Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2 Review (Wii U)
The WiiWare service was arguably a noble first attempt for Nintendo at bringing the gaming world a digital store. It was filled with a large variety of games of varying quality, but there were a few standout titles that were a cut above all the rest. One of those was a series by Gaijin Games called Bit.Trip. There were six games in the series that featured Atari/NES style visuals with high quality musical sound tracks. My favorite game in that series was Bit.Trip Runner, an auto scrolling rhythm platformer. It featured an amazing soundtrack (that would get stuck in my head for days) and was blisteringly difficult. It was also one of those games where you know anytime you screwed up it was your fault, not the game’s.
When Gaijin Games announced they were doing a sequel I was honestly a little hesitant at saying I wanted to play it. They were changing the visuals, making it multi-platform. I loved the first game so much I didn’t want to see it changed. Luckily, Runner 2 is as good, if not better than the previous game in the series and is worthy of the sequel treatment that it’s getting.
What You Need To Know
Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2 is, as was its predecessor, an auto-scrolling, rhythm platformer. You play as Commander Video, though there are about six other unlockable characters. Each level starts automatically and Commander Video just runs to the right. It’s up to you to make sure he avoids any of the obstacles in his way. To do that you use various button or analog stick inputs to slide, jump, block projectiles, spin around loops or kick obstacles out of the way. Each obstacle is set in time to music and will award you points based on how accurate you are with your inputs. Leaderboards show you how well you’re doing against your friends or other players around the world.
The Bit.Trip series featured very simple visual styles. Runner in particular felt very much like looking at a slightly upgraded version of a game like Pitfall from the Atari 2600. Sure there were way more things going on in the background that the Atari could never handle, but it felt like a natural progression and would have made a good sequel to the 2600 classic. Runner even featured a series of “retro” bonus levels that brought the visuals all the way back to how they would have looked on an 2600.
When the new visual style for Runner 2 was shown off, I was not a fan. I thought Gaijin Games was changing something that wasn’t broken. I thought there was just too much going on. Commander Video looked like Gumby on his way to rob a bank. I didn’t like it.
What they’ve done, however, is taken a game that already had a lot of charm, courtesy of the simple visuals, and layered 57 more layers of charm on top of it. Taking advantage of the power of modern consoles means everything has a level of character that the first game just couldn’t have; all achieved in the small amount of space available. Everything, from the background elements with faces on them to the angled, almost Tim Burton style, environments are dripping with character. Commander Video’s limbs flop around in the breeze when you have to restart a level. Just wait until you get the ability for him to dance. You’ll be hitting that button as often as you can.
The Retro Levels also get a bit of an upgrade. They’ve gone from the incredibly blocky look of the Atari 2600 to something more akin to the Super Nintendo or the Sega Genesis. The visual presentation of the main game reminds me a lot of advertisements from the 50’s and the 60’s; big, blocky, colorful letters with catchy ad speak from the time period.
In the first Runner, Commander Video had four abilities to choose from; slide, jump, block or kick. Not being limited to the Wii Remote means the development team has taken advantage of all the buttons on the controllers this time around. The Commander’s arsenal has increased considerably this time around. Now you not only have the previous abilities, but also jump kicks, slide kicks, the ability to dance, loop the loops and diamond shaped loops. The right analog stick allows you to trace loops for bonus points. The diamond shapes correspond to the face buttons on the controller and you press those buttons in succession to score points.
These new abilities are also spread out throughout the game so you never become overwhelmed with the number of abilities at your disposal. Any new abilities are introduced and then the older moves are layered on top of that so you feel very comfortable before something else is introduced. This progression will mean that towards the end, things become so hard that even Chuck Norris might not be able to finish the game.
These new abilities and moves feel perfect in the way they’re incorporated into the levels and are natural to the progression from the first game to this one. This game still feels very much like the first one.
There are way more things that you get to choose this time around. The level select is no longer a boring list of levels to choose from. You now have a map that shows you the progression of each level. Many of those levels will have branching paths, one of which is considerably more difficult than the other. There are optional levels you can only access by finding the alternate exits. It’s very Super Mario World in the way you can choose to progress.
You have the ability to unlock new characters that, while they all play identically, allow you to have more freedom in your avatar of choice. These avatars also have between half a dozen to a dozen unlockable outfits, many of which have a touch of nostalgia to them. My favorites are the Power Glove and Punch-Out!! track suit that Commander Video wears.
The Bit.Trip franchise, despite all the different styles of play, was a rhythm game series at its heart. Everything was crafted around the fantastic soundtrack. Runner 2 takes that and ups its game. The in-game music is as memorable as the first game. The new abilities you have layer in new sounds on top of the already established set from before. Not only that, but they’ve even gotten a narrator this time around. You know the name but you might not recognize the voice. Charles Martinet provides a cheesy TV announcer style voice over to all of the cutscenes and the game’s introduction.
I was a HUGE fan of the first Runner game and still play it on a fairly regular basis. It was what I considered the best in the running genre. It incorporated music, skill and memorization; and maybe a little bit of luck. You never felt like the game cheated you and you got better as you learned the levels and the abilities. Runner 2 takes that formula and builds on it in a natural way. I was worried the game was going to lose the charm that the first had, but I was very wrong. This is better than the first game in every way possible.
This is a platformer that’s simple in what it asks you to do, but layers things on top of it to really provide a challenge for players. Checkpoints this time around mean you don’t have to replay a whole level if you screw up right at the very end. Series veterans might find that sacrilegious, but they’re actually very easy to avoid and award you bonus points for not using them. There’s something here for everyone. It’s got great music, a wonderful sense of charm and solid platforming. Whether you own a Wii U, Xbox 360 or PS3, you should definitely check this out.
Review copy of the game purchased on the Wii U eShop.
Played through the entire game.
Total play time: 12 hours