Developer: Gaijin Games
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Available on: Nintendo Wii Only
Gaijin Games have only been in existence for a handful of years, but already their output has seen them mentioned in the same breath as the Grand Vizier of spectacular rhythm/visual mind melds, Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Their distinctive style and indie values evoke comparisons with the likes of Jeff Minter or Cave Story creator, Pixel.
Six games into their careers, Alex Neuse and his team have received nothing but acclaim for their magical fusion of pulsating, tripped out gameplay, 2600 throwback graphics and innovative chiptunes. Which is why a compilation, collecting their stellar Bit.Trip WiiWare titles is a big deal and something we here at GodisaGeek have been very excited about. Lucky American 3DS and Wii owners have had the pleasure of enjoying this compilation since September 2011, but now we punters in the Eurozone have the pleasure of experiencing the entire Bit.Trip series in one tantalising package courtesy of the always excellent Rising Star Games. We already know that the six Gaijin games are stunners, but how does this Wii package pan out?
The most obvious touchstone and inspiration for the first game in this collection, Beat, is the classic title that for many older gamers was the first videogame they ever experienced in the comfort of their own home. I am talking of course about Pong. Using a horizontally clasped WiiMote, you tilt forwards or backwards to control a paddle on one side of the screen, with the aim being to repel a series of dots that approach from the other end of the playing field. Each time your paddle connects with a dot, a musical note chimes out, and hitting them all in order creates an additional tune that overlays the already excellent old-school music that serves as the backdrop to the game. The dots form swirling, trippy waves and come at you en-masse rather than just concentrating on the one solitary ball of the antiquated classic that inspired it. The motion controls work very well, with the action controlled via simple movements as you become immersed in the spectacular audio-visual treat unfolding before your eyes and ears. As an introduction to their oeuvre, Bit.Trip.Beat is a cracker.
The second game in this compendium, Core, is similarly influenced by an Atari relic from yesteryear, this time around the lesser known shooter Cosmic Ark. Core involves using the D-Pad to take control of a cross-shaped “core” which can fire laser beams in four directions at dots which approach and are known as “beats”. Like Beat, shooting the dots creates additional musical notes and after a few minutes play you realise just how much the gameplay owes to something like Guitar Hero or Amplitude, with the four directions representative of the buttons used to carve out axe licks or disappear into Amplitude’s stellar electronica mish mash. Failure to successfully shoot down the dots results in an ominous bar filling up, and when this brims over, the colourful, musical-driven display suddenly reverts to a drab black and white silence. This jarring mechanic reminds me of how failure in PS1 classic Vib Ribbon results in your character devolving, and the only way to get things back to how they were before is to improve your performance, and pronto.
Bit.Trip.Void is best described as a take on the Japanese bullet-hell style, and involves piloting a black “void” around the screen, absorbing black dots whilst avoiding white ones. The void, which you control using the nunchuck, will grow and grow, and although at intervals you are granted the ability to repel the white dots, eventually you become too large to avoid them. Happily you can shrink it back down to the usual size using a button press, at the expense of losing your current chain combo. Whilst Void is less musically driven that the other Bit.Trip games, this still has a driving score courtesy of chiptune Godhead Nullsleep, and evokes memories of other black and white themed games, most notably Treasure’s work of art Ikaruga.
Perhaps the most modern-looking game of the sextuplet, Runner places the black and white series protagonist Commander Video in a platform adventure that once again uses the in-game action to influence the brilliant sonic architecture. You are tasked with inputting a series of different commands – such as jump, slide and kick – to traverse the landscape and destroy the enemies within it, as Commander Video attempts to beat the 36 short, thrilling but very difficult levels, split across three worlds. Correctly inputting commands results in score multipliers which in turn influence the complexity and lushness of the soundtrack. It is one of the most entertaining things I have ever played.
The penultimate game, Bit.Trip.Fate, is a sublime marriage of Robotron-style controls and rail/grid based shooting. Using the Nunchuck to move Commander Video along a fixed but constantly shape-shifting route, with the WiiMote’s pointer to guide a constant stream of bullets at enemies that approach from all directions, Fate is perhaps the most conventional game in the package, with the most irritating difficulty spikes.
Rounding things off is the excellent Flux, which takes the mechanics from Beat, switches things around (the paddle is now on the opposite side of the screen) adds some dots which behave differently and nasty blobs which you now have to avoid, adds more palatable checkpoints, and turns things up a notch to create a dazzlingly fresh spin on the Pong-on-roids stunner.
VERDICT: Six stunning games, all playable with a selection of new difficulty settings, all on one disc, at an incredible pricepoint, this should be all you need to know when considering whether or not to pick this game up. Originality is something that should always be praised and cherished, and in that sense the games included on this disc are right up there with the likes of Geometry Wars and Pac Man Championship Edition DX when it comes to taking a retro idea and transporting it right back into the here and now.
Don’t expect to smash these games quickly and with impunity – they are hard-core, nails-tough experiences that will at times frustrate, but then so was Rez. So was Every Extend Extra, so is Lumines, and quite frankly this package deserves to sit right alongside those legendary games I have compared them to.