Not much happened on the WiiWare. A few indie ports, a lot of Virtual Console. The flipside was that if any game got attention, it would be the novel ones. Me, You & the Cubes, Lit and Bonsai Barber, to name a few.
Gaijin Games had a monopoly on novel entries, and there were stretches of the WiiWare’s history that made it seem like the entire service only existed to support the Bit.Trip games. Bit.Trip Beat, Core, Void, Fate all used simple, challenging mechanics, and a rhythm coat, showing how far the depth of simple gestures can go. Bit.Trip Runner was one of the last entries, and also one of the more popular, likely for being more accessible and visually stimulating.
Since its release, hits on smaller, cell-phonier platforms, have pushed the never-stop-running genre forward. Where this marathon leaves Bit.Trip Presents… Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a little less novel than its lineage.
To say where Bit.Trip Presents something-something-something-whatever lets down is to start with what its predecessor did so right. Our formal introduction to the Commander Video character was a hell of a ribbon-breaker — the initial Runner had a crisp, retro-inspired, but not retro-obnoxious, geometrical world, synaesthesic gameplay, and a general sense of whimsy wrangled the experience. Some audio support from Anamanaguchi didn’t hurt. It felt uncanny.
As for the play, in the Bit.Trip tradition: simple on paper, and rewardingly hard to play.
In beat-guided bouts, you could control everything about Video with the exception of his determination to move from left to right. Dive under, jump over and kick through obstacles, from the static to animated, from gliding laser beams to inclining stairs. One bump on the foot and you were sent back to the start of the stage.
While the simple elements remain faithful, other mysterious alterations to the Bit.Trip formula betray the predecessor. What is added — mostly various kinds of loop-de-loops and alternative paths — don’t feel like they add much other than filler and empty calories for this jog to burn off.
There are also treasure chests behind locked doors, and those locked doors need keys that in fact need unlocking themselves later in the world. It feels a little strange to backtrack in a game about perpetually running forward.
The harsher offence is to the visuals. Once so strong and independent, they have now become dull and commercialized The hard, pixel-inspired tone has been washed away for something a little more rounded, plumper, and cartoonish. Video has puffed himself up, looking like a black mass of marshmallow. The unlockable characters joining him are an anthropomorphic pickle and a disco freak with a burger for a head.
Similarly, the backgrounds are virally ‘random,’ full of yetis and monocled octopuses. It all rubs off like something that would transition Saturday morning cartoons into their commercial breaks, whereas the first Runner felt like there was nothing else like it.
The only visual sublimity I found was in the unlockable retro stages — like the first game’s bonus rounds with 8-bit throwbacks, plus amazing, grotesque touches, and really catchy tunes.
The pressure of fitting/cashing in on the recent successes of the running genre may have had ill effect on Commander Video, when the open publicity could have championed what once made it so unique.
Now, instead of running ahead, Bit.Trip Runner 2 only ties with its peers.