Bit.Trip Saga Review

By Shawn Collier on October 2, 2011

Back in 2009, developer Gaijin Games and publisher Aksys Games released BIT.TRIP BEAT on the Nintendo Wii's WiiWare service. Featuring the iconic character named "Commander Video," the series hearkened back to the "˜80s and "˜90s where simplistic and brutally difficult but rewarding gameplay triumphed over flashy graphics. Earlier this year Gaijin Games released the final game in the series, BIT.TRIP FLUX. A few months following that game's release the developer announced two new Bit.Trip compilation collections: COMPLETE for the Wii and SAGA for the Nintendo 3DS. This review focuses on the Nintendo 3DS version which forgoes the extra challenges found in COMPLETE for a portable version and 3D effects. Does it add an extra angle to what is already an excellent series or is it aa instance of adding too much and ruining the overall experience?

As stated earlier, BIT.TRIP SAGA for the Nintendo 3DS does not include the 100+ challenges, extra developer insight material or online leaderboards found in COMPLETE, instead only including the original levels found in the six WiiWare releases with all six games unlocked from the get-go. However, SAGA features two new additions: 3D graphical effects and modified touch and physical controls due to the hardware change.

As fans of the series already know, the BIT.TRIP series is known for its simplistic control schemes and this carries over to SAGA, albeit in a slightly changed format due to the different button configuration found on the Nintendo 3DS when compared to the Nintendo Wii's Wii Remote and nun-chuk. BEAT and FLUX, both of which have players control a paddle ala Pong, can be controlled using the analog stick or via stylus motions. The latter controls exceptionally well and feels extremely natural but the former feels extremely touch as any upward or downward motion moves the paddle from one extreme to the other and there's no way to control the speed via way of a configuration.

CORE and RUNNER feel most at home with the control changes since both used button presses and the directional pad instead of motion controls. Nothing was really wrong with either game control-wise so it's a great move by Gaijin Games to leave alone what worked originally. And finally VOID and FATE fall somewhat in the middle as both games used a mix of conventional and motion controls in their original outings. VOID uses the slide pad to move Commander Video and the A button to "pop" him. FATE uses the slide pad to move Commander Video across the wave he travels on while the stylus is used to control where his bullets fire. VOID's control scheme feels pretty natural but FATE's is pretty weird until you get used to the controls, especially if you spent countless hours playing the original WiiWare release as I did.Those worried about a visual downgrade going from the Nintendo Wii to the Nintendo 3DS's smaller screen needn't worry as the games still look as sharp as they did in their original incarnations. There's a few minor differences in some of the graphics but you would have to be comparing the two versions side-by-side to notice any real differences. Most of the changes are minor cosmetic color changes due to the resolution differences between the two platforms and most users won't even notice the changes unless they're hard pressed to look for them.

As for the 3D effect, the main draw of SAGA, it has its own strengths and weaknesses. Games such as RUNNER and FATE benefit from the effect as it makes judging the depth of the obstacles and the environment much easier at a glance compared to the original WiiWare versions of both games and provides for some psychedelic visual effects once players get into the higher "moods" found by collecting power-ups, evading enemies or catching the projectiles depending on which game is being played where the scores and text fade out and slide downward on the screen. On the flip side, however, oddly enough some of the titles such as RUNNER have somewhat noticeable frame rate issues in the more hectic parts such as the game's third area. Those who haven't played RUNNER or didn't play the original to death likely won't notice the frame rate drop unless they were told about it but it's a peculiar issue considering the games don't tax the system at all graphically.

Besides the old-school gameplay and trippy graphics, the BIT.TRIP series is known for something else: music. Fans of the originals can sigh in relief as Gaijin Games kept this core feature of the game intact in this portable release with all of the notes and instruments being exactly the same as you remembered. Fans of the series already know this but for newcomers: be sure to wear your headphones as it provides for an exceptionally surreal experience when paired with the 3D effects of the Nintendo 3DS.

Final Thoughts

While it doesn't include the extra challenges and the online leaderboards found in COMPLETE and it has some strikingly odd frame rate issues for what appears to be a simplistically visual game engine, BIT.TRIP SAGA is still an incredibly exceptional experience for the senses and is a perfect fit for those who liked the concept but didn't have the time to sink themselves in front of a TV or for those who want to practice the game while away from home. And one could argue the new controls, especially the stylus-based ones, provide a much better control scheme than the original Wii-based motion controls. It could have used some more polish but this is still a great title and anyone who can stomach its old-school gameplay and graphics will find a lot to love. Commander Video has made his portable trip home.

Some of the games definitively benefit from the new touch screen controls.
The excellent music is just as catchy as the original WiiWare versions.
The 3D provides for some trippy special effects.
Some games have slight framerate issues when the 3D effects are turned on.
None of the extra challenges or other bonus material from COMPLETE is included.
Still as hard as the originals so those who didn't like it before won't like it now.
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