Insane name for an insane game.
Runner 2 (you better believe I’m calling it that) follows the trans-credible exploits of Commander Video after his well-loved BIT.TRIP series. Runner 2 however, is a sequel to the original Runner and improves upon it in almost every way.
First things first Runner 2 is easier than the first, meaning you may actually finish the game instead of just tearing your hair out. Truth be told, the fact that the game is easier is something of a God-send as it means you can actually play through the weird and wonderful worlds that fill the game. It is made easier mainly by the inclusion of a checkpoint (that you can jump over for more points), which is a smart and thoughtful addition from the creators.
Something the first game perhaps does better than this sequel is in its aesthetics. The original series employs a lovely retro vibe with the odd bit of basic 3D models, whereas this sequel is pretty much entirely 3D (played on a 2D plane of course). However, the game’s art-style is utterly bonkers; almost nausea-inducing at times. The game is mostly silky-smooth and looks actually very nice in its bizarreness; at times however, the game’s frame-rate can stutter just a little, spoiling the experience ever so slightly.
Along with the bizarre art direction come a host of characters including a gherkin, a disco man with a burger for a head and a koi carp with massive testicles (yep). These characters add to the already fantastic sense of humour employed by the game and are great fun to unlock.
Fun seems to be the name of the game here instead of challenge, which some fans of the series may find a little disappointing. Really, I had no trouble getting through the game on normal difficulty (sure, I failed quite a few times), and if that’s too hard there is an easy mode, there is also a hard mode for those who find the game too easy or just want to do every level on all difficulties for completionists. Maybe, as I did die a lot, the game is not easy, it’s just addictive.
What adds to the addictive nature of the game is a very comprehensive leader-board. At the start of every level there is a mini board of the three top high scorers (Megaman Fan is too good) and at the end you are ranked up against your friends. Luckily there are a lot of ways to improve your score in each level. Everything from the first game is here in terms of gameplay with a few more tricks this time (as far as I can tell, I never got that far in the original); there are loops which you follow your character with the right analogue stick, loops in which you press buttons in time to the music and a dart board-like thing at the end of each level (if you get all the gold and power-ups), hitting the bulls eye grants you more points and a plus result (again, for completionists).
Any negative aspects of the game are merely on the surface, the game on the TV looks lower-res than it does on the gamepad, adding an annoying layer of blur over the background that is simply not there on the gamepad display. The Retro levels that you have to unlock don’t really add much beyond unlocking Retro Commander Video to play as (by finding and finishing all the retro levels) and the gold you collect in them doesn’t really do anything, sure they are a nice side thing, but ultimately they come off as a tad pointless.
Despite everything though, the sound direction is the real star of the show. For a downloadable game the sound and music does not appear to be compressed all that much. Charles Martinet is great as the narrator and the soundtrack is superb, getting louder and more extreme until the final power-up where it takes on a more whimsical feel.
BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a great experience and the best the eShop has to offer. Its fantastic sense of fun; brilliant soundtrack and smooth gameplay really compliment the gradual difficulty increase and learning curve the designers smartly employed. Small issues remain however, such as the blurring of the background on the TV, the occasional (very slight) frame-rate drops and lack of a strong challenge hold the game back from being the brilliant strange thing it could have been.
Weird, bizarre and wonderful; Runner 2 is the best the eShop has to offer.