The Bit.Trip series is one of the great indie studio success stories. Each product that Gaijin Games creates seems to tap into the simplicity of gaming, relying on the experience of playing as the substance. There have rarely been many frills in the series, as the company lived by the adage “Keep it simple, stupid.” The original Runner appeared on WiiWare, and was designed to be platform agnostic. It looked great because of its simplicity, regardless of the Wii’s graphical limitations.
It’s been a few years since the original, and Gaijin Games have looked to spread their wings. BIT.TRIP Runner 2 is all the simplicity of the original, but now with more horsepower for the devs to get behind.
My hands-on with the game at PAX East began with the immediate realization this this game looks prettttty. The original Runner was fine in its blockiness, but Runner 2 eschews that for style. Don’t worry, though: the better visuals don’t hamper the play mechanics. I was still running, sliding, and jumping over obstacles at an ever-increasing speed, but they were now better-looking obstacles instead of just vectorized.
While running, I noticed that the backgrounds weren’t overly distracting. There was a bit of World’s Fair futurism influencing the motifs, but nothing that would make me miss a platform or a jump to stare at. The colors are soft and pastel, with a slight fog over them to keep the crispness in the foreground.
Alex Neuse, Gaijin’s Founder, explained to me that there are more set pieces in Runner 2 than the first, such as running across the wings of a plane or through a giant loop-de-loop. The atmosphere is very much like a carnival or a series of Hollywood movie sets. Neuse explained that extra care was taken to make the sets and play mechanics reflect each other throughout the game. That is, if there is a need for a loop-de-loop, it would only be of a specific style and in a specific location, not just placed to add a new twist to the course. It’s pretty for a reason, he reiterated.
Runner 2 brings in a mess of new unlockables, branching paths, and secrets to keep replay value high, apart from just a leaderboard score to beat. I found one of the Easter eggs fairly quickly when I chose to jump over a gate instead of going through it. In that moment, the gatekeeping Unkle Dill — a giant pickle — chased after me for not passing through. Another “unique” idea was the inclusion of a dance. Tapping one of the shoulder buttons triggers Commander Video to dance. Normally, stopping the flow of the game would end in a horrific death, but if timed just right the dance would lead to multipliers and bonus points. I didn’t see that happen, as I faced a brutal finish to my run when I tried.
Neuse informed me that there were several of these touches throughout the game, providing the players are experimental enough to find them. That’s the kind of love that Gaijin throws into their games, where fans can continue to find new ways to enjoy the experience each time they play.
Though my demo was short and Runner 2 won’t be released until the Fall, it already feels very solid. With the mechanic nailed down and perfected from Runner, Runner 2‘s graphical upgrade and inclusion of new obstacles and secrets make me salivate at the thought of trying for perfect runs, over and over again, well into the late hours of the night.