Beat. Core. Void. Runner. Fate. Flux. The six games in the Bit.Trip series may sound like word salad to the uninitiated, but over the past two and a half years, these games have charted a unique course on the Wii Shop Channel. Each downloadable entry featured a different strain of simple gameplay that quickly grew into complexity to present a formidable challenge. These diverse challenges were bound together by an artful 8-bit aesthetic and dynamic soundtracks that intertwined with your actions to create an engrossing musical experience. Now all six games have migrated to the 3DS in Bit.Trip Saga and found a natural home. The new stylus controls afford a greater degree of control than the Wii Remote in certain games, and while the 3D effect is a liability more often than an asset, the 2D visuals thrive on the small, vivid screen. Though Saga lacks the enriching new features of its Wii counterpart, Bit.Trip Complete, it is still a great compilation of an inventive and engaging series.
The saga begins with Bit.Trip Beat. By sliding the stylus up and down, you move a paddle along the left side of the top screen. The goal is to bounce the projectiles that come at you back to the other side of the screen, sort of like an intense Pong practice session. Things start off simply, but you soon encounter increasingly tricky patterns and trajectories that force you to deftly maneuver the stylus (the optional circle pad is far too touchy). Fortunately, the paddle responds with alacrity, giving you the precision you need to push further into the game's three levels. Each projectile that hits your paddle rings an electronic chime that melds into the soundtrack, and the complexity of the musical tones you hear gets richer or sparser depending on how well you are doing. Your actions help create the music you are hearing, and this intertwining draws you deeper into the experience of playing the game. This engrossing audio dynamic is a hallmark of the Bit.Trip series that remains consistent throughout the varied electronic soundtracks of each game.
In Bit.Trip Core, you put away the stylus and focus on the directional pad. Once again, projectiles fly into the screen in increasingly complex patterns and trajectories, only this time, you aim in one of four directions and tap a button to fire a laser and eliminate them. Like in Beat, the projectiles in Core can get very tough to predict, and you may find yourself stymied by strange and seemingly unmanageable patterns. If you miss too many, the screen turns black and white, and the audio drops away, leaving you on the brink of failure. This purgatory features in every other game as well (except for Runner), and it can be initially disorienting. If you do well in this state, you can regain the colors and music that make the game so visually appealing, but the Bit.Trip games are not easy. Sharp eyes and quick reflexes will serve you well, but you'll likely need some trial and error to help you along. Familiarizing yourself with patterns and tuning in to the musical rhythm can help you succeed, and when you pass a level that has been giving you trouble, it's a satisfying triumph.
Bit.Trip Void is the third game in the series and the one that affords you the greatest freedom of movement. Using the circle pad, you must steer a black sphere around the screen, grabbing the black bits that come your way but avoiding the white bits. The more bits you absorb, the bigger your sphere grows. The bigger your sphere, the better your score, but you frequently have to downgrade to your original size by pressing a button so that your sphere can maneuver past the white bits. This risk-reward mechanic gives Void an appeal that is unique among the other games in the series, despite its relatively muted visuals. Where the other games are a riot of blocky, geometric colors, Void opts for more subdued backgrounds.
Bit.Trip Runner, however, takes the colorful approach. In this kinetic platformer, you control the enigmatic Commander Video. If you've played the games in order, by now you've seen this fellow featured in the inscrutable cutscenes that attempt to give each game some context in the arc of the series. You may be put off by their weirdness or intrigued by their abstract symbolism, but the Bit.Trip series is more about experience than narrative. In Runner, Commander Video runs through each stage without stopping, and it's up to you to use the D-pad and face buttons to make him jump, slide, kick, spring, and block to avoid obstacles. Strategically placed gold bars give you a scoring incentive and challenge you to make some daring moves--moves that you have to repeat if you want to see this game through to its conclusion. The Bit.Trip games can get very challenging, and you should expect to fail numerous times before you succeed. Runner is one of the most fail-friendly games in the series; if you hit an obstacle, the game whisks you back to the beginning of the level without even interrupting the soundtrack.
Commander Video is once again the star of the show in Bit.Trip Fate as he travels along a rail and shoots to vanquish enemies and obstacles alike. You control his position on the rail with the circle pad and touch the stylus to the screen to aim and fire. Threading your way through a shower of enemy projectiles gives you the feeling of living dangerously, and a few of Commander Video's friends occasionally join in the fun to power up your weapons. The more enemies you destroy, the higher your score, but don't expect to flaunt your skills to the world. Bit.Trip Saga features only local leaderboards, so unless you're passing the system to other players, your only competition is yourself (and the pre-populated scores).
The final game in the series is Bit.Trip Flux, which brings the experience back full circle. Flux plays the same as Beat, albeit with the paddle on the right side of the screen instead of the left. There are new patterns to contend with and new obstacles to avoid, as well as slick backgrounds that have evolved a long way since the first game in the series. Using the 3D effect does give the backgrounds a nice sense of depth, but it creates some problems from a gameplay perspective. If you let the system slip ever so slightly in your hands, which is easy to do in the 10-plus minutes it can take to beat a level, the 3D image weakens, and projectiles get harder to see. The sense of depth also lessens the stark contrast between obstacle and background, so given the precision that Bit.Trip demands, it's much better to play with the 3D effect turned off. Fortunately, the visuals have a sharp sense of contrast and color that looks great on the 3DS screen.
Though each individual game is distinct, they are all banded together by vibrant visuals that evoke the era of 8-bit gaming. The dynamic soundtracks share a similar retro aesthetic, each changing and evolving along with your gameplay and providing an absorbing and enriching musical experience. Bit.Trip Saga doesn't come with any bells and whistles, but these six games thrive on the new platform. The stylus controls are a notable improvement in Beat and Flux, though headphones are recommended if you want to get the most out of the excellent soundtracks. Bit.Trip Saga deftly brings this diverse and delightful series together on a new platform, giving 3DS owners a great way to experience these unique games.