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CONSOLE: Nintendo 3DS DEVELOPER: Gaijin Games PUBLISHER: Aksys Games
RELEASE DATE (NA): September 13, 2011 GENRE: Rhythm
// review by SoyBomb

Closer to ***t.Trip Saga.

I've just been perusing the internet for quite some time in search of somebody who is NOT praising the Bit.Trip series. And it's been, all in all, a fruitless search. A large quantity of people are considering this series to be the gaming equivalent of the Second Coming, but I have to point right in their faces and say, "Wait. Stop. Are you SURE we're playing the same game?" Call me a stodgy, angry, irate, blind gamer if you like, but I have to say that the Bit.Trip games aren't actually that much fun, and bundling them into one package has proven my case.

Now before I go on, let me say that the Bit.Trip games get a lot of credit for being unique. At a time when blasting someone's skull into shards with an M4 carbine was considered one of the pinnacles of gaming at the time, when Call of Duty games were flying off the shelves faster than milk and eggs were at the grocery store, the world needed something different. Enter Gaijin Games (now known, sadly, as "Choice Provisions", which basically equates to a shopping list before a camping trip) and their brand of non-offensive indie gaming know-how. They dropped BIT.TRIP BEAT on us back in 2009 as WiiWare primarily as a harkening to simpler times (think the age of Pong). Its success led to more games in the Bit.Trip series, each one maintaining that level of simplicity and accessibility.

But... not all of them are much fun.

I could go into more detail and give each Bit.Trip game a full review, but because we're looking at the entire package, let's just skim over each one quickly. Each one of these games is a tale of the generic Commander Video's adventures, and you always play as this character, no matter how he is represented.

First is BIT.TRIP BEAT, a game where you control a paddle (Commander Video, believe it or not) on the left side of the screen. As a flat beat plays in the background, little coloured squares that represent beats and notes come flying from the right, and your job is to bounce them away to form a funky rhythm. There are three levels in all (Transition, Descent, and Growth), and they're each about 15 minutes long. Much longer if you screw up and can't hit the beat in time. They come at you rather quickly, so unless you're on your toes. Each stage ends with a boss battle that requires you to bounce beats back at it.

The controls in this 3DS version are extremely spotty. You can use either the Circle Pad, which is highly inaccurate and sluggish, or the Stylus, which, if you're not careful, will occasionally ruin your progress if you swipe the wrong way. This issue made the game all the more frustrating and unnecessarily so. It's great for people who think Pong is the bee's knees and want something more challenging, but its appeal isn't for everyone (especially if people like good controls in their games).

BIT.TRIP CORE is a little more satisfying. In another set of three stages, you control Commander Video's ship that rests in the center of the screen. The ship can fire lasers in four directions, and you use those lasers to hit the floating dot beats as they pass by. The game's complexity comes when you need to keep track of which direction the dots are coming from (often more than one) and what timing you'll need to hit them. Making the dots explode is a more pleasant way to play music than Pong, though it does get old quickly as well.

In BIT.TRIP VOID, you control a void circle that can devour black beats as they pass by. The void is not fixed to any particular location, so it can move about the screen as needed. The more beats it eats, the larger it gets, and also that means you can catch beats more easily with your giant void, it also means it can more easily hit white spots, which is akin to injury. Luckily, at any time, you can release all your gathered beats into space, though you become smaller in the process. VOID is, admittedly, fairly entertaining for a while, though it, too, suffers from extensively long stages.

So... these are the highlights?

The clear winner of the package is BIT.TRIP RUNNER, the only Bit.Trip game to earn a sequel. Taking a more accessible approach, you control Commander Video himself in a side-scrolling platformer environment. In a series of shorter stages (thank goodness), he has to run from left to right to get to the goal posts. Along the way are clumps of junk to leap over, enemies to duck and hop over, passages to slide through, and even crystals to deliver a Bruce Lee kick through. The game gives you the chance to learn each move one by one before throwing them all at you in one go. Commander Video moves fairly quickly, so you must possess great reflexes; one slip-up, and it's back to the beginning, even with the goal posts in plain sight! He can also collect gold bars throughout the stage; grabbing them all earns the right to a bonus stage, similar to the regular levels but with a motif reminiscent of Pitfall! for the Atari 2600. Most players will find this to be the most forgiving and the most enjoyable, with decent controls and short level spans.

BIT.TRIP FATE puts you back in the boots of the lovable hero Commander Video yet again, this time in a shoot-'em-up style game. Yes, the commander finally has the ability to move around and shoot stuff that gets in his way. The one catch is that your movement is limited to "riding the vibe", that is, being on one constantly curving path. I wish there was free movement, but I guess that would make FATE far too bland and "dime-a-dozen", and the concept wouldn't have fit the series. The musical theme is downplayed here in favour of just flat out shooting everything. The controls are pretty fluid; it's harder to mess up a game like this when the stylus isn't involved. This one's not quite as fun as RUNNER, but it's definitely a... dare I say it... RUNNER up?!

Lastly, there's BIT.TRIP FLUX, and this one made my arm and wrist hurt. The game's stages felt like they would never end; the developers really could have just made these levels shorter instead of stretching them to ungodly lengths just to torture me. Sure, they added checkpoints, but I still have to play to the bitter, BIT.TER end. To figure out how this game plays, just think of BIT.TRIP BEAT, except with the paddle on the right-hand side, and beats coming from the left. In FLUX, you also have to watch out for circular objects that do more harm than good if they hit your paddle. Other than that, it's the same bombardment of bouncy beats and cracked-up controls that plagued BIT.TRIP BEAT.

All of these games help you gauge your performance with different statuses, such as Hyper, Mega, and Ultra (or the dreaded Nether) to show if you're doing well or if you're on the brink of failure. These status changes also affect how much your score increases.

Bit.Trip Saga's presentation isn't much to talk about, as you basically pick your game of choice from a bland menu screen and move on. The other main addition to this collection is the implementation of 3D visuals to coincide with the 3DS' capabilities. Unfortunately, the 3D does little to accentuate the gameplay, becoming more of a distraction than anything else (especially if you accidentally tilt the screen, causing blurriness). To further matters, use of the 3D can cause bouts of slowdown, affecting the player's rhythm in a rhythm-based game. Considering that I have about as much rhythm as a snake in a pretzel knot, slowdown was the equivalent of gaming suicide for me.

I just couldn't find love in the majority of these games. They started out as fun little trinkets of amusement, but after a couple of minutes, their charm wore off, only to be replaced with thoughts of "How long will I have to do this?" I know, there are plenty of people who love this series and will defend its honour with their lives. I am not one of them. But if you simply must experience this saga of retro graphics and Pong-infused nostalgia tripping, I'd actually say skip this collection and head on over to your local Wii because Bit.Trip Complete will probably solve the negative issues faced with the 3DS version's controls and graphics, not to mention it's on a bigger screen.

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