Bit. Trip Saga


Written by James Read
19 Monday 19th March 2012

Bit. Trip Beat

First up is Bit. Trip Beat – the game that led the series, and still probably the most popular. Beat is an insane blend of Breakout and Pong, casting you as a paddle affixed to the lefthand side of the screen, moving vertically to ‘catch’ beats. The sequences are initially simple, but quickly become convoluted and overlapping. The more you catch, the bigger your combo – eventually sending you into a colourful ‘Mega’, and later ‘Multi+’ mode. Equally, the more you miss, the closer you fall towards the limbo-like monochrome ‘Nether’ mode (AKA panic). This harsh but rewarding scoring system is shared by most of the other Bit. Trip games (if it ain’t broke…).

On the 3DS the stylus controls seem more accurate than the analog stick, which are in turn both probably an improvement on the original Wii tilt controls (which are omitted here, ignoring the 3DS’s inbuilt gyroscope). Beat is simple but delightful, with a wonderfully simple and intuitive core idea and enough variation to keep every shred of your concentration focussed on returning the game’s volleys (and none on remembering to look out for your Tube stop). As becomes a theme with the Bit. Trip series, it is unrelenting to the point of requiring eye drops in later levels.

Bit Trip. Core

Core is a weird kind of rhythm game set against an X-Y graph. Beats approach each of the four ‘arms’ extending from a cross in the centre, and you have to press the corresponding direction on the d-pad while hitting ‘A’ as each ‘beat’ crosses the line. Perhaps it’s the two-button control system, but something about this does not compute with my brain on any intuitive level (as far as I could see, mapping the four lines to the A, B, X and Y buttons would’ve serviced equally). With a poor grasp on the controls, Core has such a steep learning curve that it left me befuddled and upset. I’m normally into music games, but I’ve never quite managed to get my head round them on the DS platform (Elite Beat Agents left me equally all thumbs), so perhaps this is just me.

Bit. Trip Runner

Runner has you sprinting unstoppably towards the goal, and tasks you with dodging or destroying any obstacles in your path. It is the most rounded game in the traditional sense, with dozens of independent levels and bonus gold to collect (the completion of which rewards with super-stripped down 3D-free bonus levels). Runner is not a hugely innovative game, but it’s certainly enjoyable – perhaps even my favourite. The addition of kicks, crouches and springs as well as jumps pushes it beyond its kindred Canabalt in variety, if not arguably style.

Bit. Trip Fate

Fate takes shape of manic side-scrolling space shooter on rails. Your bullets don't really feel like they have any impact, which only contributes to the feeling of fighting overwhelming over the odds. Once you get deeper, it's actually one of the easier Bit. Trip games, the stylus controls being a very natural fit for this ‘bullet hell’ shooter. Throughout most of the game it’s relatively easy to stay alive, but come boss time it does become fairly taxing trying to dodge bullets from the constrains of the rollercoaster tracks along which you must move.

Void is a weird one – this time you can move freely around the screen and need to grab some of the beats (the black ones) while avoiding others (the white ones). The catch is, the more beats you eat, the fatter you get – making it harder to dodge. Luckily you can ‘deflate’ with the tap of a button, taking you back to your initial svelte form. Similar to Fate, the bullet-dodging makes things very visually overwhelming, but as long as you can find a tiny gap within the onslaught, you can cling to your precious combo.

Rounding out the compilation is Flux, which is very similar to Beat, but in reverse. As an original release this was a nice bit of fan-service for Bit.Trippers that had enjoyed the series in release order. As a newcomer, the games feel a little too similar to really warrant the inclusion of both for anything but completion’s sake.

It must be a godsend to indie designers that ultra low-resolution graphics have become a cool aesthetic in the last few years. Hours less time making fancy textures, and less performance-boosting code to keep frame-rates up. But it does seem a little counter-intuitive to Nintendo’s 3DS platform – the selling points of which are its uniquely 3D graphics (which Bit. Trip makes scant use of), and its increased processing power. Still, maybe that’s a sign that Nintendo’s newest handheld is finally reaching maturity, with a fresh audience worthy of porting cult titles over to.

Though more probably could’ve been made of the 3DS’s depth effects (to separate the background from the playfield for example), the touchscreen and analog-stick controls are a perfect fit for many of the games. And really, these kind of casual yet addictive high-score challenge games are made for portable formats, so it’s not like much adaptation was really needed.

Bit. Trip Saga is out now for the 3DS, and Bit. Trip Complete is also available on the Wii

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