Runner 2 artfully blends entrancing music and accessible gameplay to create a joyful experience.

The Good

  • Exuberant soundtrack
  • Engrossing connection between action and music
  • Broadly accessible difficulty spectrum
  • Charming world and characters
  • Fiendish challenges available for the intrepid.

The original Bit.Trip Runner was a simply named, retro-styled rhythm platforming game that deftly intertwined music and gameplay. The sequel, Bit.Trip Presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, is more elaborately named and more visually lush, but its immense appeal is once again fueled by the elegant marriage of music and gameplay. As you leap and slide your way past obstacles as the perpetually sprinting protagonist, your actions trigger beats and chimes that enrich the burgeoning musical track. This creates a connection between you and the game that builds and builds, leading to an experience that is joyful, rewarding, and as challenging as you want it to be.

Run, pickle man, run!

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If you’ve played Runner 2′s predecessor, Bit.Trip Runner, then you already know all the basics. Your character starts the level running, and doesn’t stop until the end, providing you can avoid every single obstacle that appears in your way. Pits, robots, projectiles, walls, and more force you to jump, slide, block, and kick with judicious timing, lest one false move send you hurtling back to the beginning of the level.

These impediments and evasive maneuvers are introduced at a gentle, yet brisk, pace. By the end of the first of five worlds, you learn everything you could ever do in the first game, and then some. This structure keeps things lively for Runner veterans while remaining accessible for newcomers. If you find things are a bit too easy or too hard for your tastes, the adjustable difficulty level does a great job of helping you find a balance. Whether you’re cruising past obstacles effortlessly, nimbly maneuvering through a tricky run, or trying time and time again to navigate a fiendish gauntlet, surmounting the challenges of Runner 2 is an enjoyable pursuit.

The whimsical environmental design adds to the appeal. Commander Video and his playable compatriots move with jaunty, fluid animations, while doofy robots, disgruntled hills, and even a jubilant Sasquatch watch from the background. There are a few elements that can be visually distracting at times, notably the kickable obstacles and the mid-level checkpoint attendees, but Runner 2 engenders the kind of focus that will likely allow you to navigate levels undeterred by occasional distractions. Though it’s possible to surmount the challenges of Runner 2 with the keyboard controls, an Xbox 360 controller is highly recommended as it is a much more natural fit.

CommandGirl Video shows off some retro duds in The Mounting Sadds.

CommandGirl Video shows off some retro duds in The Mounting Sadds.

To encourage you to press onward and strive upward, the aforementioned checkpoints help mitigate the punishment for missteps. If you like your stakes high, however, you can always leap over a checkpoint and earn a nice point bonus for working without a net. Branching paths, unlockable treasures, and hidden retro bonus stages augment the generous difficulty spread and increase replay incentive, as do the online leaderboards. In Runner, you could achieve the perfect score on each level, but with the addition of point-garnering dance moves in Runner 2, every spare stretch of track is a chance to push your score a wee bit higher and edge out the competition.

There’s a great sense of satisfaction that comes from acing levels and blasting yourself into the bonus bull’s-eye at the end, but the real magic of Runner 2 lies in the music. Every obstacle you avoid and item you pick up sounds a chime or a beat that fits seamlessly into the musical track. This creates a powerful link between your actions and the music, enmeshing you in the rhythm of the stage and making you feel like part of the composition. It’s an exhilarating feeling, one that not only makes you feel good, but also makes you play better. You may find yourself so in tune with the game that you feel like you’re reacting instinctually with button presses before you consciously realize what you’re doing. This is a rare sensation, one that compels you to start the next level even if you struggled mightily to complete the last one.

Every track gets richer the further you progress into a level thanks to certain power-ups that trigger a musical escalation. This progression sweeps you up in the action, propelling you along with increasing momentum (though, of course, your character’s run speed remains steady). The final such power-up always elevates the melody to ethereal heights, creating a premature release of the tension that’s been building all stage. You still have obstacles to overcome, but you coast past these with supreme confidence, buoyed by the euphoric melodies. You feel like you’ve already succeeded, and when you triumphantly ride this feeling across the finish line, it’s just the glorious cherry on top. It’s an ingenious stroke of mood management, one that makes your experience all the more pleasurable and engrossing.

Boss fights provide neat variants on the core gameplay.

Boss fights provide neat variants on the core gameplay.

Runner 2 ensnares your emotions with an artful cocktail of music and gameplay, sweeping you along in its rhythm and lighting up a smile on your face. It’s a wonderful sensation to lose yourself in this game, whether you are facing down the formidable challenges of The Mounting Sadds or simply going for a breezy run in The Emerald Brine. Runner 2 doesn’t just offer you an entertaining experience; it throws its arm around you companionably, ushers you into its whimsical world, and makes you feel like part of something special.

By Chris Watters