Commander Video must be the envy of every eight-bit gym attendee. The intrepid athlete at the heart of – wait for it – BIT.TRIP Presents: Runner 2 – Future Legend of Rhythm Alien never seems to tire of jogging from left-to-right, making our Wendy’s weighted legs shudder at thought of such strenuous exercise. Still, with the villainous Mingrawn Timbletot causing chaos in the Hyper Sphere, the planet is in need of an industrious idol energetic enough to take the tinpot terror down – and that’s where our protagonist and his chic scarlet sneakers come into play.
As previously promised by indie outfit Gaijin Games, this PlayStation Vita port is identical to last year’s home console outing. Itself a direct sequel to the studio’s Nintendo Wii cult classic, the endless runner-esque adventure takes you on a breathless tour through five themed worlds, each with its own unique art style and increasingly sinister set of stages. Unlike genre stalwarts such as Canabalt, however, this vibrant excursion is not content with simple run-and-jump mechanics, instead opting to layer new ideas on top of old ones at a frankly frightening pace. As a result, the release constantly keeps you on your toes, forcing you to adapt to fresh situations in almost every level that you unlock.
While it can feel like you’re rubbing your belly and patting your head at times, it’s this sense of variety that elevates the affair far beyond its peers. You’ll start out sliding underneath awkwardly positioned architecture and hovering over colossal chasms collecting gold bars, but it won’t be long before you’re batting away colourful cubes, bouncing on blue-and-red springboards, and grooving to the beat of the game’s lavish piano driven melodies. In fact, the sound actually composes a core part of the experience, with every action that you accurately execute fleshing out the soundscape with syncopated blips and beeps.
It’s less of an endless runner and more of a rhythm game, then, but the developer draws intelligently upon the format of the former in order to give the release the kind of flow that the average audio escapade lacks. Making a mistake, for example, will not reset your multiplier, but instead will pull you back to the nearest checkpoint for a second attempt. This almost instantaneous restart mechanic makes the affair infuriatingly moreish, encouraging you to repeat each sequence over and over until you nail the perfect run. Meanwhile, the addition of multiple routes, hidden treasure chests, and even retro stages concealed inside mysterious Famicom cartridges will keep you coming back for more.
Of course, this is part of the reason that the release really excels on Sony’s flagship handheld format. With levels never lasting more than a handful of minutes at most, the title’s perfect for those pick up and play sessions that the portable’s designed for. Fundamentally, though, it never loses anything in translation, with the system’s roster of physical inputs meaning that you’ll never miss a beat due to haphazard control schemes. Indeed, every action is mapped convincingly to the face buttons and cross-pad, with even the right-analogue stick joining in on the fun as you track the black-and-white protagonist around loop-de-loops for a points boost.
Predictably, the art style pops on the platform’s colossal OLED display, too, with the vibrant hues of the Welkin Wonderland contrasting the macabre woodlands of the Super Nature. The camera can struggle to keep up on occasion, resulting in some irritatingly unintended errors, but this is a fairly rare occurrence that’s perhaps more problematic during boss fights, where the game tends to set aside its simplistic structure in favour of something a little more bombastic. As a result, these are among the most frustrating sequences in the game, but as they’re such fleeting appearances, you won't be left seething for too long.
That is unless you pay too much attention to the leaderboards, of course. Each of the release’s colossal roster of stages has its own scoreboard attached, with data fed into the startup screen of every level that you attempt. You can maximise your tally by tapping the shoulder buttons to dance at any given opportunity, but squeezing in a brief boogie becomes increasingly difficult as the title tosses more and more hazards in your general direction. As such, you’ll need to consider your surroundings carefully before throwing out the odd shape, but it can feel extremely satisfying when you succeed.
That temporary joy may be squashed the moment that you reach an end of level cannon, though, which awards you with a significant bonus for hitting a bullseye once you’ve executed a perfect run. While this is an interesting addition, it’s infuriating when you muck up an otherwise stellar performance due to misjudging the trajectory of your ejecting athlete. The enormous roster of unlockable characters and costumes will undoubtedly help to soothe your exasperation, but don’t be surprised if you feel the urge to stamp on your system’s innocent chassis from time to time during the course of the campaign.
The beauty of BIT.TRIP Presents: Runner 2 – Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is in its variety. Never content to rest on its laurels, the energetic adventure dashes from one mechanic to the next, resulting in a release that rarely outstays its welcome. This portable port is perfectly suited to the quick fix philosophy of Sony’s flagship handheld, and it’s an ideal accompaniment to some of the system’s more meaty releases as a result. Its boss battles and emphasis on scoring bullseyes can be a bit frustrating, but this is still a title that you’ll find yourself jogging back to over a long period of time.