It is better to be looked over than overlooked. –Mae West
So there you are, my gamer friend, gazing wistfully at that dusty white Wii that held so much promise when you brought it home five years ago. If only it had realized more of its potential. If only somebody had thought of a sensible online strategy. If only it had glowed blue more often.
Maybe you’ve reached the end of Skyward Sword and thought to yourself, “If this is the Wii’s swan song, at least the little guy went out on a high note.” But hold on there, friend. Don’t despair. I’ve got good news! Mario Party 9 is coming next March!! …Ah, sarcasm.
Before you relegate your Wii to doorstop status, may I suggest one more old-fashioned retail box game purchase? This one comes at a discount price (Amazon sells it for $25), and it’s actually six games for the price of one: Bit.Trip Complete.
If one Wii game, or in this case a series of terrific games, has been most unfairly overlooked by players, it’s the Bit.Trip series by developer Gaijin Games. While I’ve got you here, I’ll also mention Little King’s Story, A Boy and His Blob, and Excitebots, but all things considered, the Bit.Trip games are the most criminally neglected.
Bit.Trip Complete collects all six Bit.Trip games: BEAT, CORE, VOID, RUNNER, FATE, and FLUX. It also includes a video gallery recounting the story of CommanderVideo, concept art, an audio gallery featuring fan remixes of the game’s original chiptunes, and a soundtrack sampler. All nice inclusions, but fairly standard stuff for game re-releases.
Happily, Bit.Trip Complete contains three other features that convinced me to take the plunge. Included on the disc are six actual letters to Bit.Trip fans written by the developers, explaining the symbolism behind each game. These commentaries illuminate, in a decidedly non-didactic manner, the designers’ surprisingly ambitious narrative goals for each Bit.Trip game. More on the “meaning” of Bit.Trip in a moment.
Bit.Trip Complete also features 20 new mini-levels, adding a significant amount of new content to the game. But the biggest reason many players will appreciate Complete is the addition of Easy and Hard difficulty levels. My only real complaint about the original games was that they were too unforgiving. BEAT, in particular, gave me fits, and only a tag-team sub-in from my son got me past the final stage. Complete’s Easy mode mercifully lowers the difficulty curve, while Hard mode delivers a motion-controlled flogging to anyone crazy enough to tackle it.
The Bit.Trip games deliver a clinic on the virtues of minimalism in design. When I saw them a few months ago at IndieCade, Gaijin founders Mike Roush and Alex Neuse discussed the challenge of pursuing a design vision defined by simplicity. Their presentation was originally called “Storytelling through Minimalism,” but at the last moment they changed it to “Storytelling through Symbolism,” which better captures how the Bit.Trip games convey meaning.
Homages to classic games can be found throughout the Bit.Trip games. BEAT is clearly inspired by PONG; RUNNER owes its existence to Moon Patrol. Roush and Neuse wanted to make “as close to a pure game as possible,” while opening up opportunities for narrative interpretation. They visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York and studied Mark Rothko’s paintings, among other artists. They also found sonic inspiration from the chiptune scene, citing Bit Shifter and Anamanaguchi as key influences. Music is a fundamental element of the Bit.Trip design, both aesthetically and as a metronome for gameplay.
Through six games released three months apart over nearly two years, Gaijin presented the story of CommanderVideo. “We wanted to tell a story, not just [release] arcade adventures… We wanted to tell a story of pre-birth to post-death,” Roush noted. “We needed to be able to tell our story in three interwoven ways: 1) Gameplay; 2) Music; 3) Art”
How many players seek or require a story in these retro-style arcade games? Why must we “interpret” them? Why can’t we just have fun playing them and overcoming their challenges? The wonderful thing about the Bit.Trip games is that they invite interpretation without requiring it. For many players, simply surviving to the end of a difficult level is engagement enough.
But Roush and Neuse were delighted by the overwhelming number of emails and online discussions scrutinizing CommanderVideo’s symbolic journey from life to death to rebirth. If you see CommanderVideo as an ethereal being who dreams of being corporeal - and then experiences the consequences of that transition - you’re on your way to accessing the Bit.Trip saga presented sequentially over the course of six games.
Give Bit.Trip Complete a try and support the work of designers trying something different…and familiar at the same time. Each game can also be downloaded individually via WiiWare. Bit.Trip BEAT is also available for PC/Mac and iOS.
Can you recommend other overlooked Wii games? Let me know about them in the comment section below.