BIT.TRIP BEAT Review: Bleep Bloop Heaven
Has gaming gotten to the point yet where it’s no longer “innovative” to create a game that’s inspired by the 1980s? With the re-releases of many updated classics on Xbox Live, “Mega Man 9”’s successful “updated” release, and the revitalization of 8-bit culture courtesy of games like “Retro Game Challenge” and cultural benchmarks like chiptunes, are video games coming full circle, or are gamers just being marketed gaming’s latest fad? If Akysys Games’ latest WiiWare release “BIT.TRIP BEAT” has anything to say about it, it’s the former, and not yet the latter.
Innovation is in the eye of the beholder, and when it comes to “Bit.Trip.Beat” I can’t yet tell if it can be considered “innovative” because my eyes are still tearing up… ya know, in a good way. Reminiscent of the modern day classic “Lumines,” “BIT.TRIP” melds simple gamplay, bright colors, and a uniquely integrated soundtrack to create an entirely new gaming experience. Well… calling it “entirely unique” might be a bit of a stretch… perhaps calling it “an experience inspired by games have haven’t been seen in many years” would be more appropriate.
Old school gamers will recognize the mechanic in “BIT.TRIP BEAT” almost instantly, since it essentially looks like a one-sided, updated version of gaming’s ultimate classic “Pong.” However, upon further examination (and a bit of gameplay), well-educated, old school fans may go one step further, and notice that it’s basically a sideways version of the Activision game “Kaboom.” “Bit.Trip” takes a very basic gaming mechanic; “catching” an object that is coming towards you, and returning it in the opposite direction, and basically blows it out in every possible way.
The overall goal in “BIT.TRIP” is to get the highest possible score, by returning all the “pixels” (read: projectiles) that are coming at you – much like “Pong,” and doing it consistently to build up your multiplier. However, unlike “Pong,” you’re not juggling one “ball,” as the oncoming objects don’t necessarily get returned to you, they usually head off the screen to the right. Sure, it’s a spiritual successor to Ralph Bear’s classic, but that spirit is definitely free, and most likely on acid.
The visuals in the game compliment the game’s story (yes, there’s a story), and both are tripped the hell out. The graphics have are entirely inspired by the games of the ’80s, and, for the most part, they could pass for Atari 2600, or NES releases. Your paddle is a rectangle, most of the items flying at you are square, the board is square – it’s super basic, geometric, and expertly stylized. The thing is, the images that display behind the game board tend to be one of the game’s biggest challenges, as they aren’t entirely 8-bit looking. They offer a barrage of different colors and shapes to distract you from completing your mission of finishing the level. It’s both surprisingly beautiful and just a little bit painful at the same time.
As for the story, here’s entire thing, according to “BIT.TRIP”’s website:
“Everything comes from something.
We were before we became. From life comes rhythm, and from rhythm comes life.
We are beings of information.
Everything is a conduit for learning.
We communicate in bits and bytes.
And we will return to something once we become nothing.
After our BIT.TRIP is complete.”
Take that as you will, but it does have a decidedly “Rez” feeling to it, and coupled with the game’s controls and art style, “Bit.Trip.Beat” is not your normal game. It’s pretty open to interpretation so “Bit.Trip” is going to mean many different things to many different people, and absolutely nothing to others.
The game’s controls take advantage of the Wii’s motion sensing capabilities, and allow you to move your paddle up and down by holding the controller sideways and rotating it towards or away from you. It’s really easy to grasp, as it is reminiscent of the original paddle controllers that came with the 2600, just with a slightly different orientation. This scheme works well and fine, even allowing you to play one-handed, should you choose to do so, but some gamers may have troubles fine-tuning their accuracy, and in “Bit.Trip” being accurate is extremely important. However, after a few run-throughs the game should elevate most control issues.
The one thing that multiple play-throughs of the game won’t elevate, is just how damn hard the game is. The developers behind “BIT.TRIP” remember just how challenging and addictive arcade classics were, and they created a game that could hang with the best of them. There’s so much going on, at such a high speed, on any given screen that your brain may actually start to melt. This isn’t a Wii game for your grand-parents, hell, it might not even be a Wii game for you, if you’re not up for the challenge… but if you are, it’s totally worth it. In other words, some people might get a little bothered by just how hard the game is.
The game’s three levels are broken up into three parts, each with varying music, and graphical effects. The standard level of the game is fairly basic, and doesn’t provide too much extra stimulation. However, if you do well on that level your paddle jumps to the top screen where you’re “treated” to pixels that have more effects and colors, along with a soundtrack that bumps a bit harder. However, if you don’t do well, you get dropped down the the basement of the game, and sent back in time to the late 70s, where all you get to play on is a black and white screen, with no background music, and tinny, painful bleeps coming out of the Wii controller’s speaker. It’s pretty amazing the range of graphics that such a basic game offers, and it does it in such a few amount of levels. Additionally, at the end of each level, you get to face a blocky boss that “attacks” you in a similar manner as the rest of the levels do, just in a more bossy manner.
There are two additional, small, problems with the game that go hand-in-hand, since they both relate to the game’s scoring. First of all, the point of each level is to achieve the highest possible score, yet, there are no online leaderboards. It’s a glaring omission that left me wondering just how many people had broken the one billion point mark yet. Secondly, the game’s levels are extremely challenging, but not impossible, however, once you beat one, and advance to a new one, it would be great if you could leave the game and come back, starting with the new one. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and, if you can’t score 500,000 points in a level, to make it to the lowest spot on the in-game leaderboard you won’t have unlocked the levels once you leave the game. A total bummer, but it really does encourage you to go back and play better.
Overall, “BIT.TRIP BEAT” accomplishes its mission, “to make a game that used the tools of today to inspire the fun of yesterday,” quite well, and, as an added bonus, at an affordable price of 600 WIi Points. The price also makes it pretty easy to overlook some of the game’s shortcomings. This is one WiiWare title that comes with fresh gameplay, an awesome soundtrack, and some stunning, yet possibly seizure enduing graphics, and if you’re up for the challenge you should definitely download, what will hopefully be, the first entry into a long “BIT.TRIP” series.
“Bit.Trip BEAT” was released for the Nintendo Wii, via WiiWare on March 16th, 2009.