The BIT.TRIP series is one of those franchises that gets mentioned a lot when it comes to “best indie games of all time”, and it’s something I’ve always been interested to find out for myself. The series originally released back on WiiWare as individual releases over the course of a few years, but the whole saga is now available on the Nintendo Switch for the first time.
BIT.TRIP BEAT represents the start of that franchise, and as the first entry in the series, it’s a lot of fun and representative of the many elements that make up the BIT.TRIP games. It’s arguably the simplest of them all, but there’s a certain level of charm to that simplicity.
Before we begin it’s important to note that although these reviews will be in the chronological order of the BIT.TRIP Saga, my actual playing experience was all over the place. I started with BIT.TRIP BEAT, but I also jumped between the games several times before completing them all, so I will inevitably be comparing them here and there. That certainly works in BIT.TRIP FLUX’s favour, but might make the others look a little bit worse by comparison.
Although the plot isn’t something that’s super upfront, there are some interesting connotations behind each game and the whole series is like a continued series. As such, BIT.TRIP BEAT represents the birth of Commander Video and how he came into the world. There are much smarter articles breaking down the themes of each game, but from a base understanding, it’s almost meditative in how it presents itself.
Thankfully, describing BIT.TRIP BEAT’s gameplay is a lot simpler, and something I can do in a single sentence. BIT.TRIP BEAT is essentially like playing a difficult version of Pong to a constant stream of chiptune beats. That may sound overly simplistic, but there are more elements to it than that.
The blocks that you’ll be hitting are almost constantly messing with you by changing positions in time to the music and generally being very difficult to hit them all anyway. Some blocks will burst into smaller pieces you’ll have to keep bouncing, some will be connected together and others will slow to a crawl and get close to your paddle. There are also some power-ups and special challenges to be found whilst playing a level and this variety keeps things consistently interesting throughout, although there are certainly times when it can be a little much and you’ll see your score take a hit.
Speaking of score, the scoring system is one of my favourite parts of the BIT.TRIP series and something we see evolve over the course of these games. To start with though, it’s just three levels of scoring, mega, hyper and nether. You start off in hyper and by hitting enough blocks you’ll go into mega which adds more instruments and visual effects. Go the opposite way, however, and you’ll go into nether which takes away the music and reduces things to quite literally pong-levels of detail.
What this means for the gameplay is that you’re constantly switching between scoring modes and just making it back from the nether or finding yourself back in mega. It’s a lot of fun and easily the most unique thing about the series in my opinion. Of course, retroactively BIT.TRIP BEAT seems incredibly simple by comparison as the other games added a lot of other scoring levels and details. It’s a fantastic start though.
I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without mentioning the music of BIT.TRIP, but it’s also a massive part of the saga’s identity. The songs here are all fantastic, and I love the interactive element of each note being influenced by how well the player is doing. The music isn’t something I’d personally listen to of my own accord, but it’s catchy and a lot of fun to listen to.
Although there are only three levels in the game, each level is about 20 minutes long and has a unique boss battle at the end. Each level and boss do feel distinct from one another and are a lot of fun, but unless you’re wanting to get higher scores or simply replay levels then you might run out of content after only a little while. That’s not really important considering the low price, but just be prepared to be done pretty fast.
Saying that, BIT.TRIP BEAT isn’t an easy game to complete. The first level makes it clear pretty fast that you’re not just playing pong and will need fast reflexes, but the last level is incredibly challenging even on the easiest difficulty. This is a theme throughout the whole series, but the first game surprised me at just how brutal it could be with nothing in the way of checkpoints. BIT.TRIP FLUX eventually added them in, but that’s a whole five games later!
Granted, the rest of the BIT.TRIP series does get a bit more complicated and unique, it is the simplicity of BIT.TRIP BEAT that really stuck with me and made me enjoy it so much. As you’ll find out later, not all of the ideas work as well as the simple ones do, and this is one that certainly works well enough to introduce a whole saga.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by QubicGames