Pong and Guitar Hero have a baby. Wait, what?
We’ve been seeing a lot of genre-bending games these days. But you will likely never see anything weirder the odd pairing of the rhythm-action of Guitar Hero with the premise of Pong. Yes, it’s confusing, but BIT.TRIP BEAT manages to merge these two unlikely gameplay types into one unique package. And, for the most part, it works beautifully.
Part of a larger series of pixilated games (most famous on the Wii, but available for the iPhone and iPad as well), BIT.TRIP BEAT is about making a musical experience in an 8-bit style from the early 1980s. You’ll be seeing lots of big, chunky pixels floating in space, and computerized blips and beeps. It’s all used ironically, and makes for a modern, funky experience.
So how does one merge two weird styles? The Pong part is pretty self-evident. The basic gameplay of BIT.TRIP BEAT is a horizontal verysion of the arcade classic. Simply move you paddle up and down along the left side of the screen to deflect the bits hurtling your way. Later areas have bigger things flying at you, so you have to line up your paddle exactly. Other areas simply throw everything but the kitchen sink at you, and you just find a way to gracefully move through it all. Controlling the paddle is as easy as dragging the mouse or using the keyboard (with options to change the sensitivity to suit your gaming style).
Like another ball-and-paddle game Arkanoid, BIT.TRIP BEAT features power-ups like paddle lengthening or doubling, but also challenges like shrinking your paddle. Some sections are orchestrated to require the use of a power up, but BIT.TRIP BEAT never feels contrived. The bits thrown at you are also very dynamic. Some of them float towards you relatively straight. Others fly in a diamond pattern, while others line up, just waiting to spring at you. There are even chunks that return like a boomerang, requiring several volleys before clearing them. It helps give BIT.TRIP BEAT a great challenge.
To stay alive, keep returning the volleys throw at you. The more you hit, the faster you fill a bar at the top that helps you “evolve” into a more rich and dynamic version of the game. Lose, and you may enter the Nether area, a place devoid of music or color. Lose there, and you lose the game.
Here is where we start to get into Guitar Hero territory. Like the music game, it’s hard to achieve real success unless you do a lot of things right, but it takes just a few mistakes to drop you down to a level below. This new PC/Mac version of BIT.TRIP BEAT features an easy difficulty, which while not changing the gameplay itself, is a lot more forgiving of mistakes. Considering how incredibly hair-pulling the higher difficulties can be – and they truly are, bordering on unfair – the addition of an easy level is most welcome.
But the real joy of BIT.TRIP BEAT is in the last part of the Guitar Hero comparison. There is a real pattern to the balls that return. But the best way to realize this is to listen. Each volley creates a tone that functions as a melody to the hypnotic music playing throughout the levels. Miss a “note” and you hear a “thock!” sound. The better you play, the richer the music. This adds a lot of extra layers to the experience, weird as that may sound.
Also, realizing that the gameplay is the music itself can help tremendously when trying to time your movements during particularly crazy secions. There are very few times in BIT.TRIP BEAT where what you have to do to win is hard to figure out. It becomes just like practicing a musical instrument.
There’s a lot going for BIT.TRIP BEAT, but there’s just not enough of it. There are three songs (the first one is available at the start, but you’ll have to unlock the other two), and in easy mode, shouldn’t take you more than 20-30 minutes to totally open up everything the game has to offer at that difficulty. Certainly, leaderboards and multiple difficulties are a great incentive to keep coming back, but there’s one big problem. Having played the Wii version, it’s impossible to ignore the total lack of multiplayer in this version. Playing BIT.TRIP BEAT with others is a real blast, but here it feels very isolated.
BIT.TRIP BEAT is a really good experience, one that most gamers will enjoy. It’s simple but addictive, primitive yet beautiful. If you have a Wii, that seems to be the version to beat right now. If not, the PC/Mac version of BIT.TRIP BEAT – particularly with its easy mode – is a worthy alternative.