Thursday
Feb212013

QCF: Bit Trip Presents... Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

"
ove at first sight” is such a cliché. I've never been one to fall for such a ridiculous notion, nor have I ever admitted to its true existence. Sure, you can like how something looks, but usually there's something underneath what can only be seen that's actually quite ugly. However, I was proven wrong on this theory when, at Logan International Airport in Boston after PAX East 2012, I booted up a copy of Bit.Trip Saga and played Runner for the first time. The delightfully retro visuals, silky game play and unbelievable sound had me seriously hooked. It was love at first sight. At that very moment I had a very sudden lamentation; Runner 2 was at the show, and I totally missed out.

After travelling across the entire continent to Seattle for PAX Prime 2012, I finally got to play the follow up of Runner, and it was definitely worth the journey and the wait. Fast forward to today, and it's finally almost time for Runner 2 to drop across multiple platforms. And let me tell you, this is a game that everyone – absolutely everyone – should be playing.

Like its predecessor, The object of Runner 2 is fairly simple. In the original, Commander Video runs unendingly though each blocky, atari-inspired stage at a constant rate and it's your job to jump, slide, kick, block and otherwise navigate through a gauntlet of obstacles and reach the stage's goal unscathed. As you do so, each action adds to the musical complexity with randomized notes from specific scales to add to the BGM. Meanwhile, a number of liberally scattered pickups throughout the stage grant extra points and musical depth. Make it to the end of the world's stages and a boss sequence tests your mettle with everything you've learned thus far. But this is where the similarities end between parte une et parte deux.

The gameplay exceeds expectations in this instalment with the addition of new moves and passive scoring techniques. New enemy placement requires combinations of techniques such as the slide-jump, which allows Commander Video to jump through very narrow openings. Slide-kicks, rail-grinding, enhanced gliding, and more make for quite a diverse set of challenges to grab all of the gold in the stage. However, there are now branching paths that are often accessed with quick reflexes ad skillful use of these new moves. These new paths provide more challenges for serious players, and while the number of gold bars is still the same, higher scores often associate with the harder path since they have more obstacles. For players needing a bit of assistance with the harder paths later in the stage, there is even a newly-added checkpoint mid-stage. But if a player chooses to bypass the checkpoint and take on the whole stage proper, they receive a hefty bonus. Finally, collecting all of the gold in a stage allows for a bonus cannon shot at the end of the stage (Amazing Accomplishment). 

This new emphasis on score is not without a point; each stage now has a fully integrated Mini Leaderboard that shows the top three scores for the stage you're attempting. This is where passive scoring comes into play. New obstacles such as the Loop-de-loop, groovy dance moves and the crazy-ass Square-de-loop are ways that a player can optionally rack up more points. The use of a dual-analog control pad is highly recommended for this, since the right analog is used, for example, to trace Commander Video's movement through the loop.

But this isn't even the full depth of Runner 2. Discovering hidden exits allow access to special stages which unlock new paths in earlier levels. Floating Famicom cartridges unlock new 8-bit themed stages that test your skills amidst chunky pixels and wicked chiptunes. There are even a host of costumes and additional characters to unlock, never mind that there are a megaton of stages to progress through over the course of five worlds. There's just so much to do, and with deep “just one more stage” hooks, it's fun for literally every second the whole way through. It all adds up to make a super-silky-smooth, flowing, seamless - but most importantly, fun - experience, held together with a rock-solid engine and perfect difficulty curve. 

But then there's the presentation as a whole. At PAX Prime 2012, Designer Danny Johnson stated how Runner 2 was meant from the very beginning to show that retro styling isn't all that Gaijin Games could do. And, true to form, Runner 2 is a testament of just how beautiful they can make a game. So suddenly, instead of huge, chunky pixels and giant, retro, voxelized models, everything looks stunningly smooth and exceptionally pretty. Fantastic backgrounds displayed with soft-focus depth-of -field have a surreal charm that makes the word “whimsical” woefully inadequate. Even Commander Video himself pops to life with all kinds of subtle visual detail and animation cues from the narrowing of his “eye” to the extra strain he exhibits as he dashes forth.

The musical and sound design, fittingly, also benefits from a breathtaking overhaul that transforms the original's chippy stylings that sounded novel when they were timed and blended together into an blissfully warm, aural encapsulation of pure happiness. The game is even narrated by Charles Martinet! That's right, the voice of Super-Freaking-Mario is the master of ceremonies throughout Runner 2. Simply awesome.

Again, this is a game that everyone – absolutely everyone – should be playing. Runner 2 can be pre-ordered on Steam right now for $13.49 (and currently on sale from $14.99!) and will become unlocked on February 26. And if you preorder through Steam, you also get the original game for free (which is also giftable.) Sick deal.

Runner 2 will also be available on PSN, XBLA and WiiU eShop. No matter the means: GET. THIS. GAME. 

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