Review | Bit.Trip Saga

December 29, 2012

 

Just this last week, Bit.Trip SAGA was released on the 3DS eShop for $15. This compilation of games in the Bit.Trip series has been released as a physical cartridge in the past, but as it has just been rereleased digitally and at a lower price point, we figured this was a good opportunity to review it!

 

The Bit.Trip series was originally released on WiiWare, and has since propagated to Steam, iOS, Android, 3DS, and even the Wii again. Bit.Trip SAGA, for the 3DS, has something the rest don’t have, however, in the form of 3D visuals. These are both a blessing and a curse, depending on which game in the set you’re playing.

 

As this is a compilation of six games, I will be going over each game individually, listing out each game’s merits and flaws, but before we split off for that, I’d like to point out the series’ defining characteristics. The entire Bit.Trip series is made up of very challenging rhythm games with a retro visual aesthetic and chiptune music that also evokes gaming’s past. You will not hear familiar tracks, but you will hear some nostalgic bleeps and bloops, infused with an energy many don’t think such noises can hold. And lastly, there is an overarching story between all the games, though it is very abstract and not necessarily easy to grasp without an explanation! Add in the fact that the games are very difficult and you’ll be missing portions of the story between the games if you don’t clear them, and many people may not get the chance to see the whole thing.

 

Please remember, however, that these games are hard. They’re meant to be hard. That difficulty is what keeps most people from finishing them in 30-60 minutes and then throwing them away; the challenge is a large part of the game. If you get frustrated easily, these games are probably not for you, but if you can appreciate a challenge, read on. Anyway, without further ado…

 

 

 

Bit.Trip BEAT

 

The first game in the series, Bit.Trip BEAT is very reminiscent of Pong, in that you control a paddle and have to try to prevent dots (called beats) from getting past you. That’s where the similarities end, however. Even from the first stage, you’ll get an idea of just how many beats are coming at you, and you’ll get a feel for the rhythm of the game.

 

As you play, you’ll notice that there are bars on the top and bottom of your screen, and they fill up as you hit beats or miss beats, respectively. The top bar, when filled, will transition you from the baseline “Hyper” mode into the “Mega” mode, where the visual effects and the music get a lot more energy added to them, and your score builds up faster to boot. Filling up the bar while in Mega mode will increase your score multiplier. If you should miss enough beats to fill up the lower bar, however, you will be transitioned down a mode, from Mega to Hyper, or from Hyper to “Nether.” Nether is the game’s way of telling you that you’re close to failure. It strips the music, along with all color, away from you until you either hit enough beats to return to Hyper or miss enough beats to reach game over. The lack of distracting backgrounds and the clear contrast between the white beats and black background can make it slightly easier to hit beats in this mode, but you’ll want to spend as little time in Nether as possible, for both your score and so that you can hear the wonderful background music the game sports.

 

On occasion you will find a white beat that’s got a trail made up of plus signs. These are often powerups required in order to hit all the beats that are coming, be it a larger paddle or a second paddle, but sometimes they end up being Challenges! Hit a Challenge beat, and your paddle will shrink down to a very small size, and you’ll have to hit the next several beats with that smaller paddle! You’ll get more points for this, but it makes an already-difficult game even harder! If you remember where each Challenge beat is, you can skip them, but it counts against you the same as missing any other beat.

 

Each stage is separated into several segments, with a series of rainbow-flashing beats signifying that the brief (and I do mean brief!) rest between two segments is imminent. If you hit all of these rainbow beats, then the background music will have another layer added to it for the next segment. Miss even one of them, however, and you’re doomed to hear the same background music you’ve been hearing. This can even become a hindrance to gameplay, as sometimes the beats follow the rhythm of the new layer of music!

Since the 3DS doesn’t use the Wii Remote, rather than tilting the system, control for this game is mapped to either the circle pad or the touch screen. While the circle pad does work, you’ll want to use the touch screen as it will give you more precise and quick control than does the circle pad, and you’ll definitely want precise and quick control when you’re going through the third and final stage!

 

Sadly, using 3D is not always a wise option in this game. There’s already a lot going on on-screen when you’re in Mega mode, and adding 3D into the mix can easily make everything far too chaotic and cause you to miss beats you otherwise wouldn’t.

 

All in all, however, Bit.Trip BEAT is widely regarded as one of the best games in the series, and this iteration is no exception. The menu and credits music provided by Bit Shifter is definitely worth listening to, as well!

 

 

 

Bit.Trip CORE

 

The second game in the series, Bit.Trip CORE ditches the paddle and instead gives you a plus-shaped device fixed in the middle of the screen. It also requires you to watch for beats coming not just from one side of the screen, but rather from all four! This makes it one of the hardest games in the series, but it’s worth persevering, as in my opinion it also has the best music!

 

Now, you may be wondering how you hit all these beats when you can’t move the thing you control. It’s quite simple, actually! You hold a direction on the D-Pad, and a ghostly gray line will extend in that direction all the way to the edge of the screen, showing where you can hit beats. Press the A button while holding that direction, and everything on that line will be instantly zapped with an orange laser. It’s your job to zap every beat as it passes! You only get one chance on most beats, as it is quite infrequent for them to cross the paths of two of these lines.

 

As with BEAT, CORE also has various modes. Nether, Hyper, and Mega all return, along with a new mode on top of Mega. In “Super” mode, the music and visual effects get pumped up even more, and so does your score, but you’ll be returned to Mega if you miss even a single beat! In addition to the meters for the modes, however, CORE also features another bar. Fill this one up, and you get a bomb, which can be used by pressing the B button to instantly destroy every single beat on the screen! Be careful, though, as bombs do not add to your chain and they also can completely destroy some beats which may be helpful in their own right.

 

CORE also has powerups, in the form of a multi-beam which lets you shoot opposite sides of the screen simultaneously, and an ultra-beam which allows you to zap every beat crossing a line just by holding that direction on the D-Pad, with no need to shoot. Challenges also make a return, this time rotating your plus-shaped device (and therefore also your controls) by 90 degrees, making things even more difficult.

Again, CORE has segmented stages, with the same requirement to hit all the rainbow beats in order to add to the music in the background. Thankfully, Core also has added a tracker to show which segment you’re on, which lets you know how far you’ve come and how far you still have to go!

Sadly, this game also makes a fairly strong case for not using the 3D. Again, there’s a lot going on at once, and on top of that the 3D seems to make some beats appear thinner or wider than they should be, which can result in a misfire.

 

For all its difficulty, Bit.Trip CORE is still easily worth your time. Enjoy the relaxing music from Bubblyfish for the menu and credits!

 

 

 

Bit.Trip VOID

 

Bit.Trip VOID does away with the restricted natures of the previous two games, and gives you a circular void to control, allowing you to maneuver around the entire screen using the circle pad! However, this freedom comes with a price: While you are tasked with collecting all the black beats before they leave the screen, you must also avoid the white beats!

 

 

As you collect black beats, your void will get larger and slower. While this can sometimes make it easier to collect black beats, it also makes it far easier to get hit by white beats! There are two ways to fix this. First, you can run into a white beat. This is to be avoided! While you do get reset to your original size, you also lose your chain and some points, to boot! What you should do instead is press the A button to “burst.” Popping yourself like this adds points to your score based on how large you were, and also energizes the music for a period of time as well! There’s no penalty for popping frequently, but the rewards for doing so when you’re larger are worth the wait, so try to use your burst only when you need to!

 

Already unique in terms of its gameplay, VOID also makes some other changes to the formula, both good and bad. The good? In addition to the presence of segments to the stages, each stage now has checkpoints at the end of each segment, and you are given two credits which can be used to restart from your last checkpoint, should you reach game over! They drop your score to zero, but they let players finish the game more easily. Less welcome, however, is the lack of any bars to indicate when you’re about to shift up or down a mode. There are audio cues as to when you’re in danger of moving down a mode, but not knowing when you’re going to reach Mega or Super or the new Ultra on top of that can be frustrating.

 

In contrast to the previous two entries in the series, this game is actually aided by 3D, in my opinion. It more clearly sets the beats apart from the background, and with the backgrounds being simpler, there’s less visual noise.

 

The only real problem I have with VOID is that, due to the free movement, it doesn’t have as strong of a rhythm as most other games in the series. The music is still excellent, but the lack of strong rhythm doesn’t make it as memorable as it could be.

 

Still, VOID is also worth your time! The energetic menu and credits music provided by Nullsleep is also a plus.

 

 

 

Bit.Trip RUNNER

 

This is the most popular game in the entire Bit.Trip series, to the point where it’s even getting a sequel in early 2013, and for good reason! The gameplay is simple, the rhythm is intoxicating, the core elements of the game are strong, and while it’s still hard, it tries not to give you enough time to be frustrated between attempts!

 

 

In this game, you take direct control of CommanderVideo, the protagonist of the series, for the first time, as he runs along a fixed path. Rather than collecting or hitting beats, it’s your job to make him avoid obstacles and collect gold in this rhythm platformer! Everything CommanderVideo can do is mapped to a different button, so you just need to press each one as the time comes. If you need to jump, jump! If you need to slide, slide! If you need to kick, kick! The gameplay could hardly be any simpler, and yet the creators of the game still manage to make you work for your victories!

 

Again, the different modes make a return with another added on top, but this time Nether is left out. Rather than being dropped by a mode when you mess up in this game, it sends you back to the start of the stage and back to Hyper mode, with gameplay resuming from there almost immediately. To go up a mode, you have to collect an object that looks a rather lot like a 3D representation of the plus-shaped core from Bit.Trip CORE. Each one you collect bumps you up a mode, along with giving your score and the music a considerable boost, as well. Collecting the final one will take you from Ultra mode into “Extra” mode, where the music becomes more soothing and CommanderVideo starts trailing a rainbow behind him.

 

From the get-go, the setup of this game is different than the rest. Rather than having stages with segments, it has worlds with stages. Each stage also has an even more retro- styled bonus stage waiting for those who finished the normal stage in Extra mode! However, if you mess up even a single time in the bonus stage, that’s the end of the line. You don’t get to go back to the start until you beat the normal stage again!

The 3D effect in this game is neither particularly pronounced nor particularly detrimental, so feel free to use it as you please, because there’s no strong argument one way or the other.

 

Sadly, RUNNER suffers some framerate issues in the 3DS version, which can make the game more difficult than it is meant to be at times. As such, the versions for other systems are often the better choice for this game.

 

Between the incredibly solid gameplay and the delightful music, you’ll see why Runner is so popular when you give it a shot! Also be sure to enjoy the menu and credits music provided by Anamanaguchi!

 

 

 

Bit.Trip FATE

 

Taking a dramatic turn from any of the other games, Bit.Trip FATE is the first of them in which CommanderVideo actually kills anything. This game is a classic shoot-em- up with a twist: you don’t control all of your movement. Rather, you can only move CommanderVideo along the “fate line” on screen as the stage scrolls automatically. It is your job to avoid enemy shots and shoot back to destroy them and collect cores.

 

 

You control CommanderVideo in this game using the circle pad, and shoot using the touch screen. Touching a point on the screen will make CommanderVideo fire his shots in that direction on the top screen. It’s a little unwieldy, particularly when compared to using the Wii Remote to aim on the Wii version of the game. Be careful while shooting, as well, because CommanderVideo moves more slowly when he’s firing his weapons!

 

Yet again, different modes return in this game. Nether makes a comeback, and “Giga” mode is added on top of Extra. In this game, collecting enough cores (or landing enough shots, though they build your meter more slowly) will move you up a mode, while taking a single shot to CommanderVideo’s heart will move you down a mode (though you can ease your worries, as the rest of CommanderVideo is invulnerable). Each mode you go up not only increases your score and energizes the music, it also makes CommanderVideo’s shots more powerful, by adding another row to the shots he fires, or increasing the spread of shots! Sadly, Extra mode makes some multicolored afterimages of the fate line appear, which, if you’re not paying enough attention, can make it somewhat difficult to tell where CommanderVideo will actually be as he travels along it.

 

Of course, going up a mode isn’t the only way to power up CommanderVideo’s shots. Companion characters show up in the form of powerups over the course of each stage, with each one cycling through companion characters. Whichever character is showing when you pick up the powerup will determine how your shot will be affected.

 

CommandGirl Video, a purple version of CommanderVideo, will make CommanderVideo fire his shots in opposite directions simultaneously, and in Giga mode will make him fire in just about every direction at once. Mr. Roboticule, the little white robot, will make CommanderVideo’s shots follow a helix pattern in front of him. This can be tricky to aim, but it’s very powerful! Junior Melchkin, the little black robot, will turn CommanderVideo’s shots into powerful but infrequently fired lasers that can pierce through enemies and obstacles. Lastly, Meat Boy, from the game Super Meat Boy, makes an appearance, and he changes CommanderVideo’s shots into a single fat, slow- moving shot that pierces through enemies and destroys any incoming shots it passes through, which can make it an incredible boon when bullets are flying everywhere! All the helpers will only help for a limited time, but while they’re helping, they will circle CommanderVideo and nullify intercepted shots for him, as well.

 

The 3D effect for FATE can be distracting sometimes, but for the most part it’s just fine, as the backgrounds are almost universally a simple black, and everything else is in the foreground.

Sadly, like with VOID, this game doesn’t have very strong rhythm to it, as you destroy enemies on your own rather than as the game dictates. The music is good on its own, but again it could have been more memorable with stronger rhythm.

For me, this game and VOID are the low points of the series, but the series as a whole is so good that that’s not saying much. This game is still worth a play, though I’d recommend the Wii version over the 3DS version. The heavy menu and credits music from Minusbaby are also worth a listen!

 

 

 

Bit.Trip FLUX

 

The final game in the Bit.Trip series returns back to the gameplay style of the first game, except operating in reverse, going from right to left. All the beats are the same color, so you can’t rely on their colors for hints as to how they behave, and this game is significantly more difficult than BEAT, but it makes up for it by having a checkpoint at every segment split and infinite retries from the last checkpoint. Despite its difficulty, the absence of a game over screen and the ability to make more than one mistake before being shunted back to the last checkpoint mean that more players are likely to clear this one than any other game in the series.

 

In addition to beats, the concept of hitting beats while avoiding other things makes a return from VOID. In this game, the objects to avoid take the form of white circles, and often you’ll be tasked with navigating narrow pathways between them using your paddle. Dim gray “bonus” beats have also been added, and are placed around each stage in places that make you risk missing normal beats to get them. The good news is that they are optional and merely add to your score if gotten, while doing nothing if missed!

 

Again, the different modes return, this time with “Meta” added on top of Giga. Each mode provides a dramatic change to the background, the style of the sounds made when you hit beats, and the color of the entire user interface, which can be a bit jarring, particularly as some of the backgrounds make it harder to see your paddle or the incoming beats, while others make it particularly easy to see them.

Powerups also make a return, this time with names. The double-paddle powerup from BEAT is now called “Divide,” the larger paddle is called “Add,” the Challenge is called “Subtract” and is now often mandatory thanks to the evil circles, and two new powerups are added. There’s “Series,” which gives your paddle afterimages as it moves, and which can still hit beats, and then there’s the best powerup of all, “Multiply.” Multiply makes your paddle take up the whole right edge of the screen, automatically hitting all the beats that show up. And you need to get it, too, as the parts that follow its acquisition are designed for it to be present. Just sit back and enjoy the music for a little while!

 

As with BEAT, the 3D effect sometimes makes the game more difficult to play.

 

All told, Bit.Trip FLUX is a wonderful game, and it’s worth sticking around until the very end, when you finally have to relinquish control and let the series come to a close. As an added bonus, the menu music by Bit Shifter is my favorite track in the entire series.

 

 

 

Closing Remarks

 

All six games in the series are very solid, and while some definitely stand out among the rest, they’re all worth a play. At $15, Bit.Trip SAGA is a steal, and any gamer who can appreciate a challenge or who enjoys rhythm games can definitely find a place for this collection in their library, even if not every such gamer can expect to actually beat all of the games due to their difficulty! While the games do have some flaws, particularly when it comes to how the 3D effects interact with the gameplay, their strengths easily make up for them. As a whole, I’d give this collection a 90/100.

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the compilation available for the Wii: Bit.Trip COMPLETE features all six games with their original control methods, and also has a soundtrack sampler CD, unlockable video and art galleries and remixed tracks, and additional challenge stages for each game which task players with getting perfect scores on new short stages to move on! The only downside to COMPLETE is that Bit.Trip VOID has a bug which makes it so that even if you use a credit to continue, it just starts you back at the beginning of the entire stage with one less credit. If you enjoy Bit.Trip SAGA, definitely consider getting COMPLETE!

 

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