Retro throwback? Rhythm action pixel pioneer? You can put Bit.Trip Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien in a box if you like – just so long as it's a box with a decent soundtrack. While the endless runners queue up for your endless cash on mobiles, Runner2 is retro in exactly the right way: you pay for a curated, immaculately designed experience that's drowning in its own charm.
The concept is simple: run, and make it to the end without dying. The Commander and his friends run automatically, so your job is to deal with the obstacles. Jump over the chaps in the spiky helmets. Slide under the hovering sawblades. The graphical language of the game is kept simple – you'll jump over the same spiked helmets in every world. But that's a good thing: you have enough new cues to deal with without having to relearn old ones.
As you learn to obey the prompts – and this game could be used by oppressive regimes to teach the pleasure of obedience – failure is rarely frustrating. That's because it's usually your fault. You will occasionally feel cheated: whether that's by a distractingly enthusiastic gherkin, or a platform that didn't look like a platform until you landed on it. Or perhaps you were staring with wide-eyed wonder at the plunging depths of Reverse Merman's ballbag. Whatever it was, start again and do it right this time.
You get so used to obeying orders that when the game puts control back into your hands, it can be paralysing. Lulled into a becoming a simple stimulus/response machine, the panicked instinct when faced with a branching path is to take neither, and run into the nearest wall. It's even worse when you're trying to climb the leaderboards, using your one ability to boost your score: dancing. Filling every idle moment with a dance move is the most difficult challenge here, and is one way to transform all that fun into fury.
You'll run through the twee Welkin Wonderlands, and the Pete Fowler-esque faux naivety of the Supernature. There are even poignant moments – the fourth world is The Mounting Sadds, where the background hills seem tortured and restrained. It's an unexpected slice of humanity in the church of jump and slide. You'll run past it all, of course, into the self-referential retro finale, but catching a glimpse of an untold story is oddly touching.
The PC version is best played with a pad – while there are keyboard alternatives, the circle and square loops are designed around the thumbstick and face buttons. But that fits: the Bit.Trip Runner series is a hymn to the first generations of consoles. This isn't Super Meat Boy – even if he features in the intro sequence – and failure doesn't bring a set jaw and gritted teeth. Failure brings a strange grin. That is, except for the Extralogic level on Hard mode: that can suck my oversized Reverse Merman nuts.