Bit.Trip Beat (WiiWare)

Bit.Trip: Beat is the first in a series of retro-inspired titles by indie developer, Gaijin Games. The game is incredibly simple in concept but that is part of the game’s appeal in addition to the great throwback to 80’s video games for those of us that remember it.

When you start up Bit.Trip: Beat one of the first things you’ll notice is the art direction. The game takes 8-bit video game aesthetics, which were once influenced by the limitations of the hardware, and revels in it. The only round shapes you’ll see are in the background, everything else, from the funky characters to explosions, are made up of squares. Everything is bulky and blocky because that’s how it was meant to look. That said, the game isn’t made with these 8-bit limitations in the way Mega Man 9 was. Instead the game is representing old pixilated figures in 3D with lighting effects and material properties.
For those that started playing games on the NES, the game will immediately send you back in time. For those that started their gaming lives on the Playstation or later, this could be like watching a silent black and white film. Some will appreciate the throwback to an earlier time in the medium’s history; others will abhor it for looking so dated.

The next thing you’ll notice is the game’s soundtrack. Like the graphics, the music takes inspiration from gaming’s 8-bit days and features an excellent chiptunes soundtrack, which features contributions by famed chiptunes artist, Bit Shifter, which incorporates itself into the gameplay, effectively making Bit.Trip: Beat a form of rhythm game.

On the subject of gameplay, Bit.Trip: Beat is incredibly simple. The game takes inspiration from the gaming classic, Pong and blends it with rhythm and shooter elements. The inspirations from Pong are obvious as the game itself plays like a form of one-sided Pong; that is, you control a paddle by hold the Wii remote like an NES controller and roll it towards and away from you to keep square-shaped balls away from your side of the screen. The rhythm elements come from the fact that every successful save you make contributes a blip to the soundtrack and by following the beat of the song; you can find the rhythm in which the balls are meant to be deflected. The side-scroller shooter elements come in the balls’ plan of attack. You see, this isn’t Pong where the “ball” is returned in an entirely predictable manner. In fact, you’ll often have several, if not almost a dozen “balls” on your screen at once. Knowing the pattern in which they approach the edge of the screen is vital and is nearly impossible to anticipate your first time through. It takes a certain degree of memorization and coordination in the vein of old-school side-scrolling shooters to really excel at the game.
What is perhaps most fascinating about Bit.Trip: Beat is that the game is almost pure gameplay. That is to say, the experience is almost entirely based on your interaction with the game. Interaction being the very basis of what makes a video game a game and not a movie, novel, or any other art form. You play Bit.Trip: Beat because it is an enjoyable interactive experience, not because you want to see what happens in the story and not because the graphics are particularly impressive. This is interaction almost devoid of context and is entertaining solely on that level. Not many games are really designed in this manner. There are no quest-givers, no player character, and no gameplay tutorial. You start up the game and the first pixel-shaped ball comes at you, you do what comes instinctively you bounce it back.
The game is on the cheaper side of WiiWare releases at only $6 and for more than that you can get some terrible games on the service. While this may not be pushing the limits of downloadable games in any way like graphics or file size, there are few games as simple and as enjoyable to play all at once.