Thursday, April 26, 2012

PAX East 2012: Runner 2: Future of Rhythm Alien

In the Indie Megabooth (which I proceeded to call the "Mega Indie Booth"), developer Gaijin Games showed off the first publicly-playable build of its newest game: Bit Trip Presents Runner 2: Future of Rhythm Alien.  Acting as a sequel of the original BIT.TRIP RUNNER, Runner 2 changes the game's style up and adds much more to the already solid game design from before.  We got to speak with the Creative Director himself, Alex Neuse, about the game and how his company has been working out these last couple years. [Check out the preview after the break]

For the uninformed, Runner 2 is the non-chronological sequel to the fabled BIT.TRIP RUNNER, the fourth game in the BIT.TRIP series.  BIT.TRIP is a series of small-but-intense games available on WiiWare, Wii retail (as BIT.TRIP COMPLETE), and 3DS (as BIT.TRIP SAGA), and some of the series' games have seen releases on other platforms such as iOS devices and Steam.  In BIT.TRIP, players followed the creation, life, and eventual death of Commander Video, exploring many game frameworks with a musical twist.  From pong-like to shmup to runner-platformer, the series took many turns but ultimately ended a year ago.  However, Runner 2 takes Commander Video into a new, cartoony dimension, and with it, a lot more has changed than just the visuals.

Runner 2 is similar in design to its predecessor.  Players control Commander Video in all ways except one: his forward movement.  The protagonist runs forward, regardless of what lies in his path, and it is up to players to control his other actions in order to prevent him from colliding into anything.  If he hits any object, be it a wall or a smirking stop sign, Commander Video is propelled back to the start of the level or checkpoint if he had encountered one.  This makes for quick replays and less frustration, even if you continue to encounter the same roadblock each time, and there will be plenty of things which can get in the way.

In the original RUNNER, Commander Video could jump, slide, punch, block, and leap into the air in order to prevent getting hurt, but in Runner 2, there are a number of new things he can do as well.  For one, there are large loop de loops which he can pass by pressing buttons along the loop and ultimately end up back on track.  Furthermore, some levels have secret passageways which can only be accessed if CV has found a key on the track beforehand; the addition of track splits makes for a more unique experience and added replay to each level.  To make matters more entertaining, CV has also learned more moves AND how to break it down; pressing a certain button while moving causes the hero to dance and shake that groove thing without missing a beat!

Runner 2 is going to expand on RUNNER beyond just the game mechanics.  Neuse explained that the game was going to be much bigger than its predecessor, with five worlds, twenty levels a piece, and a number of difficulty levels, too.  There are unlockable characters and costumes, as well, although we did not see anything specific at the PAX East build.  It will certainly be a more full-fledged game this time around!

From my experience with the demo, the game feels very much in tune with the game RUNNER gave us, although the graphics are now more detailed, more comical than before.  Commander Video stretches and moves around in a myriad of ways, all while the creepy-yet-endearing landscape flies by in the background.  I have not played RUNNER in a while, so I tended to fail pretty easily on the later levels available.  Still, the game felt like the original while still looking fresh and appearing to have plenty more in store as the game progresses.  There are some things missing, like shadows and other performance tweaks, but with the release some time off, that is to be expected.

Runner 2 is expected for a release on XBLA and PSN sometime this Fall.  Wii U has been hinted at, but no confirmation nor denial has been made about a version there as of now.  Now get on that rainbow cape and fly!

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