Bit. Trip Saga Review
Nintendo 3DSAlso available on Nintendo Wii
It’s a shame that Nintendo’s WiiWare service has been largely overlooked by many gamers. Of course the restraints of the system meant that many of the more ambitious indie games never made it across to the system, but that doesn’t mean there isn'’t anything worth buying. There are some excellent little titles available such as Lost Winds, Fluidity and World of Goo. The Bit. Trip series originated on the Wii’s digital distribution service and has become something of a cult hit, with ports of the games appearing on Steam and iOS devices. All six titles released since 2009 have now been repackaged onto one cartridge for those who perhaps missed out on them first time around, both for the Wii and now the 3DS with Bit. Trip Saga.
For the uninitiated, Bit. Trip is a series of titles spanning various old-school genres that all share a common motif of eighties retro style and rhythm based gameplay. The story of the series follows Commander Video, the series mascot, as he goes on a rather abstract journey throughout the six games. Each game does open with a cutscene of sorts, but they aren’t particularly helpful or even essential to enjoy the game. Fortunately, these impenetrable sequences can be skipped over to get straight to playing the game.
The first game, Bit. Trip Beat, is best described as a fusion between Pong and Guitar Hero. You control a paddle on the left hand edge of the screen in order to bat away the incoming ‘beats’. Each successful reflection adds to the soundtrack, allowing the player to get acquainted with the overall rhythm and flow of the game. The aim is to get as high a score as possible, with each successive beat hit adding to a score multiplier, and each miss adding to the Nether gauge which if filled gives the player a last attempt to get their score up again before it’s truly game over.
Bit. Trip Core is by far the least engaging of the series. Controlling a core in the centre of the screen, you once again have to stop beats from crossing past the four crossover points by pressing both a direction on the D-pad and the A button. The game can get quite confusing as various beats come in from every direction and requires a much larger amount of patience to get into the flow of the game in comparison with the rest of the series, which can be picked up and played quite easily.
With Bit. Trip Void there is a little more complexity with the scoring system. Controlling the void, you must absorb the black beats while avoiding the white ones. As you collect the black ones, the void continues to grow, making it basically impossible to avoid the white ones, which will eliminate the built up score and revert the void to its original size. In order to retain the built up score, there is the ability to collapse the void although this comes at the cost of losing any multipliers already gained. This risk and reward approach makes this entry unique among the other more basic scoring systems found in the rest of the series.
The most famous entry of the series, Bit. Trip Runner, is also its most immediately accessible. The Commander runs along each stage at a set speed, gradually adding the ability to jump, duck, kick and block his way through the game. Although it might sound like a departure from the beat-based gameplay of prior entries there is still a flow to how the platforming and evasion elements come together. Runner is arguably the most replayable entry due to the much larger amount of stages to run through as well as the bonus challenges for collecting all of the gold in each level.
Returning as the playable character for the second and final time, Commander Video takes on the rail-shooter with Bit. Trip Fate. The player is allowed to move along a predetermined path whilst using the stylus to aim and blast away at incoming enemies. Like with Runner before it, the game is more immediately accessible to those unfamiliar with the series, although the challenge is more difficult due to the stylus controls in conjunction with moving along the path.
Returning to the series’ roots, Bit. Trip Flux is essentially the same game as the original title, Beat. Playing on the right hand side instead, the major difference between this and the original is the new checkpointing system employed. There is also an increase in the amount of levels to play through, and the scoring system has been expanded to offer even more ridiculous multipliers as the challenge ramps up.
What makes the Bit. Trip series so enjoyable to play is the overall presentation. The core visuals are as basic as they come, taking inspiration from the earliest black-and-white games of the Atari era. The reductive approach to the visuals places a greater emphasis on the gameplay and soundtrack, the two most distinctive aspects of the series. Getting into the rhythm of each game is the key to success as the challenges come with a specific beat. Successful actions in each game, whether it be jumping over obstacles in Runner or knocking back beats in the original, adds a new layer of sound onto the soundtrack. The infectious music is as much a propeller for the gameplay as the multiplying scoring systems in place and hitting every beat perfectly is an immensely satisfying experience.
Whilst the games are very short, and do leave you wanting more, there is a lot of replay value with the emphasis placed on getting a higher score in each game. However, it’s a shame that the extra features included with Bit. Trip Complete for the Wii last year have not been included for the 3DS compilation. There are no extra levels or difficulty settings, but most puzzling is the lack of even the on-line leaderboards for a game in which scoring high is so heavily emphasised. Another feature from many of the original Wii versions of the games missing is the multiplayer support. The lack of an online multiplayer is understandable, but there's no option for local play either which is a little disappointing.
For the most part, the ports have translated very well to the 3DS control set-up. Although the circle pad feels quite unresponsive for Beat and Flux, using the stylus and touch screen give an incredible amount of precision for sliding the bat up and down. The only game I had an issue with was with Fate, as being left-handed I found it quite difficult to use both the circle pad and the stylus at the same time, and unfortunately there’s no way to re-map the movement to the ABXY buttons on the opposite side of the system.
Unfortunately Bit. Trip Runner does suffer from quite frequent frame-rate drops, even without the 3D effect of the console activated. Although not game breaking by any means, it is a little disappointing considering much more technically ambitious titles don’t feature any issues on the console. The other titles all appeared to run a lot smoother during my time playing them, however the 3D effect isn’t really utilized to any great effect.
For those who haven’t played the games before, Bit. Trip Saga is well worth getting. For the most part the games have translated well to the 3DS and I’m sure many will be very pleasantly surprised with the majority of the series. Beyond having the same games on a different console, there isn’t any real reason for those who own Bit. Trip Complete on the Wii to get the game for the 3DS as all the extra content from that compilation is strangely absent. The charming retro stylings and addictive score-based gameplay will demand multiple playthroughs for those who are up for the challenge on offer. The lack of extras is a disappointment, but the games on offer as part of the collection are some of the most addictive indie games of recent years.