Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Game Review: Runner2 (XBLA, 2013)

Modern video games are amazing.  You can choose from games featuring epic storylines, intense action, and massive multiplayer battles.  But sometimes you just want to dodge obstacles to the rhythm of some funky music while bizarre creatures watch from the background.  Enter Runner2.

Formally titled “Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien,” Runner2 is the sequel to the successful indie title Bit.Trip Runner, and as the name suggests, it’s all about running.  But while you’re automatically running, you’ll need to jump over, slide under, kick, and block obstacles on your way to each stage’s finish line.

Although it may not sound like it (and it certainly doesn’t look like it), Runner2 is really a music and rhythm game.  The soundtrack is pretty simple, but syncing your movements to the beat is the key to success, and each obstacle you successfully avoid will add a chime of some sort to compliment the background track.

Each of the game’s 100 stages will give you different combinations of the basic obstacles, sometimes stringing them along in complex patterns.  They will also present a number of score-boosting collectibles, and trying to grab all of them further complicates the acrobatics you’ll have to perform.  It’s a really simple formula, but it’s executed so well that it’s amazingly fun.  It can get pretty frustrating, too, as some of the stages are quite challenging, but it never feels cheap – your success is due to quick reflexes and precise actions; your failure is never the result of poor design or awkward controls.

Runner2’s art direction is also phenomenal.  It’s a goofy game, with five distinct and gorgeous worlds, each boasting expansive backdrops and stunning set pieces.  The music, while lacking in diversity (there are very few tracks throughout the entire game), makes quite an impression due to the way it responds to your in-game actions.  In addition to the complimentary sound effects from progressing through the stage, certain collectibles will intensify the tune, crescendoing to the conclusion of each stage.  All-in-all, the audiovisual presentation accentuates the game’s basic mechanics nicely.

Sadly, it’s not all good.  Perhaps the most noticeable flaw is the previously-mentioned short list of songs.  For a game with such a large emphasis on rhythm, I wish there would have been more music to accompany all the running.  Next, although there are three difficulty levels for every stage, there’s not a whole lot to keep you coming back once you’ve finished every level.  Sure, you can shoot for collecting all the items in each stage, or beating your friends’ highscores (there are leaderboards for each level), but it’s not as fulfilling after you’ve bested each stage once.

Despite the flaws, Runner2 is worth at least a good 10 hours of old-school platforming action, and its simplicity makes it strangely addictive.  It’s a lot of fun, and it’s definitely worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of quirky indie games.

My Rating: 8/10 – great. 

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