Having never played the original Bit.Trip games, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first downloaded the recently-released Runner 2. What I was pleasantly surprised with was a well-rounded platformer with a lot of charm and some very focused mechanics. More than anything, Runner 2 reminds me of Super Meat Boy. But while Super Meat Boy was intentionally difficult and brutal, Runner 2 maintains a well-paced curve of difficulty and challenges while being easier on the blood pressure and state of mind.
At the heart of Runner 2 lives a series of very simple mechanics. While running, you can jump, slide, block, kick, and bounce on springs. Each ability is tied to a button on the controller and the game does an excellent job training you at when this ability should be used. Then it’s simply up to you to combine these abilities and get through the increasingly difficult levels. Jumping and sliding quickly become the most common solutions to obstacles like holes and floating enemies, but you always need to be ready to kick your way through a barricade, block objects, or bounce over a hazard. Oftentimes you’ll be performing all of these abilities in a matter of seconds, requiring pinpoint timing.
It’s a good thing, then, that the controls are so precise. Similar to Super Meat Boy, the controls feel tight and responsive enough that you never feel like a mistake or death was the game’s fault. Maybe you pressed the block button when you meant to kick (or vice versa), or maybe you didn’t jump up the series of quick steps at the right pace, but I never ran into a situation where I died and felt like I had input the correct commands faster than the game could process them. If anything is a sign that Runner 2 is an excellent platformer, it’s that.
Thankfully, you don’t have to learn the timing of the mechanics entirely on your own. The gameplay syncs up very smartly, and beautifully, with the music. Each item you collect, jump you make, enemy you avoid, and more triggers sound effects that play into the soundtrack in ways that are very natural and methodical. It’s a big part of Runner 2’s charm and also a big part of why the game, while often difficult, never quite boils your blood like Super Meat Boy did.
The melodious soundtrack also contributes to the almost whimsical atmosphere of the game. The music is very light and airy and fits well with the heavily pastel art style. It’s almost through these things that the game can be so challenging at times but keeps you in a pleasant mood as you attempt a tough spot over and over. Much of the art is downright goofy, especially the strange creatures in the backgrounds of the levels. In addition, a lot of the levels have very funny names which contribute to keeping spirits high. If Super Meat Boy was a simple-yet-difficult platformer with the intention to break you, Runner 2 is a simple-yet-difficult platformer with the intention to encourage you onwards.
And onwards you will go because there is a substantial amount of content to burn through in Runner 2. Each of the several worlds features a distinct look and feel and is made up of a dozen or so levels. My favorite has to be the harbor-themed second world, mostly because it reminded me of the first world of Donkey Kong Country 3. Several of the levels have multiple paths, some easy and some hard, as well as multiple exits that can unlock extra levels. Additionally, many levels have treasure chests to collect that unlock additional costumes. Occasionally, you’ll find retro cartridges that unlock challenging bonus levels with old-school graphics (very similar to the warp zones in Super Meat Boy). Moreover, each world holds an unlockable character who plays a little differently. Each individual level has multiple stages of completion, depending on whether or not you collected every item, finished in a certain way, and hit a bulls-eye on the bonus game at the end of the level. Needless to say, getting 100% completion in this game will definitely take some effort.
I’ve been digging into Runner 2 for about a week now, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s a great game to pick up and play casually for an hour or two each day or week, even if you’re like me and must compulsively get a perfect rating on every level. If you’re a PS+ subscriber, the game is currently free, so I’d say there’s no reason to not give it a try. But even if you’re not, it’s available on every platform you could think of, and it’s a charming, enjoyable experience well worth your time.