Review: The Bit.Trip
I can’t seem to wrap my head around my feelings for The Bit.Trip. For one, I absolutely adored 2013’s Runner2. I’ve also wanted to play the earlier games in the series for quite some time now. Having them bundled and released on my preferred platform(s) was a dream come true. The dream, however, didn’t last long before feelings of frustration and confusion hijacked my excitement and tossed it out of a helicopter. I now stand before you a man who can’t recommend the seemingly incredible value that is The Bit.Trip on PSN. I’m not sure how this happened, but maybe we can figure it out together.
This is a collection of six high score rhythm mini-games that have all released one time or another on Steam and/or Wii. I was excited to play through this one seeing as how I’m a big fan of Runner2 and not a fan at all of playing games on my PC or Wii. (Nothing against those consoles, I just don’t have the time to play on every platform.) Each of the games has a simple control scheme and a simple objective. Most of the games are abstractly presented, which I dig. There are short, wordless cinematics that feature the titular CommanderVideo and pals in bizarre, almost tribal meetings. Again, that’s cool; I like that. It’s when I started playing the games that I found myself unpleasantly surprised.
The first game, Beat, is a Pong type game. You move a paddle up and down to reflect pellets that bombard the left side of the screen in rhythmic sequence. On the PS4, you tilt the DualShock4 toward and away from you to move the paddle down and up, respectively. It is a bit shaky, but my main complaint with this control scheme is that there is no button to recalibrate what’s neutral, so to speak. I was lounging on the couch when I started, which led to the lightbar facing up as a neutral state. To swing the paddle down, then, I had to practically tilt the controller upside down towards myself. The levels ramp up in intensity over time, so at one point I repositioned myself to get in the zone. The controller still had to stay in the now uncomfortable position for me to play the game. I don’t understand why something as simple as a recalibrate button wasn’t implemented. In order to adjust the way the game reads the motion controls, you have to back out of the game to the menu then start it up again. On the Vita, Beat suffers from some choppiness when there are several squares on the screen. Also, the system goes to sleep if you don’t press a button or change the system settings before playing. Again, I’m not sure how that wasn’t assessed during testing. The game itself is tough but decently fun. I really wish there was an alternate control scheme (like, say, the analogue stick?).
Core is better than Beat, probably because you press buttons to play it. You control a cross in the center of the screen. As pellets stream across the top, left, right, and bottom of the screen, you hold the given direction and press X to zap them. The game works well, but the musical beat and patterns are sometimes difficult to pick up. Once diagonal-moving blips and other varied dots start infiltrating, it gets real tough, real fast. Even on Easy mode, I had a tough time staying afloat in some of the later sections.
Void is cool. It’s very similar to Minutes, the circle-growing arcade game that released in early 2015. In Void, you control a ball that grows when it eats black dots. The dots stream onto the screen in shmup-like patterns, making it nearly a puzzle game in figuring out how to collect ’em all. If you hit a white dot, your ball pops to its original size and your multiplier drops down a level. The twist here is that you can also trigger the pop by pressing a button. Now there’s a balancing act between collecting, growing, scoring, and trimming down. This is perhaps my favorite game of the bunch.
In Runner, I was annoyed to find that the background gets in the way a lot. I love the surrealist, wacky world of the Bit.Trip games. Voxellated frogs diving into rivers in the background then jumping over the foreground fit in just fine as a world-building element. They are a real distraction, however, when you’re trying to jump, duck, block, and/or kick obstacles that are swarming towards you. It’s worth noting that the backgrounds chug on the Vita, an extra detractor from the main event that is otherwise a solid rhythm runner. The most fun I had in Runner is with the bonus stages that are purposefully stripped down to look like an Atari game. There’s nothing on screen to detract from the precise rhythm platforming gameplay. Here’s the rub, though: you can’t exclusively select the bonus levels, even if you’ve unlocked them. You have to play through an entire level first. I’m all for perfect runs and trial-and-error gameplay. That being said, there should be an option to play the retro levels if you’re not up for an exercise in memorization.
Fate is really interesting because it’s a side-scrolling shmup on rails. Well, on rail. There’s a line that curves from the left side of the screen to the right, and you play as a CommanderVideo who can only ever be on said rail. Bullets and lazers and enemies are darting at you in typical shmup fashion, but now you don’t have full control over your movement. I enjoyed playing Fate but wish it were either altogether faster or had a button to speed up the scrolling a bit.
The last game in the collection, Flux, is a Pong type game. This time around, you’re on the right side of the screen. I feel the same way about Flux as I do about Beat: Perhaps a different control scheme would make this game more playable.
Overall, the segments in the games are lengthy besides for in Runner and it’s a pain to restart from the beginning if you die. I don’t think the precision that a rhythm game demands is conducive to motion controls. The load times in general are lengthier on Vita. Not unbearable, but not swift either. I may keep The Bit.Trip on my Vita for train rides, but I don’t see myself revisiting it on PS4 or PS3. I would much rather play Runner2.
A copy of this game was provided for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Sound design.
- Minimalist/abstract graphics (in most games).
What I Dislike:
- Background interference.
- Frustrating motion controls.