaxed difficulty, while still expanding on the original formula. It’s a good combination that makes the title well suited to both new players and those who enjoyed the original.
The basic structure of Runner 2 will be immediately familiar to anyone who played the first game. Commander Video automatically runs left to right and must jump, slide and perform other actions to avoid enemies and obstacles on the way to the goal. Along the path, gold and score multipliers can be collected, which will add to the total score for that level.
The game is divided into four worlds, each with an overworld map. Players must finish levels to progress, and the final stage of each area is a boss fight. Each world also has optional areas, which can be unlocked if the player has collected enough gold. The map also displays the completion status for each, making it easy to see which have been completed perfectly, and which have additional treasures or gold to collect.
Runner 2 also adds some new elements, including branching paths. In those instances, players choose between an easier path and a more challenging one that often contains a treasure, like a new character costume. Often, the harder path is blocked by a padlock, which can only be opened after completing the vault level for that world and obtaining the key.
The game has several more moves than the original, and in addition to the classic jump, slide and kick are a block, slide kick and slide jump. There are also different environmental elements like wheels and boxes that require timed button pressed to get through. While each element on its own is fine, when combined, it feels like too much. Running through the levels became less about focusing on the obstacles and more about trying to remember all of the moves at my disposal. The experience felt diluted, and I wish a few moves had been cut in favor of making more consistent use of the ones remaining.
The original Runner was a notoriously unforgiving game, and running into any enemy or obstacle would send you back to the beginning of a level. Runner 2 adds checkpoints at the middle of each stage, which is a very nice addition. There are also three difficulty settings, so players who get stuck can bump it down for some help. The hardcore can still get their fix, though. Checkpoints can be skipped for a score bonus, and the difficulty selection adds a hard setting to the mix.
Visually, the game is a departure from the retro look of the original, with bright, rounded characters and environments. It looks really nice, and extra touches like enemy damage or a palm tree dancing in the background help bring it to life. Every action is accompanied by sounds that combine with the background music to create the increasingly complex track for that level. The emphasis on the music feels a little diminished here. In the original game, I felt like I was making music while going through a level. By contrast, Runner 2 sometimes feels more like the music just happens to be going on.
The Runner games require precision control, and overall this sequel controls very responsively. It’s not perfect though, and on rare occasions controller presses simply failed to register. I also hit a few moments of slowdown, which for a timing-based game, is almost certain death. One other odd circumstance that came up a few times was that launch pads had a tendency to send me too far. This often resulted in instant failure for a few rounds until the problem just magically corrected itself.
Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien feels like the natural evolution of the original Bit.Trip Runner. The heart of the game is still the same, but it comes with a prettier look and expanded gameplay. While I felt like some of the expansion was unnecessary, it’s still a very fun and challenging experience. For new players, it’s more accessible than the original, and for returning vets it’s more of what made the original so unique.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PC.