"…a triumph of the genre…"
Rhythm games took quite a hit a few years back with the over saturation of plastic peripherals and mountains of DLC making sure that yet another genre that had some real gems couldn’t fully recover. Luckily the genre was down and not out with a few games coming out reinvigorating what made the genre so interesting in the past. Bit.Trip Presents: Runner 2: Future Legend Of Rhythm Alien is probably the best recent example of the genre.
What made those early rhythm action games so great was the way they depicted the music that is the core of the gameplay. They managed to make pressing buttons along to music interesting with visual and gameplay feedback that made more out of the music. Runner 2 has all of these qualities, great visuals, tricky obstacle onslaughts and catchy music that will get you tapping your feet along. Being a sequel, there was already a foundation for this entry to be built upon and almost every aspect of the game has been improved and balanced to make sure that more people can join in on the fun, all the while keeping things challenging for those looking for something to keep them cursing at the screen in time to every misstep.
"…almost every aspect of the game has been improved…"
Choice is something that is important when creating challenge in video games, those that don’t want to be instantly frustrated by a game and need to be eased into it can find that here with a plethora of options to keep things fair and still satisfying through to the end. The first obvious option is three difficulty settings that change the frequency of obstacles and mutes the need to collect every piece of gold. Then there are multiple paths in each level, with varying difficulty, which in turn will earn you more points if you take the risk. Checkpoints have been introduced too which means the original’s problem of extremely long and tricky sections leading to one mistake dragging you all the way back to the start of the level is gone. Unless you want that to happen of course, you can completely skip the checkpoint barrier and earn more points in the process. There’s still a fair difficulty curve on all difficulty levels though so don’t expect to be breezing through the game without something of a challenge.
Several difficulty levels are also a reason to replay the many levels so there’s already plenty to do here. Collectables are also linked to the alternate paths with the more difficult paths sometimes ending with alternate costumes. There are also some alternate paths that unlock extra levels with one character to unlock per world. Each world has a chest full of keys that encourage you to go back to past levels and follow previously locked paths that give you a totally different experience than the first playthrough. There are also cartridges to find that will warp you to retro stages, even more levels, unfortunately, this is where the game is at its weakest. Despite its seemingly simple nature, the game has a lot to see and do before you reach the end boss.
Gameplay wise, you’re still pressing buttons along to music, but instead of simply playing along, the actions you are doing add to the music with collectable chimes and jumping up steps emitting sounds making each track satisfying to play and fun to listen to. The first game had plenty of moves that you had to use when avoiding obstacles, jumping over spikes and steps, sliding under obstacles, kicking through barriers and using springboards to reach higher paths. All of those are still present here and one top of those are a few new tricks to keep old fans on their toes. They aren’t all thrown at you at once and are introduced with each new world to make sure there’s always something new when you switch chapters. One other addition is the appearance of end-world boss ‘fights’ that see you tackling obstacles thrown out by robots. These don’t play as well as the rest of the game requiring quite a bit of trial and error with new obstacles being introduced without explanation beforehand.
"…a few new tricks to keep old fans on their toes."
As well as new mechanics, there is a new visual style, probably the first thing that will hit you when you first boot up a level. It ditches the old retro style of the first game and goes for a more interesting and much more varied 2.5D look that resembles clay models. It makes the world come alive with dynamic backgrounds and more animated characters and obstacles. The game sometimes suffers from visual overload with a lot happening on screen making it hard to see how close your character is to obstacles when particle effects and shards of wood are flying all over the screen. The move away from retro visuals also means they got the chance to use music that is a bit more varied than the first games with different styles accompanying the themes of the levels they exist in. The biggest shame is that each world only really has one track with the obstacles in the levels changing the way they sound. Still, the game offers a lot variety that will stop the game from becoming stale over the 100 levels on offer.
Bit.Trip Presents: Runner 2: Future Legend Of Rhythm Alien is a triumph of the genre bringing back what made the genre so bright decades ago, all while bringing something new to the table with charming visuals and music and full of content to unlock and discover. Despite a few missteps, it gets the main important thing right, it makes music incredibly fun to play along to.