Though the retro school of game design is much more prevalent in the indie scene, developer Gaijin Games might alter that perception a bit by bringing its new WiiWare game into the mainstream. Truly a sight to behold with its 8-bit-inspired art, audio, and action, Bit.Trip Beat's old-school sensibilities are meshed together with bullet-hell shoot-'em-up and hardcore rhythm game elements in a surprisingly cohesive way. The end result is a fun and exciting game that, though flawed and altogether too brief, is worth playing to anyone with a thirst for a challenging, music-based experience.
Though light on story, Bit.Trip Beat nonetheless tells the tale of a wandering space explorer's journey on the surface of an alien world--at least, that's what it seems like, considering the plot is wide open to interpretation. You interact with this simplistic story by manipulating a Pong-like paddle up and down the left side of the screen while deflecting fast-moving pixels called beats as they try to zoom by in a variety of ways. Each of the three levels is broken up into a series of segments, and by collecting the transition beats found at the end of each area, you gently nudge the narrative forward, drawing ever closer to one of the three exciting boss encounters. Bit.Trip Beat is controlled exclusively by holding a Wii Remote sideways and tilting it forward or backward to move your paddle up or down, and this simple and intuitive system not only works well but also feels natural.
Your addictive goal (besides surviving) is to drive up the score as much as possible, which is done by hitting as many beats as you can in a row to keep up a high combo chain. Successfully blocking beats is that it also fills up your mega meter, which in turn boosts your score multiplier every time it's maxed out. Missing a beat breaks your combo and contributes to your nether meter. When you fill this meter, you'll lose a level off of your multiplier. Fill it too many times and you'll be plunged into a minimalist black and white purgatory with no music to comfort you. If you fail there, it's game over, but fill your mega meter and you're sent back to the world of Technicolor and high-fidelity audio where you can continue boosting your score to new heights. Given Bit.Trip Beat's focus on high scores, it's a shame that online leaderboards--an obvious feature for this type of game--were not included, making it impossible within the game to share your achievements with anyone else.
Music plays a huge role in the experience, and every beat that you deflect contributes a note to the level's chiptune song; each segment transition that you make adds another layer of complexity onto its ever-evolving soundtrack. Your successes--and failures--help orchestrate the tracks, which turns the game into a sort of collaborative project between the levels themselves and you. This is even more evident during multiplayer, which can be started up at any time by turning on up to three additional Wii Remotes synched to your system (though the game doesn't really ever tell you this). Even when there are multiple paddles onscreen, there's still only the one shared score, and so it becomes an entirely cooperative experience that relies on teamwork to move on. Paddles pass right through one another, and so players need to really sync up to make sure that everything's covered.
Though there are only three levels, each lasts around 15 minutes, which is just about the right amount of time because the intense, eye-popping visuals and gameplay would fatigue both your eyes and your mind if you were to go on for too much longer. Unfortunately, you have to unlock the latter two levels by completing the one previous to it, and unless you make it onto that level's scoreboard, your progress will be erased when you turn off your system. This design choice is certainly a bit draconian, but what's really insidious is that this is never explained to you, so you could mistakenly believe that you always had to pass the first level in order to play the second. Regardless of this issue, the difficulty ramps up considerably, and you'll likely find yourself replaying levels multiple times anyway before you're able to figure out their patterns and move on.
Despite some bizarre setbacks, Bit.Trip Beat is a fantastically fun game that challenges your hand-eye coordination and pattern-recognition skills to the extreme, all while dazzling you with its bright, retro visuals. Though it's an all-too-brief experience and suffers from some debilitating quirks, its fun and addictive gameplay, catchy tunes, and captivating visuals make Bit.Trip Beat a decent value at only 600 Wii Points.