Gaijin Games has graced Nintendo gamers with their BIT.TRIP series of games, where players embark on a touching journey over the course of an individual's lifetime, as represented by the protagonist, CommanderVideo, with simple gameplay concepts that are easy to understand but very difficult to master.
Mock box art made by Gaijin Games
The first in the series, Beat, indeed has a very simple concept. You move a paddle (represented by a simple straight line), located on the left side of the screen (and fixed along a vertical axis), as you bounce off 'beats' (represented by small pixel squares) zooming in from the right side of the screen going to the left. If you miss too many beats, then it's Game Over, and you have to start all over from the beginning of the level.
The entire BIT.TRIP series is seemingly one big loving tribute to the games of the past: the paddle brings to mind one of the earliest video games ever created, Pong, and the simplistic graphics, 'blips' and 'bloops' in the sound harken back to the early days of gaming (before the NES, back in the early Atari era).
The simplicity carries over to the control scheme, which very effectively utilizes the Wii remote's motion sensor as you tilt the control, giving you a smooth, quick, and precise response on positioning the paddle exactly where you want it. No buttons required! (Buttons are optional, as they allow you to add a bit of 'freestyle' to the music by making different sounds.)
If this were all there were to the game, the game would be a novelty, and nothing more. What makes this game so appealing, enduring, and will bring you back over and over again is the creative (and genius) way the gameplay is combined with the music to create a game genre that more closely resembles music 'rhythm' games. Every 'beat' you hit using the paddle is actually another sound note on top of the background music. This actually occurs in two ways: First there's a note played as the beat hits your paddle, then another note as the beat hits the right side of the screen. What's amazing is the way your actions line up or sync with the sound and music. On top of it all, the Wii remote rumbles along with the beat, giving you a little bit of guidance.
And you will play this game many times if you ever hope to see the ending or even the final stage (there are 'only' three levels, though each is fairly long); the game's challenge is very high and can be a major turn-off for many gamers. Very quickly, the game starts throwing all different kinds of beats your way, and you will most certainly fail several times until you understand the rhythm of the beats, and where you should be positioned. Adding to the game's absurd difficulty is the fact the three stages are rather long, with no checkpoints to provide relief. No matter at what point in the level you fail, you will always have to start the level from the very beginning. You do have a life meter that slowly depletes as you miss more and more beats, but you can recover by creating long chains of 'no misses', which is the only way you'll ever obtain the highest scores possible through the use of score multipliers.
As with the other BIT.TRIP games, Beat is about finding order among chaos. What I find amazing is that as chaotic as the game gets, there is still some underlying pattern; like a song, you will have a repeating melody that you can adjust to. The beats may have different patterns, but many times they end up where you expect them to, based on the music alone. Chaos occurs when you are juggling all the different kinds of beats and start to feel overwhelmed. But if you get into the rhythm and start to understand the patterns of each beat type, you start to get 'in the zone', and your hands start to react naturally, making the small movements necessary to keep up with the craziness.
GIF courtesy of wikipedia.org
Something I really appreciate about the graphics and sound is the way the levels transform as you play better. You start off in 'Hyper Mode', then you upgrade to 'Mega' if you play well enough. In this mode, more music and color is added, as a way to reward you for the hard work and dedication. Again, this only adds to the visual chaos of background graphics and may make it a bit difficult to discern certain beats.
And what exactly is going on in the backgrounds? It's all part of the CommanderVideo story that is slowly revealed as you play the entire BIT.TRIP series. In fact, I find this to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the BIT.TRIP games: that there is a deeper story line than meets the eye, and one that players can easily miss because it's not explicitly stated but rather implied through very brief and simple cut scenes, and through the background imagery as you progress through the game's three levels. To truly appreciate what is happening and what everything means, I highly recommend playing all six games and checking out the story analysis for the entire series.
The game's difficulty comes from its intent to confuse the player by throwing as may different kinds of beats possible, each with its own unique pattern and behavior. You can quickly identify them by their color. For example, you start off with plain orange beats that move in a perfectly straight horizontal line at a constant speed. There are teal beats that move horizontally, then vertically, stopping repeatedly and leaving you guessing when they will strike. Purple beats come at you in large groups in a wave pattern, green beats will pulsate on and off making them difficult to see, and so forth. Mix these all together, and you can see why this game is a beast of a challenge!
For a game so short yet so challenging, you will find high replay value in going for the high score. Unfortunately the original WiiWare release does not have online leaderboards, so remedy this situation by picking up the Wii compilation BIT.TRIP Complete, which in addition to online leaderboards also features extra challenges and bonus material.
BIT.TRIP Beat is a game that hardcore gamers should be sure not to miss. The game is not for everyone, but give it a chance, and let it grow on you, like it did for me. There's a great satisfaction once the game 'clicks' for you, once you know what is happening and what the rhythm is. Embark on your own BIT.TRIP; this game is the first step!
I love BEAT! On some level I think FLUX outdid it, but BEAT was first and will remain in my heart. I played the hell out of BEAT, whereas FLUX I kind of finished, replayed once or twice, and was done. Although I never did finish the last stage in BEAT...
I still want COMPLETE though, will give me a reason to revisit all of these games.
This was an excellent review @roykoopa64. I didn't even know this series had a story. It also seems to be one of those games where you have to go into "Zen Mode" in order to be able to play it properly.