Review: Bit.Trip Core

Zapping notes in Bit.Trip Core

Bit.Trip Core, the second in Gaijin Games’ Bit.Trip series, is a rhythm game recently released for the Wii. It combines the scrolling notes of Guitar Hero and old-school twitch action games to great effect, presenting a challenging game in a fresh-yet-retro style.

Each song is represented by many fast moving blocks that fly across the screen, backed by synthesizers and a constant beat. In the centre of the screen is a small cross—the core—from which you can fire short beat lines up, down, left, or right. You use the Wiimote’s directional pad to select a direction and the 2 button to fire. As blocks pass by the cross, you must hit them with a beat line. Hit a block and it plays tone that goes along with the music.

Once the game has introduced you to that simple concept, it adds new kinds of blocks that behave differently. Some come in on angles, in waves or arcs, or orbit the cross; others will re-orient you when hit or allow you to shoot in two directions at once. The game turns from single tones to phrases, and as soon as you’ve figured those out, they come again, faster and more frequently. You may be able to react quickly enough to play through a few new phrases or variations, but will eventually be overwhelmed by their novelty or speed.

The game requires experience in addition to reflexes. Bit.Trip Core is challenging in much the same way shoot-em-ups such as Contra are challenging. The screen is sometimes full of moving dots that come in types and in patterns you must know. You are given a single bomb that destroys all blocks on the screen, which is useful to save yourself from failure at the last minute, but not to carry you through a song.

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In truth, you can only really complete a song after playing through it and failing many times. Many times. Perseverance can lead you through to states of flow. The moments in which you hit the blocks perfectly, when you find yourself understanding how a previously impossible sequence fits into the song, are very satisfying.

As you hit blocks you’ll activate multipliers: the scores get higher, the music gets louder, the backing synths richer, the screen busier and more colourful. When you’re doing very well, the screen goes into full-on rave mode: the bass pumps, the screen fills with psychedelic rainbows. As you miss blocks, the game drains of colour and sound. In the moments nearest to failure, the game becomes black and white and the blocks play in low-fi monotone.

Bit.Trip Core does not look like a Wii title: it has a sharp look that is unlikely to remind you that it’s played at standard definition. The songs are high-quality chiptunes: techno made with blips and buzzes. The game has a bold feel, an aesthetic that borrows from classic games without aping them.

There are hours of play to be had, but they’ll be spent only a few ways. There is only one gameplay mode. Two players can play cooperatively when things get tough, but there are still only three songs to play. Core is a lean game. There are brief (skippable) cutscenes leading into each song, but these are just time for you to get comfy before the song starts. Achievements? Put your initials at the top of the high score table.

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In some ways, Bit.Trip Core looks, sounds, and plays like something from another era. Core‘s square graphics, synthetic sounds, and spare features are retro, but the game doesn’t ride on nostalgia. It’s less about evoking memories of playing older games than it is about the experience of playing them. It has, as the name suggests, an Atari Age game at its core: a relentless, blippy, quest for mastery. It’s this that makes it so frustrating and rewarding, what makes your palms sweaty, and what makes Bit.Trip Core fun.

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Bit.Trip Core is available through Nintendo’s Wii Shop Channel for 600 Nintendo Points (roughly 6.50 CAD).

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