Tuesday, September 27, 2011

IPad app review: Bit.Trip Beat


8-bit computers and consoles of the 80's, such as the NES, C64, Spectrum and many others, are considered by some to be the golden era of video games.  Certainly, the cottage industry that started back then has grown into a massive business phenomenon with turnover and profits surpassing even the biggest blockbuster movies.

Looking back at those old video games now, they sure do look basic but they had something in spades that is an important element of *any* video game - Gameplay.  Without it, a game is dead in the water like a duck full of buck-shot and no amount of fancy graphics can change that.

Bit.Trip Beat is one of many games in the Bit.Trip franchise by Gaijin Games and they all follow a similar pattern.  For those in the know, the game is like a horizontal Arkanoid (or Breakout if you prefer) set to music.  For those who don't know those games, it's essentially a glorified game of Pong.  If you don't know Pong, then you control a paddle and you have to hit a 'ball' backwards by moving the paddle up or down.

This being the 21st Century and as we can't go to the shops without being bombarded by anti-gravity cars and time machines, there's a bit more to it than simply moving up and down.

The balls fly across the screen in ever-increasing patterns of complexity.  Some sit just out of range of the bat and then fly, unexpectedly at a great rate towards the end-zone.  Across the top and bottom are two bars.    The top one shows progress through the level while the bottom is a kind of shield 'meter'.  The more balls that are let through, the more this is reduced by.  When it gets near the end, it all becomes rather critical and suddenly the screen switches to a 'minimal' view where the only sound is that of a heart monitor and the graphics are pure black and white, just like, you guessed it, Pong.  A really neat touch and those bods at Gaijin Games have obviously a real affinity with and affection for video game heritage.


There's a white rectangle at the side of the screen that is moved up and down via the players thumb.  That's it.  There are no other controls.  No fire button or grenade button or having to remember a sixteen button fighting manouvre, it's one man and his blob.  It moves up and down, not side-to-side. 

As the balls (smaller blobs) move to the left, it's the job of the player to return those balls whence they came.

Ease of use: 9


Like _Rez_ on the PS2, the music in Bit.Trip Beat plays an integral part to the game.  The balls hit the bat in time with the funky music.  The music is derived in part from 8-bit heyday of the Commodore 64 and definitely fits a current vogue for blips, beeps and whistles that is cropping up in popular music today.  The style of the music Bit.Trip Beat is a kind of ambient, trip-hop club sound and they've even released an album on iTunes.

Sound: 9

The graphics are very blocky, intentionally so, and are designed as a tribute to those old 8-bit games.  It's all very colourful and fluid and at times, the screen becomes very hectic as all manner of things are flying about.  It's set in space and to confuse matters, various background objects appear.  They don't interfere with the game in way except to purposely obfuscate the playing area.  There's no evidence of slow-down either and the iPads little processor more than amply takes it in its stride.

Graphics: 6


As mentioned, a pretty game is naught if it's a dog to play and thankfully, Bit.Trip Beat doesn't fall short.  It's very addictive and it's simplicity is its greatest virtue.  Anyone who can move their thumb up and down can play this game.  Of course, high scores are saved and that's where the biggest challenge lies: trying to beat your high score.

The patterns rapidly become fiendishly difficult and the simplicity of gameplay should not be confused with simplicity of game.  It *is* a difficult game, especially as the levels progress and balls are coming out of your ears.  Figuratively speaking of course. 

Gameplay: 8


Overall, Bit.Trip Beat is a terrific little arcade 'hit-em-back'.  The graphics are charmingly retro, the music is strangely addictive and it's incredibly simple to play.  Doesn't make it any easier though and it's a real challenge.  It harks back to the golden days of video gaming when men where men, thick curly hair sprouted from medallion-encrusted chests, mullets looked hard as nails and anyone with a filofax was lynched by an angry mob of fire-wielding villagers.  Ah, them were't days.

Available from the App Store for £0.59.  That's 59 pence you tight ponce.  37.8MB download.

Thoroughly recommended.

You'll like this if ... You want to experience retro gaming done with love and care.
You won't like this if ... You think Call of Duty is the best game, like, totally ever.
Interesting facts (well, interesting to me anyway)

  • There are 6 number of games in the Bit.Trip series and these are Beat, Core, Void, Runner, Fate and Flux.
  • Bit.Trip Beat is the first in the series.
  • It was originally launched for the Nintendo Wii as a downloadable game but has since appeared on other platforms such as the iPad, Windows and Mac.
  • The music in the game is called 'ChipMusic', a reference to the Commodore 64's sound processor chip (called SID)
  • Gaijin Games were established in 2007.
  • While there is no central 'character', there is an 8-bit picture of a spaceman who will go on to appear in later editions as Commander Video.

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