You don’t go about changing the pixelated, retro art style that you’ve used for the past six Bit.Trip games unless you’re serious about drawing a larger audience. You don’t go through the effort of hiring longtime video-game voice actor Charles Martinet, largely known for Mario’s squeaky-clean sound, unless you’re sure that your product is strong enough to be compared to a triple-A title. And you don’t beat the international market at poorly subtitling your game unless you’ve also got a sense of humor about what you’ve created.
Suffice to say that for a game that revolves almost entirely around jumping (with the occasional bit of sliding), Gaijin Games has exactly the right amount of spring in their step to go toe to toe with their rivals. Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, their latest entry in the Bit.Trip franchise, is packed with over 100 alliterative and punny levels (“Hypnagogic Logic,” “Response-Ability,” “Dubbed Steppes”), split over a series of five colorful landscapes that range from the bouncing forests of “The Supernature” to the volcanic bowels of “The Mounting Sadds” and even a pseudo-futuristic mashup of their previous games, “The Bit Trip.”
With the exception of the difficulty, which appears to have been slightly toned down, every aspect of Runner2 is an improvement over the original Bit.Trip.Runner. The bright, colorful, and cartoonish new palette not only makes it easier to time your jumps, but draws easy comparisons to similar on-the-rails platforming from Rayman or Donkey Kong Country. Retro levels are no longer punishingly tacked on to the end of a perfectly cleared level, but instead must be discovered within each stage. This, along with alternate paths (a la Super Mario World) and unlockable chests containing additional costumes/characters encourages the replay of each level—assuming the cheery soundtrack isn’t motivation enough. And while individual levels are easier, players attempting to top the leaderboards can tack on additional challenges by avoiding the mid-stage checkpoints and literally showing off by attempting to squeeze dance moves between the various obstacles/beats of each course.
That said, Runner2 runs afoul of the doldrums for much of its mid-game. Whereas the initial levels continue to introduce new abilities (gliding, kicking, springing, blocking) and combine obstacles (enemies that you have to jump between, or that you have to kick while springing), things get repetitive after speed boosts show up. (This is even worse for completionists, who will have to clear each stage three times: once on Quite Easy, again on Just Right, and finally on Rather Hard.) Going back through easier levels to collect chests or post new scores isn’t necessarily difficult so much as it is an increasing grind. It’s not until late in the game that all the various skills you’ve picked up are really put to the test, as you’re tasked with executing gymnastics-worthy combinations of jumps, slides, kicks, and blocks. At least the boss fights at the end of each world (against a Robotnik-like villain named Timbletot) remain creative throughout the game.
Fortunately, the sheer quantity of levels in Runner2 doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the gameplay. If you’re already not a fan of reflex-oriented jumping games (or, say, Temple Run), you’ll want to stay far, far away from this labor of love; everybody else should hurry up and be glad to get their money’s worth. Running down a corridor while jumping over enemies has never been more fun than doing so while dressed up as a sumo-attired Reverse Merman or a hamburger-headed German with disco fever.