Review by Sytherantis

"Quite fun, but feels a bit... empty?"

Bit.Trip Void is the third in the strange yet wonderful WiiWare series from Gaijin Games, a saga of rhythm games dedicated to bringing you Atari 2600-like game concepts, chiptune-inspired audio tracks, and the question of whether or not they were actually high on acid when they designed the visuals. Fans of the series know the games for their trippy yet nostalgic graphics, brutal yet addictive difficulty that keeps you coming back to top your high scores, and awesome techno soundtracks that morph and develop as you play. It seems as though the Bit.Trip series really came out of nowhere and took WiiWare by storm; the whole trilogy was announced and released in the course of 2009. The games are cheap and short, each one containing only 3 tracks at the cost of 600 Wii points per title, but what's there is very obviously made with love and, for some people, worth replaying over and over until they can perfect every stage.

So, how did this third and final entry in the trilogy come out? Well, to be frank, it added a handful of good things to the series, but it also removed some of those good things, too.

This game, like the first two, is all about hitting pixels flying around the screen in strange and unexpected patterns, all while trying not to be distracted by the background visuals. To do this, you have a large pixelated circle, called the void, which you can move around the screen with your nunchuck or classic controller which is required to play. The aim is to move your void to suck up all the black beats while dodging all the white beats. As you gather up black beats, your void grows bigger, slowing it down and making it harder to dodge the white beats. If your void grows too big that it becomes impossible to dodge the white beats, you can pop the void by pressing A or Z, causing it to return to normal and giving you points for all the beats you sucked up. However, if you hit just one white beat, your void is popped for you and you receive absolutely no points for the beats you gathered. Missing black beats also counts against you; while it doesn't pop your void, it will break your chain and probably kill your chances of scoring big. There are also various powerups that will float by to mix up the action a little bit, making your void repel white beats, suck in black beats, or even reverse your controls.

The greatest aspect of these new mechanics, without a doubt, is the addition of true strategy to the game formula. Bit.Trip Beat had nothing in the way of strategy -- it was simply straight pattern memorization. Core added hints of strategy as it allowed you more than one opportunity to hit some beats, maximizing your score as the multiplier increased. In Void, it's a constant risk every time you suck up just one beat: the longer you wait to pop it, and the more beats you suck up, the more points you'll get when you finally cash in... but all it takes is just one stray white beat to ruin everything. To get a high score, you're going to have to push the limit on holding the void, finding creative ways around the patterns of white beats (some of which aren't obvious at first) to make it last as long as possible. In this way, every second of the game is a real thrill of risk and reward.

The void control is a very new concept to the series in that it allows unprecedented freedom, removing a lot of the "rhythm" aspect of the game... yet, at the same time, keeping it. Beats appearing on the screen follow the rhythm, and you will find yourself having to follow the rhythm too as you weave in and out of complicated patterns, or pop the void repeatedly as it continuously tries to grow too large for the cage of white beats surrounding it. It is a very original and welcome interpretation of the rhythm game genre.

Also new to the series are checkpoints, which give you a real hand if you're trying to beat the game for the first time without really worrying about points. Each track has 4 segments (unlike 8 segments in the previous games). Beating a segment presents you with a status screen showing your score and adding some bonuses to your total based on performance. If you fail the song while playing the next segment, you'll have the option of zeroing your score and starting from the beginning of the segment, or quitting and submitting your score to the scoreboard. Because such a massive penalty is attached to using the checkpoints, serious players can feel free to just ignore them -- they're useless if you're trying to perfect the song. The save credits are also worth massive bonus points.

The game's visual style takes a drastic turn from its predecessors, aiming for something that's more empty, abstract, and surreal. You no longer have a static HUD to refer to, or a combo counter to watch -- instead, all information randomly shifts in and out of visibility in the background, opening up the entire screen as a field of play.

For those interested, Void also features the return of four-player multiplayer, putting each player in control of their own void. Be warned, though: like always, score, chain multiplier, and life bar are all shared, so don't get your hopes up too high about high scores when playing with your friends.

Sadly, though, not all of the new elements to the game are good.

First, and probably most importantly: the music. I must admit that I greatly enjoyed the music when I started playing. But four playthroughs or so later, it really began to get old. You see, the three tracks in Bit.Trip Void are too repetitive. They don't build, develop, or take you on a journey like those in Beat or Core. They are not catchy; they are heavily ambient and rhythmic, but not melodic, and they remain largely the same through the whole course of the level, save for adding a drumbeat here or there sometimes. Even the extra music effects from playing well remain unchanged throughout the whole level. As much as I hate to say it, the music gets stale far sooner than it should, and because of it, fails to be touching or memorable.

Then there are the repeated beat patterns, which, like the music, also get stale. While previous entries in the series are certainly guilty of repeating patterns every now and then, Void makes it seem like there were gaps in the level designers' creativity. Playing through the second and third levels, you might get the impression that over half of the beat patterns are recycled from previous levels, but harder.

And finally, there is the overall visual style. This game simply lacks the personality of its predecessors. Instead of showing strange videos of voxel-filled worlds, Void flashes some digital, two-dimensional patterns on the screen's backdrop for the entirety of the level. The patterns are very nice looking, and strange, but in the end, they have nothing over most screensavers I've seen nowadays -- not nearly as "trippy", meaningful, or confusing as we've come to expect from this series. They just flash on and off with some colorful patterns, but fail to take you on a musical journey. And the beats, which once sprinkled the screen with vibrant bits of color, each color-coded to represent a special behavior you could expect from them, are all black and white. No shades of gray, and hardly no differences in shape. The graphics, while flavoring the game experience with a new and unique personality, reek of monotony.

I will give points for engineering the backgrounds to make the field of play easier to see, but immediately take them away again for constantly flickering the brightness of the screen on and off like a jack-o-lantern pummeled by gusts of wind, making everything hard to see and keep track of. Extra points taken off for the return of the flashing beats, which, unlike in the previous games, prove to be genuinely annoying due to the strict level of precision required in this game. Bit.Trip is known for having distracting visuals as part of the game challenge, but here, it feels as though the game is purposely obstructing your view rather than just trying to distract you.

In the end, though, the disappointments can be overlooked, and the game shines as a worthy successor to the Bit.Trip games and a whole lot of fun overall. I, for one, am probably going to play the game at least 20 more times before I'm satisfied with my high scores. If you're a Bit.Trip fan, get this without hesitation, it's more than worth the $6.

If you're a newcomer to the series, I'd go so far as to recommend getting this game first: it's the most merciful, least alienating of the three games so far. It'll get you in touch with the overall attitude and addictiveness of the series.

Pros:
+ Creative musical game play which is rhythm based, yet not, and must be played to be believed
+ New strategy-based game play is a lot of fun, a nice change from straight pattern memorization
+ Though easy to beat, the challenge is still there for serious players: obtaining perfect scores is the hardest in the series so far and will keep you occupied for a long time
+ Unique surreal visual style
+ Riveting chiptune-based music, features tracks by renowned chiptune artist Nullsleep
+ 4-player multiplayer

Cons:
- Very easy; experienced players will find the initial playthrough over too quickly
- Music and graphics fail to take you on a journey, and also get old rather quickly compared to previous games in the series
- The later levels recycle so many patterns that they begin to lose distinction between each other
- Constant screen flickering is more annoying than stylistic, contributes to unfair / fake difficulty

And so, the first Bit.Trip trilogy comes to an end, but Gaijin has promised a second trilogy just beyond the horizon. Only time will tell what kind of nostalgic retro vibes (and drug-induced hallucinations) they'll dig up next time.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/30/09

Game Release: Bit.Trip Void (US, 11/23/09)


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