A common complaint games today receive is that they are too linear. The inherent structure of the linear game comes off as too restrictive for the player to feel as though they have any freedoms. If asked today, most gamers I know wouldn’t want a game to be completely linear, because we’ve all been spoiled on optional side quests, multiple endings and a backpack full of morality choices to pick from. Then, I played Bit.Trip Runner 2, and my opinion did a complete 180.
With Bit.Trip Runner 2, the only direction you can travel is from left to right, and this hearkens back to the retro era of gaming where games were limited by how much the player could experience at any given time. However, some developers were clever enough to understand that the player has a limited range of motion to choose from and they utilized that knowledge to refine the gameplay around the idea that the player must travel in through here no matter what.
If you hadn’t heard already from the review, Bit.Trip Runner 2 is hard. Excruciatingly hard. However, it’s also incredibly rewarding. Because the player has to experience the game exactly as the developer planned it, they can make the experience harder or easier according to the difficulty selected. Running in a straight line across the screen and avoiding obstacles is hard. Running in that same straight line, avoiding those obstacles and collecting gold pieces gets to be even worse. But running in a straight line, collecting gold and trying to get the highest score possible by incapacitating yourself with a dance move? I’ve died more times in this game from dancing than from any obstacle that was thrown at me.
For me, that’s a wonderful feeling. Not the dying, of course, but the knowledge that the game I’m experiencing is precisely, carefully planned so that every step I take is met with a risk/reward factor which makes it gratifying when I take all the risks and gain enough skill to reap the rewards.
The linear game offers focus where some games just lose that focus at some point during the experience. In Runner 2, there is a noticeable increase in grade and skill. Other, less linear games don’t offer this benefit. Like games where, at some point during the play experience, the playing wanders far away from the intended story because of one mechanic or another. We’ve all had moments playing Grand Theft Auto (or Saints Row the Third for me) when you look up and realize you’ve stopped playing the through the story hours ago. I’m not bashing this style of gameplay; I know that it’s hours of fun in and of itself, but I also know that I felt more satisfied beating Bit.Trip Runner 2 compared to when I finished GTA IV.
So, when executed properly, linear gameplay is more than just a restriction; it’s an art form. While the open expanses of Liberty City are an entertaining time sink, the 100 levels of Bit.Trip Runner 2 strike almost like a well executed painting. As a player, you come to accept the piece for it’s inherent beauty, simply because it is so well executed.