Running games are notoriously addictive, no I don’t mean any game that has running as a selective tool to escape doom and gloom. I’m talking about those titles with great back drops, littered with the same handful of obstacles, simply asking you to enjoy the view and mash the jump button to save your sprite from death by branch or bottomless pit.
Since the rise of mobile gaming, the running genre has endured a huge revival with the likes of Jungle Run (don’t say you haven’t played it on and off while waiting for a friend, or bored at the bus stop) which is both great and yet a shame really, meaning home consoles like our mighty Xbox have missed out.
All this has begun to change however, with the XBLA encouraging some great titles to come through from some brilliant, lesser known developers. This is where Gaijin Games comes in. Creators of the Bit.Trip series of games, all led by Commander Video featuring brand new game designs with an old school Atari sheen, tied together by great soundtracks and a focus on rhythm inspired game play.
Now Bit Trip have given us Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, a game that isn’t just beautiful to see, but a game that is also great to hear.
In traditional style you’ll begin every level with Commander Video ready and poised on the starting line, bright red sneakers prepped and then BANG you’re off. As you go through the world, avoiding spike headed mushroom people and other such enemies, you’ll find gold bars and other collectibles which are placed in rhythm with the music, giving off the perfect accompanying note to the soundtrack if collected.
Although only a simple concept it really works to pull you into the game’s world, leaving the soundscapes around you under your control. Every now and then you’ll find items that when picked up, don’t just add to the music, these shapes completely change the tones and octaves, really pushing the music along. The ultimate goal of each level is to collect everything you see along your journey and at the end of each level you’ll be given a rating out of 100, which if achieved, Runner2 will reward you with a quirky treat.
If you manage to nab everything you see, you’ll be given a Cannon. Yes, that’s right, a huge cannon will rise from the floor prompting Commander Video to dive in ready and willing to be fired into the giant dartboard that you’ll long to behold, which offers up a nice amount of bonus points the closer you get to the bullseye.
Divided into five themed worlds, each with fourteen regular levels and five bonus stages, there really is a lot to go through and achieving 100% in each level is no mean feat I can tell you.
As you move forward the game eventually throws everything at you, it becomes ever trickier to nail your jumps, slide kicks, deflections and flips in time with the music to get every gold bar and red cross all while of course trying to avoid sudden death.
Sudden death is a different matter here however and is possibly the biggest change for the genre in Runner2. You see the whole running genre has been forever balancing on an unforgiving rule of death equals please go back to start, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred pounds. Menus have to be navigated and everything starts all over again, as if you never traversed the game space at all.
Runner 2 however leaves this mechanic behind, you’re always in the game world and it happily gives you a handy little checkpoint halfway through your run, so depending on where you die, Commander Video is whisked back to the start or the checkpoint giving you all the chances you could ask for to finish your leg stretching exercise.
So where’s the challenge? I know you’ll be asking this question as I once did myself, but this is where the concept of Runner2 being a musical game takes over. Every time you fail a jump or miss that all important slide you are still in the game, however the music goes back to basics.
The challenge is self-created as you strive to perfect the physical movements of playing. As you play you’ll begin to notice how your hands take over, you’re timing everything and learning to be a few steps ahead of the world, just like a musician would learn to perform a finely written piece of music.
So when you are beamed back to the beginning it’s almost as if you’re being told by a conductor to start again “once more please, with feeling” and you’ll happily oblige. This feeling becomes ultimately addictive, you’ll be repeating levels over and over, simply to get the sounds right and hear the whole piece as it was meant to be heard.
This title in the Bit.Trip catalogue hasn’t just taken a step forward mechanically however, it’s also moved on visually, opting for a full 3D experience which looks slick, stylish and beautiful. Utilizing a world map that old school gamers (SNES lovers, I’m looking at you) will be proud of and some colourful menus all topped off by some great narration from Charles Martinet, the voice of a certain italian plumber, giving you an update (“Previously on Runner2!”) every time you join the world once more.
The visuals are bright and look like nothing you will have seen before, surprising considering all the influences Gaijin Games have obviously drawn upon, Runner2 has an 8-Bit spirit tuned up to modern tech. Gaijin Games are still clearly fueled by nostalgia though, in addition to the basic collectibles, a vast majority of stages contain bonus keys, chests and a few well placed games cartridges, which warp Commander Video to secret 8-bit worlds.
For me Runner2 is a perfect demonstration of its genre, it’s a simple concept, addictive and can appeal to all gamers out there with the only flaw I can draw upon being the difficulty. The first few stages are simple enough, but almost immediately the game becomes quite unforgiving with the moves you’ll be trying to pull off in succession. This isn’t a deal breaker for me, but I can imagine this being something that will stop some gamers jumping on board, which is sad really as they will be missing out on something special.
So that’s Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, and it is simply a fantastic arcade game, you’ll spend hours playing levels over and over to nail all of those maneuvers and get the highest leader-board score you can – all for a chance to hear yet another great piece of music that you helped bring to life, and with some brilliant animations, gorgeous sights and great narration you’ll love it.