For the last 19 months Wii owners have been treated to a series of titles the likes of which haven't been seen since sprites ruled video games. The "BIT.TRIP" series has help WiiWare keep its head up amongst long stretches of drought and shovelware by innovating and creating games that anyone, from the casual to the hardcore gamer, can play and enjoy. "BIT.TRIP FATE" is the latest entry into the series, and it keeps the traditions of its predecessors alive by creating an entirely new adventure for Commander Video.
Picking up after the end of "BIT.TRIP RUNNER" Commander Video is continuing on his voyage in "FATE," and he is on a crash course with the mysterious Source. The game plays out like a side-scrolling shoot 'em up on rails, with the twist being, there's only one rail that directs Commander Video over the course of the entire game.
In keeping with the "BIT.TRIP" style, players are rewarded with visual and auditory upgrades if they do well, and are downgraded if they do not. However, in "FATE," players have a bit more control over this system since the mode upgrades are tied to collectible items that are dropped by defeated enemies onto the rail. The items that are dropped also allow Commander Video to upgrade his weapon; as he advances to a higher level, his bullet output increases. Much like most of the other "BIT.TRIP" games, you have the option to head through pixilated bullet-hell alone or with a friend so that you have someone to blame other than yourself when you're downgraded to the Nether mode, again.
Smashing together two different genres has, in the past, resulted in very mixed results. Fortunately, in the case of "BIT.TRIP FATE" blending a shmup with an on-the-rails shooter works surprisingly well. Not only do you have the challenge of avoiding the onslaught of oncoming attacks, but you have to do it with limited space to move, therein upping the ante adding almost a puzzle element to the game, and forcing the player to really examine how to best approach a level.
For the first time Commander Video doesn't have to go on his adventure by himself, and he has a bit of help this time around. As the Commander travels along his predetermined path he can pick up one of four different support characters; Commandgirl Video, Juinior Melchkin, Mr. Robotube, and Meat Boy (yes, that Meat Boy). Each assistant changes up Video's attack for a short period of time as well as provide a shield around our hero.
Moments into playing "BIT.TRIP FATE" for the first time you'll realize that, for a shmup-esque game, the hit detection is extremely forgiving. There is only one spot on Commander Video that is actually vulnerable, the red cross on his chest, which is also where he intersects the rail. This small strike zone means that only shots that are dead on target will take you down, and it's a relief for the first couple of levels... unfortunately, things don’t stay that way for the entire game.
Chiptunes may drive some people mad, but Gaijin seems to weave them into the fabric of their "BIT.TRIP" games so well that it deserves it's own mention.
One More Time, From The Top
The "BIT.TRIP" games have garnered a reputation for their painful difficulty, and, frankly, they deserve it. However, there's something more painful about losing a life in "FATE" than with any of the other games, and it boils down to the level design. "FATE" tends to be the slowest game in the series, and, while there's nothing wrong with that, it makes the levels feel comparatively long. The thing is, the levels themselves aren't overly challenging. They will force you the memorize where the enemies are going to approach from, but anyone that's made it through "Sin & Punishment" shouldn't have a problem surviving them. The bosses are where the game quickly ratchets up the difficulty, and, after a lengthy trek to the end of the level, dying at the boss, and having to start all the way over from the beginning can be particularly soul crushing.
"FATE" offers two different methods of controls; Wii remote and nunchuk, or Classic Controller. While I have never been one to recommend using motion controls over the classic controller, you absolutely have a better shot taking down The Source by using the Wiimote. Attempting to complete this game using the analog sticks on the Classic Controller is next to impossible, mostly because the game demands precise aim, and the octagonal housing for the sticks don’t allow for smooth targeting. Stick with the point and kill technique if you know what’s good for you.
The Greatest Story Never Told
There's a story buried somewhere in the "'BIT.TRIP" series, but you need to be a master of interpretive art to figure it out. Told only through minimalistic cutscenes, and brief flashes before boss battles, it's really hard to understand just what is going on here. Hopefully all will be revealed in the final chapter.
Gaijin Games should get some kind of special award from Nintendo for the release of "'BIT.TRIP FATE." Over the course of the last year and a half they have managed to consistently deliver five separate and unique titles celebrating the adventures of their own Commander Video on a platform that routinely gets overlooked. While it has been risky, to say the least, each game has improved on their formula, and while "FATE" might not be the best game out of the bunch (I'm still sticking with "RUNNER" for that) it continues in the traditions that Gaijin have established, and is well worth the 800 Wii Points gamers will need to spend to play it. With five episodes down, and only one left on the horizon fans can only wonder how the developers are going to top themselves next time.