The Bit.Trip series as a whole eschews the modern-gaming approach of graphics over gameplay by focusing instead on the gameplay and matching it to some truly retro chiptune-ish music akin to games like Rez. The last installment, Bit.Trip Fate, had some issues, but the core gameplay experience was truly something to behold. Bearing this in mind, developer Gaijin Games went back to the drawing board for their last title in the series, Bit.Trip Flux, returning to the Pong-inspired gameplay found in Bit.Trip Beat, but also incorporating all of the improvements they've made since Beat's original 2009 release. Does this approach provide a fitting send-off for the last title in the Bit.Trip series, or does returning to more familiar pastimes put a dampener on the series' final trip?
For those who never played Beat, here's a quick rundown of the gameplay mechanics, which are shared with Flux for the most part. You are in control of a rectangular panel on the right-hand side of the screen, controlled by twisting the Wii Remote from a sideways position (NES-style). Pixel "beats" fly at you from the left side of the screen, which you hit with the panel Pong-style making them fly off to the other side of the screen. Hit enough of them and you will "level up", increasing your score multiplier with the added side effect of making the audio and visualizations more expressive and intricate. Miss too many and you will enter the "Nether" mode, in which the screen turns black and white, forcing you to hit enough of the beats to recover and start your combo again.
While this sounds easy enough, things get hectic very, very quickly. As you progress through the game more intricate beat patterns begin to form, some even bouncing back or speeding up unexpectedly. This seems unfair at first, but once you hone into the game's audio, the Wii Remote movements become almost second-nature as you move with the beat. Combining this with the intense visuals that appear later on makes for extremely unique experiences. Gaijin Games utilizes this fact to provide for some amazing bullet patterns, so one generally never sees the same pattern twice throughout the game.
There are two key additions to Flux over the gameplay found in Beat. The first comes in the form of power-ups, which range from making the panel larger to slowing down the movement of the beats. The second addition is the new "Avoid" beat, a circular-shaped beat which tends to throw itself into some of the game's more trickier combos. This creates some insanely hectic movements where Avoid beats will be placed in waves and requires the player to weave in and out of them to catch the "good" beats that lie within.There's also a third addition to Flux: no game over screens. While arcade and old-school purists might initially balk at this change, how Gaijin Games implemented it is easily one of the best improvements in the series by far. At regular intervals during the game's three stages, players will reach checkpoints. If players enter "Nether" mode and miss enough beats, they will return back to the last checkpoint instead of starting back at the beginning of the level, reverting their score back to what it was at that point. This removes the cheapness that was present in titles such as Fate, which had numerous sections which would cause a game over minutes into the level unless you memorized that specific part of the level. This allows high score fanatics to easily backtrack to an earlier checkpoint to get a better score while at the same time lessening the annoyance factor for those not yet used to the game's sometimes frantic controller motions. Unlike most video games today, which are either "hardcore" or "casual", Flux is a mix of both which is perfectly suitable for long-time gamers and those who just started on games such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit.
As mentioned earlier, Bit.Trip Flux (and the Bit.Trip series as a whole) utilizes a unique mix of audio and visuals to correspond to the actions on the screen, as can be seen in the video above showcasing Flux's first level, Epiphany. And as you hit more and more beats, the audio and visuals keep increasing in their complexity, eventually reaching the "Meta" status, which is truly a sight to behold, even if most players won't stay in it for more than a minute due to its sheer difficulty to keep it going. A number of times while playing the game I had the thought "Give it one more try!" in the back of my head, trying to see what awaited further in the game when I was reset to the last checkpoint.
There are a few minor issues with Flux, however. Unlike Beat, which featured four-player co-op, this game only has two-player co-op due to the addition of having to avoid bullets instead of just reflecting them. While it's understandable, fans of that feature from Beat might be slightly disappointed. Once again, just like in Fate and all of the other Bit.Trip games, Flux doesn't have any online leaderboard functionality to upload and share your high scores with the Bit.Trip community at large. While the Bit.Trip games are designed as throwbacks to older titles before the advent of online gaming, this omission is a bit too old-school even for this game.
Bit.Trip Flux, if you hadn't already inferred it from this review, is a fitting ending to the Bit.Trip series and a worthy game in its own right. The simple Pong-inspired gameplay, aided by the incredibly vivid audio and visuals allows for a unique gaming experience that can't really be described without playing it firsthand. Unlike Fate, which had some control issues that could have really used a tutorial level or two, Flux is easy to understand right from the get-go, even if it takes players weeks to truly master the simple Wii Remote movement. Even with its minor issues, it still stands out above the rest of the titles available on WiiWare. If you've been looking for a game to show off WiiWare's potential, here it is.
|Excellent use of audio and visuals.|
|Caters to a much wider audience than previous titles.|
|The stripped-down multiplayer is a bit of a let down.|
|Really could have used online leaderboards.|
|Can get slightly hectic at times for those not used to this type of game.|