I really liked Bit.trip: Beat. The combination of retro gaming style, excellent music, underlying narrative, and addictive gameplay put it up among my favorite Wii titles. So imagine my surprise last Monday (editor’s note: Jenn sucks) when I noticed that a sequel, Bit.trip: Core had been released on WiiWare for 600 points!
As its predecessor had done for Breakout-style games, Bit.trip: Core takes the notion of classic, single-screen shooters and spins it off into a new, equally rhythmic direction. Whereas in the first game you were a paddle bouncing pellets to create musical notes, here you are an icon in the center of the screen capable of aiming and firing a beam in four directions, albeit only one at a time. Pellets will appear from all corners of the screen, and you must shoot them before they escape. It sounds deceptively simple, but the game is difficult. Ample reflexes, pattern recognition, and spatial skills –- which block will enter your range of fire first?—are important, but as with Bit.trip: Beat, to truly excel at the game you must lose yourself in it and the music. It’s a zen gaming experience.
In that regard it reminds me of one of my favorite Atari 2600 homebrews, Vault Assault, which is in itself a port of the arcade game Space Zap. Like Bit.trip: Core, there you control a cannon situated in the center of the screen, firing beams in four directions at incoming enemies. When Space Zap reaches its high-speed fever pitch, until you can discover the game’s rhythm and control the chaos, you will be overwhelmed. Lose that beat, and you will find it difficult to regain your bearing. Bit.trip: Core relies on the same concept, though the game graciously gives you a bomb that will wipe the screen of all pellets once per level (think Geometry Wars). Considering each level is in excess of 10 minutes, though, you may find yourself never using it for fear of a more difficult situation coming up. Much like Bit.trip: Beat, Core isn’t good in spite of the difficulty, but in part, because of it. Its difficulty curve isn’t unfair, bit rather it drives you to come back and squeak past that tough part, confronting the next mini-stage and its rhythmic changes.
That said, the music is not just for show. Hit enough pellets without missing a certain amount, and the screen will shift, featuring more instrumentation and more interesting effects. This continues until you hit the maximum level, where psychedelic lights and more dynamic music are your reward. Whiff too many times, however, and you’ll find yourself in the downright creepy “nether realm,” where the graphics enter a state of stark black and white, and the only sound is the beep of a pellet getting shot on your remote. As Jenn pointed out in her Bit.trip: Beat review, it is an unsettling state where feel yourself on the edge of death, clawing your way back to living color and safety.
As with the first Bit.trip game, there is a narrative that continues in the periphery. Told almost entirely through short cut scenes between levels and through the background and music of the stages, it subtly details your character’s journey in search of belonging and companionship. The game feels dark, even though there is nothing so overt as to state that. The world is a lonely and hard place by oneself.
Bit.trip: Core is a game that embodies the very essence of the medium. It draws the player in through visuals, sound, and gameplay, and is an ultimately rewarding experience to go through. It’s an easy recommendation from a seemingly crowded WiiWare game list.