Runner 2 is a rhythm game hiding behind a thin veil of platforming. It masterfully conjoins the pleasures of music and video games, threading dangerously through their border zones. It is also a game reminiscent of arcade gaming times; the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is certainly true for Runner 2. The DLC available for the game offers some additional characters from other indie games (such as Dr. Fetus from Super Meat Boy) if Runner 2’s standard goofs don’t suit you.
Unlike the previous entries in the series, which featured a pixilated foreground with a three-dimensional background, Runner 2 is now rendered fully in 3D. The art style also contains many softer colours and, with the exception of the last of the five themed worlds which is beautifully blocky, the graphical style has moved away from the retro, pixel-style visuals of the past games, and that move has definitely not hurt it. The game looks stunningly good for its low price. I was especially struck by the forest-themed world, which featured beautiful trees and lush greens. The more industrial and fiery fourth world appealed less to me because its colour scheme made it hard for me to differentiate between my character and the background. The silky smooth animations, which differ for each character, more than make up for this flaw, though. Furthermore, beautifully drawn cutscenes narrated excellently by Charles Martinet (the voice of Mario and co.) as well as quirky commercials for fake products that pop up upon starting the game exemplify the sterling presentation of the game. They almost manage to hide the absence of an interesting story.
Runner 2‘s platforming essence is astonishingly simple. The character you’re playing, whether it is Commander Video or one of his ‘courageous compatriots’, starts running and keeps moving to the right at a brisk pace until the end of the level is reached or his line of movement is obstructed by one of the many different barriers the game presents. In order to safely reach the exit of each level, these obstacles can be avoided by using the wide array of moves that are at your disposal, such as jumping, kicking, blocking and sliding. One miscalculation, one mistiming and your character is hurled back to the beginning of the level or the checkpoint of which there is only one each level.
Playing Runner 2 is much like playing music, both in that it requires exercise and perseverance and in that your actions actually directly cause music; the aforementioned obstacles are not merely obstacles, but basically contain the composition of the level. I barely noticed it during the first few minutes of play, but it soon became clear that, on passing them, the obstacles emit sound, perfectly fitting in the background music, in a subtle manner. The music itself fits with the theme of each world, and is slightly different for each level. I was especially enamored of the airy organ melody found in the third world of the game. A very nice touch is that the music changes throughout the level. It starts out fairly basic, but increases in intensity as extra layers are added upon collecting the four red plus signs scattered throughout the level, to end on a serene note that captures the ethereal feeling of a runner’s high exquisitely. Also found in each level are numerous gold bars. To progress, you do not have to grab all these collectibles, but, as the game says, ‘it is more fun!’, and I always Perfected a level before moving on.
One of the game’s leading strengths is the pace at which it ramps up the difficulty. Along the way, your character learns more and more of the aforementioned skills, which cause the challenges the levels can throw at you to be increasingly diverse which in turn causes you to improve your technique and barely notice that the stages are becoming more challenging. If the difficulty still does not suit you, you have the option to choose between three difficulty levels. Choosing for the easier difficulty setting does not influence your progress nor does it show up on the online leaderboards, but the game is best played on the toughest setting for maximum enjoyment. The balance on this setting is perfect; the game always stays within the border zone of enjoyment and frustration. Online leaderboards add an extra challenge for the veterans; the new dancing mechanic and the addition of obstacles which do not yield ‘all or nothing’ point rewards allow for great competition for the highest score. Another great addition are the multiple paths available in sections of each level; one route will prove to be more difficult than the other, but will often yield a reward in the shape of a nice costume, or a glimpse at the location of a hidden retro stage. Runner 2 caters in these ways to both newcomers and experienced Bit.Trip players.
Despite this balance, the game does suffer from one problem. Runner 2 is quite repetitive; in each world, the levels employ very similar backdrops and music, to the point where I could not play the game for more than an hour and a half per session because I felt I was playing the same level over and over. However, if you’re more of the ‘pick up and play’ portable gamer, this issue will not tremendously bother you.
In conclusion, Runner 2 is a light-hearted musical adventure that has what a good platforming game absolutely needs; rhythm. Its flexible difficulty and steady pace make Runner 2 suitable for seasoned Bit.Trip players as well as neophytes, and even though it is repetitive at times, its excellent price absolutely justifies a purchase.