Bit.Trip Runner 2’s full title is “Bit.Trip Presents… Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien.” I’m just going to call it Runner 2 because that name is ridiculous. I’m also going to avoid talking about the presentation and visual aesthetic because they are ridiculous as well. Everything from the art style to the character design to the superfluous narrator felt like the game was trying to too hard to be hip. I’m sure there are lots of people out there—people who do things “ironically”—who will love it, but I did not.
The game itself, however, is pretty amazing. It’s basically an auto-running platformer. Series protagonist Commander Video races across the level, and your job push the right keys at the right time to make him jump over, slide under, block, and kick the various obstacles/enemies in his way. A single slip up and you’re sent back to the start, or to the last checkpoint you passed. Along the way, you can also collect gold bars and red stars, but that’s mostly optional. Gold bars can be used to unlock extra levels in each world, while the red stars make the music more complex.
Speaking of music, it’d be easy to mistake Runner 2 for a rhythm game. After all, the world “rhythm” is right there in the title, and the actions you perform are timed to the beat. However, unlike other rhythm-based games, the goal here isn’t to match your button presses as accurately as possible to the beats. You simply need to get to the end of the level. Thank goodness for that, because you’ll require some precision reflexes to successfully complete this game, especially on the harder difficulties. If you had to worry about the timing on top of that, Runner 2 would become a recipe for madness.
Previous entries in the Bit.Trip series are notorious for being hard with a capital H. I personally wasn’t able to get past the first world in the original Runner game, and I was playing that on Easy to boot. Runner 2 makes tremendous strides in terms of accessibility. The Easy difficulty felt perfectly balanced to my skill, so I was actually able to complete the game. That’s not to say it was a cakewalk. There was still a lot of dying and restarting and swearing to the gods as I made my way through each world, but the challenge is nowhere near insurmountable.
In terms of production value, Runner 2 is top notch, despite the questionable ironic hipness. Visuals are sharp and could be considered stylish if you’re into that sort of look. The various enemies and obstacles are designed so you can identify them in an instant, which is important because you’ll often only have a moment to either react correctly or die. The music is fantastic as well, featuring tracks by Petrified Productions and the always-talented Disasterpiece.
The biggest knock against Runner 2 is that you can’t redefine the controls. The default layout isn’t bad—the game uses arrow keys and the space bar, with options to use WASD or the number pad instead—but custom keybindings should really be a standard for any PC game. That was the only thing objectively wrong with Runner 2, however. The gameplay was challenging and engaging, while the chiptune music had a charm that was a joy to listen to. There’s also a ton of longevity in the form of bonus characters to unlock and harder difficulty levels to beat. If you can look past the couple flaws I mentioned, it’s definitely worth the $15 price.