Posted: July 6, 2014
I have waited my whole life to hear Charles Martinet say, "soft, bulbous bosom."
Runner2 is rather interesting. I wasn't a fan of the original BIT.TRIP RUNNER. But I love Runner2. And the reason is almost everything about it. Runner2 gets nearly every single thing that it does right, and excels in all of those places where RUNNER fell flat. If this is what happens when the BIT.TRIP devs are able to refine and reinvent their own series, I'd like to see them do it more often.
Runner2 opens with our narrator, the legendary Charles Martinet (who you will probably recognize from his famous roles as Ray Trace in Space Quest 6, Civilian Male in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, Police Station Reporter #1 in The Dead Pool, and of course MC Ballyhoo in Mario Party 8), introducing himself and the game, before taking us on a journey through the repressed imaginations of the disturbed.
BIT.TRIP RUNNER and Runner2 run along with the same basic gameplay. As Commander Video and co., it is your duty to run to the right until the game tells you that you may stop. You duck, kick, block, and jump over obstacles while picking up gold bars and red plus signs. You do not control the running. That's automatic, and you will continue running at a steady pace until you run into something that you shouldn't.
Which you will! A lot.
Luckily, Runner2 is a lot more forgiving in this aspect than RUNNER was. Every normal level now has a checkpoint in the middle for you to fall back on once you get halfway through the stage. Boss stages are LOADS more forgiving, as they have checkpoints after every round, and there's no longer a boring non-boss section of the boss stage to run through at the beginning before even getting to the boss. I ultimately quit RUNNER because I had gotten sick and tired of having to run that section again and again every time I failed 75% of the way through the boss fight, so you can imagine how immensely relieved I am that they added a few CC's of "forgiving" to this thing. You do still have to play a game of "what not entirely obvious thing do I have to do to dodge this obstacle and/or harm the boss" during these battles, but the pain is massively alleviated by the ever-so-welcome checkpoints.
That said, the hardest bit of this trip is still the final boss (on hard, anyways).
Now, when I say the game is forgiving, I don't mean to say that it's easy. I mean, it never seems unfair
, but to me that's a good thing. I understand that some gamers may want their reflexes strained beyond human capacity, and that's fine, but the most hardcore gamers who can play competitive Tetris while using their toes to take on a long line of challengers at Street Fighter III Alpha Turbo Hyper Go Go Omega Jamboree will probably not have the heart-pounding digital adrenaline burst they crave, here. The rest of us humans will find Runner2 to be a game that's just as difficult as want it to be.
See, in Runner2, you can challenge yourself as much, or as little, as you choose. More difficulty leads to higher risk, but typically also more points if you're successful. To start, you have three difficulties to select from. Then you have the split paths which are often found up to several times in levels. Red signs point to the more difficult paths, which also have a tendency to contain keys or chests. There are a few obstacles which can be avoided entirely, or met head-on for points. Collecting gold and pluses nets you points and multipliers, and collecting all of them earns you a nice bonus on top of allowing you to play the cannon minigame at the end of the stage for up to 10,000 additional points. And you always have the option of jumping over the checkpoint (discounting boss stages) to challenge yourself to do the entire level in one shot - for loads of points, of course.
Plus you can dance, if you want to. You can leave your friends behind. Because your friends don't dance, and if they don't dance, well they're going to eat ♥♥♥♥ on the leaderboards, that's for sure.
I started off on Just Right for most of the game, but halfway through the penultimate world accidentally wound up playing a few levels in Rather Hard before realizing my mistake. But I found it to be enticingly difficult - rather than frustratingly difficult as I had expected it to be - and decided to stick with it. And sure, I struggled with it at first, but eventually you settle into a groove where dodging denser and denser combination of obstacles becomes something natural that you do without really thinking about it. Interestingly, difficulty doesn't effect the placement
of obstacles and collectibles, but simply adds to them. The gold is in the same position on every difficulty, but on higher difficulties two hops and then some stairs can become a slide, a hop, a slide-hop, a kick, another hop, and a slide-hop up a set of stairs (while standing up for a split second every so often to collect gold on your way up).
Honestly, this all just comes back to one really important, deal-breaking point: the level design in Runner2 is splendid. Some of the more subtle elements are properly thought-out and given care, as well. For instance, there are these jump pad things. They're like springs embedded into the ground. If you hold the appropriate key, you will launch into the air as you run over them. The clever bit is that the top of them wobbles down into place as they enter the screen, as a way of pointing them out to the player, since they are otherwise flush with the ground - still visible, but less noticeable.
All that said, Runner2 desperately needs a kill key. Or... "bonk" key. Whatever they like to call it. Some levels have a bit near the end where it's easy to miss a single piece of gold by jump-gliding just a hair too early, and then it's a clear, obstacle-less shot to the goal. Since there's no restart from checkpoint option, the only way to go back to a checkpoint is to hit an obstacle. Ultimately, you're forced to start that level from the beginning if you wish to perfect it. On the easier levels, this is boring. On the harder ones, vexing.
Also, rails will bother you for awhile until you're used to them. Actually dodging obstacles on them is simple. But it seems like the deadline for jumping off of one is oh-so-slightly sooner than it is for the edge of a platform. It can be tough to judge this properly, and I've fallen off of far more rails than platforms when intending to jump far.
Even with the occasional quirk, I very much enjoyed playing Runner2. It looks great, too. It's certainly more visually impressive than its predecessor. There's a great deal more personality to it, between the quietly disconcerting backgrounds and the mildly euphamistic stage names. The music starts off kind of easy to ignore, but gets better as you progress. The second-to-last world has a creepy understatement to it, and the final world has a sort of... well, it reminds me of Blood Dragon. Does that help? I really enjoy it. The soundtrack adds an incentive to collect the pluses, too, as not only do they give score multipliers, but they add (oh, I get it) complexity to the music.
Oh, hey, speaking of nothing at all, because I just removed the bit I segued from, I know the game tells you up front that it recommends using a controller. Now, I have a controller that I could very well use. But out of pure, unfiltered laziness, I didn't. And I have to say, the keyboard worked out perfectly well. Better than you would expect. Hands are at WASD and JKL;. J jumps, and K kicks. Think of WASD as arrows. W launches you on those jump pads, S slides, and D puts a shield in front of you. Also, A dances. That's not really a direction, it's just kind of there.
Alright, time to wrap this up. What else? Uh, the DLC character pack is money well spent. Dr. Fetus uses a struggling Bandage Girl as his shield. Josef goes into short mode instead of sliding. Retro stages are fun. And blimey, I'm out of sp