Bit.Trip Beat (WiiWare)Developer: Gaijin Games
Publisher: Aksys Games
Date Released: March 16, 2009 (USA)
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Retro gaming has definitely become more prominent in the last few years, with remakes of classic games like Bionic Commando Rearmed and whole new games with a retro styles such as Mega Man 9 or Retro Game Challenge paying off for developers by appealing to the old school gamers with their nostalgic gameplay and/or visuals and audio. While Space Invaders has been remade in Space Invaders Extreme, it's a bit surprising the granddaddy of all gaming, Pong has yet to see a remake with such a caliber of flashy visuals and nostalgic fun. But the first game of the Bit.Trip series is here, titled Bit.Trip Beat and while not exactly a sequel or remake of Pong, you can sure tell it's been heavily influenced by the game.
Much like Space Invaders Extreme is a lot like the original game on drugs with it's flashy graphics and hectic shooting fun, Bit.Trip Beat is a lot like Pong knocked up with a whole lot of illegal substances doing some crazy things (gameplay-wise). But this doesn't describe the game well enough, seeing as there's actually a lot more to it than the basic game of Pong.
The basics of Bit.Trip Beat involve you controlling a paddle on the left of the screen, and instead of another player on the right, a constant stream of different colored and different choreographed pixels known as beats that you must repel back. All of this is done with some of the simplest controls in gaming. Holding the Wii remote on its side and tilting forward and back controls your paddled seamlessly. It might take a little while to adjust, but once you get a hang of it, you'll be deflecting beats easily. While this may turn some people off, without D-pad control and all, I can say that this way works brilliantly, mimics the old-school paddle, and in the end is much faster than digital input. No other buttons are used other than 2 for menu selection. Though in game all the buttons on the Wii remote respond with different chiptune bleeps and bloops that are purely for fun and in no way affect the main game.
Deflecting little bouncing/flying pixels may not seem hard, but after playing this game I'm sure you'll be thinking exactly the opposite. Where the game really ramps up in difficulty is in the different types of beats (Pong balls) that fly across the screen at you. At first just basic yellow blocks that fly towards you are all you have to deflect, which is relatively easy. But from then on more and more beats are thrown at you with increasingly difficult patterns and speeds that certainly doesn't add up to a cake walk. There's such a variety of beats that even when nearing the end of the game newer ones are still blasting towards your paddle; there's fast beats, hesitating beats, beats linked together, beats that bounce off the walls: the list goes on and on.
Other than normal (relatively speaking of course) beats that all you have to deflect, there's certain power-up beats that can grow, shrink, freeze, or duplicate your paddle. Some are good while others are bad so you have the option of skipping them by merely not hitting them, but as all other beats it will still count against you. Count against you how? In the game, while playing, you'll notice two meters, the Mega and Nether, located on the top and bottom respectively. Fill the Mega meter by continually hitting beats back and you'll be transported to Mega mode with flashier graphics, more dynamic music, and the chance to get even higher scores by racking up the combos (think of it somewhat like Star Power in Guitar Hero). Miss too many in this and your back to the normal mode. In this one, miss too many and you're sent to Nether mode which is black and white, totally devoid of music and rhythm (other than the single monotonous sound that comes out of the Wii remote speaker replacing the normal beeps and boops), and very reminiscent of the original 70's Pong game. As you might have guessed missing too many beats in Nether mode and its game over for you.
At the end of each stage you face off with a boss that are one of the more memorable experiences of each level. Each stage's end level boss is different from the last, and I don't want to ruin anything, but they're very much inspired by Pong and Pong-like titles such as Breakout. Also included in the overall package is 4-player co-op which is a lot of fun to play with a friend. It does get harder the more players you add, as paddles become increasingly smaller with each new player. However, it's not all well: the different paddles differentiate in color but aren't staggered position-wise, so there's a lot of confusing overlapping to be had that makes co-op a whole lot less fun than it should have been.
But deflecting beats and facing off against pixelated bosses is only half of Bit.Trip Beat, the other 50% is the presentation, namely the style of graphics and engaging music. The music and sounds of the game are quite the showpiece, as the game relies heavily on the musical rhythm. There's always a background beat that holds the game together in a musical sense. Each beat that you repel adds a sound to the ever growing soundtrack. It's a really impressive thing to see, hear and play. Along with the audio are the fantastically abstract backgrounds and very Atari 2600-esque pixel style. Everything from the in game objects to text that's barely legible with such big pixels screams mid- to late-70's gaming.
Probably the major complaint of Bit.Trip Beat would be the lack of lasting value. There's only three stages, each of which is about 12 to 15 minutes long. But don't let these number deceive you into thinking the game hardly lasts even an hour, it'll last you upwards of eight hours approximately to finish the game. The stages, mainly the second and third, are taxingly difficult and really stay true to the hardcore old-school by having you play them for hours and hours until mastering every beat pattern to complete them. I did find the stages to be a bit too long though, especially seeing how dying sends you back to the very beginning. All of this could've been solved by mid-way check points or even splitting the three stage in half into six smaller levels.
Another complaint I had with the game was how much went unexplained. The game does very little in teaching you anything. There's no tutorial mode, so you'll have to get a hang of it in the beginning of the first level. It also doesn't tell you that to keep a stage unlocked you have to get a high score in the previous one. I never had the problem, as you'll score somewhere in the high scores most of the time, but I'm sure it can get annoying to those who barely beat a level. Speaking of high scores, it's disappointing to see only local leaderboards. A game like this so centered around replaying stages to get higher combos and beat previous scores, it's unfortunate to not see online leaderboards.
Gaijin Games really nailed the whole retro-revival style both graphically and with the impressive music that coincides with the gameplay perfectly. Bit.Trip Beat's a whole lot of fun and is a really unique WiiWare game that's perfectly priced at $6. One of the better WiiWare games to date and comes with my highest recommendation.