Have you ever played Pong? Most gamers have, although not as it was meant to be played on the original arcade machine. Typically, if you play Pong today, it’s on a handheld device, or one of our consoles in some form of HD remake or game loosely based off of the original. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the idea, because in a way it can become pretty boring. However, Bit.Trip Beat takes an interesting approach to the Pong-like genre and makes things very lively.
Bit.Trip Beat is basically a mix between Pong and a rhythm game. It takes some pretty sweet retro-sounding music, even chip tune, if you will, and tosses objects at you to the beat of the music. You’re given a paddle on one end of the screen to deflect these objects, which are timed to hit your paddle along with the beat of the music being played. Deflecting the object successfully generates points for you, and progresses you to ever more difficult stages. If you miss enough times, you eventually get passed to a black-and-white stage, which gives you a chance to redeem yourself. Continue screwing up and it’s game over for you, but if you manage to hang in there, you get passed back to the world of color.
What’s notable here especially is the whole old-school feel the game was going for. It works, and it works extremely well. Sometimes retro-styled titles can get bogged down in being too “authentic” to the time period in video game history the game is created to mimic. This introduces all sorts of issues, including hold-over mechanics that have no place in today’s games, whether it’s a retro-themed game or not. Bit.Trip Beat doesn’t fall into this trap, but instead draws you in and gets you addicted to the intense, trippy game play. Your mind will eventually move to the beat of the music and it feels like some of the difficult sections get easier when you let that musicality take over.
The visuals are eye-catching – there is never a dull moment. From little 8-bit explosions to flashing psychedelic patterns, you definitely will have a hard time taking your eye off this one. But, that does present a problem. I’ve played a lot of iPhone games, and never has a game strained my eyes as much as this one. I don’t know if it is the seizure-inducing cacophony of flashing colors or the intense focused state I tend to fall under when trying my absolute hardest not to miss deflecting an object with my little paddle. Whatever the case, my eyes hurt after even a short play session.
You can control your paddle in one of two ways. The default is to use the iPhone’s motion sensor to tilt the device forward or back, causing the paddle to go up or down. This is very sensitive and responsive, but you have to be careful to not overshoot the object you’re trying to hit. More times than I can count I pulled back a little too much and completely missed an object that should have been incredibly easy to rebound. This becomes even more pronounced when things start speeding up.
The other way to control the game is by touch. You can use your finger to slide the paddle up and down. You have a lot more control over the paddle using this method, but you have to either have your finger on the right or left of the landscape-oriented screen, and both those locations present a problem. If you control the paddle with your finger on the left of the screen, you have issues at times seeing your paddle. If you use the right, you get a split-second less time to see where the object is coming from. It seems to be a no-win scenario here.
Ultimately, I preferred the tilt controls, because you do get used to the sensitivity after a while, and it means your hands are clear of the screen to avoid obstructing anything important.
The game has multiple levels and modes, including various stages and a multi-player mode. If you get tired of what comes pre-packaged in the game, you can use in-app purchasing to pick up extra levels at $1.99 per 3-level pack. I’m going to lay this on the table now – I’m not a huge fan of in-app purchases, and it’s no different here. The multi-player I can’t honestly speak on, because every time I tried getting an online match together, the Game Center would just get stuck at searching for another player to play against for a long period of time, to the point where I just gave up.
Ultimately, Bit.Trip Beat is a very fun blast to the past, yet with a modern, genre-bending twist. The music is cool, the visuals are colorful and the game play is pretty intense at times. I found my palms sweating while gripping the iPhone, concentrating too much on what was going on to try not to miss a beat. It does have some flaws, most notably in the control schemes and the seeming lack of the multi-player matchmaking even working at all. However, whichever control scheme you choose will afford you the opportunity to get used to it, thus probably not even noticing the deficiencies of your preferred method of moving the paddle. In-app purchasing of new levels is another down-side. The app itself already isn’t on the cheaper side, and they want to zing you for $1.99 for each additional level pack. But, overall, this is a fun, challenging and ultimately rewarding experience that works well on the iPhone platform.