Runner 2 is a softer-edged sequel in every sense. The crisp pixel art of the original was matched by the sharpness of its challenge; this follow-up takes place in a pastel-shaded world that’s much more welcoming, if no less perilous. Mid-level checkpoints and an easier difficulty setting make for a more inclusive game, without losing the first game’s uncompromising clout.
As before, you’re the impossibly sprightly Commander Video, a man who resembles a sentient burkha, forever sprinting through a universe of obstacle courses. He kicks through wooden blockades, slides under low walls, grinds rails and deflects incoming voxels, collecting gold bars and score-boosting tokens as he goes. Each of these actions – and a good number more – are allocated to a different button, and so progressing through a lengthy stretch of various hazards can often feel like playing an extended Quick-Time Event, where memory takes over from twitch reaction and rhythmic timing.
It’s not a rhythm-action game, then, but an auto-runner with a musical component, and that distinction is crucial. Your actions contribute to the music but there are no audio prompts demanding a timely response – instead your focus is entirely on visual cues. Indeed, the audio response doesn’t always seem punchy enough to justify the rhythmic element, your inputs adding chiming tones to a pleasant but forgettable soundtrack.
As the gentle tunes caress your ears, your hands are given a more vigorous workout. Face button actions are joined by D-pad commands, while loops demand you temporarily shift your attention to the right stick before you’re asked to combine slides, jumps and kicks at once. Mid-level checkpoints alleviate the irritation of the fumbling failures that ensue, but it’s still galling to fall right before the finish line. Though it’s hard to blame anything other than your own ineptitude, some prompts are more particular than others: a mid-air glide allows you to fudge jump timings to a point, but fail to a hit a bounce pad dead centre and back you go.
With that in mind, the automatic restarts are an astute piece of design. Resisting another run is all but impossible when you’re placed back at the start line so swiftly, along with Commander Video’s indefatigable desire to try again as he restlessly jogs on the spot until the brief countdown finishes. Even without that, a regular stream of new ideas encourages perseverance, with alternate routes, keys that unlock fresh challenges, new characters and multiple skins for each. Runner 2 cajoles you towards perfection without ever demanding it: your reward for collecting every gold bar and token is to be fired out of a cannon towards a target for an extra bonus, a satisfying punchline to a joke that can admittedly run a little too long on occasion.
Runner 2’s cheery presentation – Gaijin could hardly have chosen a more likeable narrator than Charles Martinet – makes those moments of frustration easy to forgive, and it’s a much more inclusive game than its austere forerunner. Anyone concerned that it lacks its predecessor’s implacability, meanwhile, can rest easy: the steadily dwindling friend tallies on our post-run leaderboards are convincing proof that Runner’s sharpest edges remain intact.
Bit.Trip presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is available on Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Mac. Wii U version tested.