The dance button is this generation's hug button.
The entirety of the Bit.Trip series, a six-game series developed by Gaijin Games, was a highlight of the WiiWare service. However, one game stood above the rest: Bit.Trip Runner. This 2010 release, a constantly scrolling rhythm-based platformer, was a delight, and while it had some issues, it was one of my favorite WiiWare games. Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, debuting on the Wii U eShop, fixes the issues of the original, and improves on it in nearly every way.
Runner2’s new graphical style is the biggest change. Now a sharp-looking HD production with vivid, whimsical animation, it improves on the retro aesthetic of the original. Don’t worry: the change is justified in the paper-thin story, and none of the charm is absent. It’s still decidedly goofy, with the trippy visuals only emboldened by the improved fidelity.
The gameplay, at its core, is unchanged. The mechanics from the original (jumping, sliding, kicking, and blocking) are all present, as are a cadre of new moves and obstacles. You grind on rails in some levels, and run over boost pads in others. Across its 100 levels, spread across five worlds, the game also throws in new additions to the formula at a rapid clip. Thanks to those innovations and to superb level design, Runner2 rarely gets dull. It also helps that nearly every level features branching paths that lead to alternate costumes or bonus, retro-themed levels.
The beauty of Runner2 compared to its predecessor is its improved balance in difficulty. Every level has an optional checkpoint midway through (you get bonus points for skipping it), and the difficulty curve is much gentler. Three settings also help scale the challenge, giving Runner2 a somewhat customizable degree of difficulty. Certain parts are still challenging, such as the aforementioned retro stages, but even those pale in comparison to the brutality of the bonus Atari-esque stages in the original. Frequent checkpoints make the bosses friendlier this time around as well, making for a less frustrating experience overall.
The sound effects and music, as in the original game, work together wonderfully, building as you progress through each level. The music is catchy, and harmonizes with the gameplay in a way that’ll make you want to play level after level. The evolution of the game’s music from the first to the second game reminds me of how the music and world aesthetic evolved from Tron to Tron: Legacy, except in this case, it’s a lot more cartoony. An array of characters populate the experience as well. You start with Commander Video and CommandgirlVideo, but each world gives you the chance to unlock more characters, such as Unkle Dill (a walking pickle) and Reverse Merman, a super-disturbing abomination with a fish upper body and baby legs.
With online leaderboards that update constantly, the high score chase is ever present. Fortunately, the mechanics of the game are conducive to fine-tuning your score, whether you time “dance” moves between obstacles or avoid every checkpoint you see. The Wii U version is more or less the same experience you’ll find on other platforms, but features GamePad-only play, which, in my experience, worked with no discernable lag.
Runner2 is the type of sequel you dream happens. It takes the concepts and gameplay of the original and advances them in every way. Gaijin Games didn’t just make a great game—it made one of the best side-scrolling platformers in recent memory. We’ve had some great games on the Wii U eShop so far, but now we have the young platform’s first masterpiece.