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Review – BIT.TRIP BEAT

posted on April 17th, 2009 by jackson

It’s been 37 years now since Pong became the first commercially successful videogame. 37 years isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things, so with gaming still so young it’s not surprising that only recently there has been a popular interest in its history. Although the medium owes its existence to computer technology, games are unlike most computer software in the sense that the latest versions aren’t always the “best.” Every game offers its own unique experience.

Unfortunately most games don’t manage to transcend time completely, and large aspects of them are trapped as artifacts of their era. Essentially no one today could enjoy Pong the way its first audience did in 1972. This is why remakes are not just popular, but essential for most games. And sometimes someone will make a completely new game that borrows the best qualities from games of the past, and integrates them with the best qualities of today. That’s the kind of game BIT.TRIP BEAT is.

(Its official name is spelled like that, with a period and capital letters. I’m not going to write it that way though because it gives me a headache to read. I support artistic license but I still have my limits!)

Bit Trip Beat is commonly described as Rez meets Pong, and I think that does a good job at summing it up. Ironically, it’s difficult to describe Beat. Not because it’s beyond description, but the opposite. Beat is so simple and familiar that there’s nothing to explain beyond showing people the trailer. If you’re an avid gamer, and I assume most people reading this are, you are already familiar with everything Beat is. It is what it is, and it’s very fun.

This review is a little shorter than usual, but I don’t have anything else to say. Beat is a fantastic game in the way it’s completely self-conscious of all the different aspects that define it, and runs with them as far as they can go. When Gaijin Games designed Beat it seems to be clear that they wanted to make a niche game rather than a mainstream one. Common criticisms are that the visuals are distracting, the levels are punishingly difficult, a joystick would be preferable to its motion controls (modeled after the original Pong nob), and the retro style in general doesn’t have any merit. All of these observations are completely true, and the developers intentionally chose to include each of these aspects. If that turns you off then this game is simply not for you.

It’s also not very pretentious like most quirky titles. Although I guess it’s not really independent since Gaijin has a publisher, so it doesn’t have to be.

Oh wait, I just saw this in the manual (remember when manuals used to have interesting information?):

Everything comes from something.
We were before we became.
From life comes rhythm, and from rhythm comes life.
We are beings of information.
Everything is a conduit for learning.
We communicate in bits and bytes.
And we will return to something once we become nothing.
After our BIT.TRIP is complete.

I guess that’s reasonably pretentious, so all you Wii owners who want some of what the other systems offer can rejoice!

3 Comments

  1. pat said on April 17, 2009:

    i downloaded this a week or two ago and i really like it. despite its obvious similarities to pong, it feels like playing a shmup to me. you need to focus intensely to stand a chance, the pace is blistering at times, and you exist on the left side of the screen. in fact, i barely get a chance to look at the right half of my tv while playing since im just scraping by, staying alive.

    how far have you gotten? anyone else here play any of this? i made it to the mid-second level the first night i downloaded, but havent picked it back up because of a current DS addiction im working through.

  2. Alex Neuse said on April 17, 2009:

    @pat:

    I’m glad that you consider it akin to shmups. In developing the game, that is precisely what I had in mind.

    Thanks for the nice write up, videolamers!
    -Alex

  3. jay said on April 21, 2009:

    Thanks for commenting, Alex. We have an article on your game coming soon that you may enjoy. Stay tuned (by refreshing every 5 minutes).

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