Games for Lunch: Bit.Trip Core
Developer: Gaijin Games
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: July 6, 2009
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site
0:00 Even though I never managed to get through the third stage in the punishing Bit.Trip Beat, the techno rhythms and old-school aesthetic stuck with me. I'm looking forward to another blistering, musical challenge here.
0:01 Even the menu is kind of challenging to figure out... I have to hit up, then time my button-press as a yellow dot is crossing the "Discovery" options.
0:02 A little black figure with a white screen for a face looks up at three much taller, similar-looking guys. They're in a red room with no doors or windows. The taller guys warp and bend to the insistent synth in the background; then everything goes dark but their faces. Mommy!
0:03 Starts out simple enough. Little pixilated dots come in from the sides, on a path to hit one of four lines emanating from the center of the screen. I have to choose a beam with the d-pad, then hit the 2 button with perfect timing to collect them. Already there are some tough patterns, with balls flying in at different speeds but hitting the beam at the same time. Switching between beams quickly is a workout for my thumb, and I'm an experienced gamer!
0:06 OK, now dots are stopping and changing directions before they hit a beam. Other dots are moving in undulating sine waves before reaching the beams, and still others bounce around in a circle after hitting their first beam. Well, that got hard fast! I'm keeping up pretty well ... even got a streak to go into Hyper mode, which adds a backbeat and more color.
0:08 Remember when I said things were going well? Yeah, not so much anymore. A string of wavy dots hovered right around the center in such a way that I couldn't tell which way to capture them! I fall into the stark, black-and-white Nether mode and try to mount a comeback, but it's not enough. Game over.
0:12 Now that I know the patterns, I'm getting off to a great restart, hitting the first 250 or so yellow dots before getting my first miss. This gets me up to the upper echelons of Super mode, which is even trippier than Mega mode, somehow. The button-presses are coming rhythmically and precisely. My work on the tiny d-pad is a little less precise, but still passable.
0:14 I manage to get through the sine-wave dots this time by randomly wiggling the d-pad and hitting 2 like a madman. It's not elegant, but I get enough to survive.
0:16 Now we've got green dots that stumble around drunkenly before finally hitting the axis in perfect time with the music. Also, a multi-beam power-up lets me hit two dots on opposite sides at once. Shiny.
0:17 I don't know how to make my eyes keep track of all the things going on at once here. I have to kind of un-focus and look at all four corners of the screen at once. Also, the rhythms are getting harder ... more syncopated. Help!
0:18 A white glittery dot unlocks Challenge mode ... because apparently this wasn't challenging enough already?!?! It screws up my input so that right is up, left is down, etc. Oh, and did I mention some green dots are now jumping into the beam with only two or three frames of animation? YIKES!
0:21 Now I'm getting dots that actually accelerate halfway down the path, along with twisting pairs that try to fool me into using the wrong beam. My play is very streaky ... sometimes I'm rocking Super mode, other times I'm barely hanging on in the black-and-white Nether pit. I find myself so focused on one slow-moving dot that I don't notice the fast one blazing in from the side.
0:23 The Ultra Beam power-up lets me hold down 2 and just collect dots en masse. If the whole game were like this, it'd be less demanding, but also probably less fun.
0:26 Boss-battle time. Streams of dots are sent from a diamond-shaped matrix of yellow dots. The game tries to fool me with some variable speed shots, but the dots all hit in a consistent rhythm ... I just have to un-focus my eyes a bit and keep track of all the positions instinctively. I get a decent combo going, bumping me up to Super mode, but then I lose the beat and drop back down to Hyper incredibly quickly. By the by, I think it's illustrative that the default level in this game is called "Hyper."
0:27 The center explodes in rhythmic bombs after the boss is felled. "Discovery Complete." My score is 2.7 million or so. There are three unused digits to the left of the "2." Good god, how high do these scores go? I'm only third on the game's preset high-scores list. No Internet rankings? Sad.
0:29 The black monolith guy narrows his eyes, grabs hold of two fellow monolith people, then rockets to the top of the screen. Uh.
0:31 Lots of streaky dots flying at different speeds in this second level, but all in the same rhythm. Some cross two beams in their flight, so if I miss the first time I can still get it later.
0:33 Dots are coming almost too fast for me to change the beam direction and hit the button in time. I feel like I'm relearning how to play Guitar Hero and have to coordinate my hands extremely carefully. I know what I'm supposed to do, but my hands are just too clumsy for it so far.
0:34 I just noticed the word "Bomb" in the upper-right corner. A quick check of the on-screen Operations Guide says hitting the 1 button will activate it. It blows up everything on the screen. Wish I hadn't wasted it to figure that out...
0:36 As if the game weren't hard enough, there are now red dots that, if missed, immobilize me for a few seconds. Almost as if to make up for this, there are also purple dots that, when hit, turn into stationary fireworks that destroy other dots for me. How sweet.
0:37 I fall into Nether mode during a mess of yellow dots flying in from all sides. I wish I'd saved my bomb...
0:38 I fall into Nether again and this time I just can't keep up. I can process the dots just fine, but I'm just a split-second too late with my button-tapping, somehow. 292,000 points gets me 10th on the high scores list.
0:41 The rhythmic and visual patterns really come out in the second playthrough. The first time all I was doing was reacting viscerally, but this time my vague sense-memory lets me appreciate the artistry and subtle repetition a bit more. Great design, there.
0:46 I die at the same place I did the first time, when I fall off the rhythm. I have to FOCUS here!
0:53 Sorry about that ... I got a bit lost in a trance there. I barely made it past the tough section this time, catching the timing just before I died. I lose the rhythm shortly thereafter, though. I'm so close, but the game requires such precision that even the slightest mistake can lead to a quick demise. So frustrating! One last try for the hour.
1:01 Well, I'm getting really good at the early parts of the level, scoring a huge 300+ combo. I got past the tough part again, just barely, only to run into a section where dots hit two opposite beams at the same time. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do here. Did I miss a multi-beam power-up or something?
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? While it's not quite as straightforward as Bit.Trip Beat, the pounding beat and mesmerizing visuals have me hooked. I just want to see what else this game has up its sleeves, really.
This column is based on a downloadable copy of the game purchased by the columnist.
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