Bit.Trippin’: A Tale of Discovery & Exploration

8 Aug

I’m sitting in my living room, listening to the same chip tune play over and over on a loop as I type this post. Bit.Trip Core‘s title screen is displayed on my television, and it’s indicating that I have yet to beat the game’s second level.

bold bit trip core titleDiscovery was easy enough, but I’m having trouble beating the boss of Exploration, an homage to Missile Command. I want to beat the level as soon as possible so I can play the third and final level of Core and get started on my review, but I know that when I reach it, I’ll be in the same rut I’m in now. In fact, I’ll be there longer.

I know, because I’m also stuck on Growth, the third level of Bit.Trip Beat, which is Mega Man hard. And like Mega Man‘s sequel, Bit.Trip Core is even harder than its predecessor. Also like Mega Man 2, Core is a much deeper game.

I’m reviewing Bit.Trip Core for Game Positive. In fact, this will be the first review that comes as both a request from my editor and comes with the game thrown in gratis (all six bucks worth!) as publisher Aksys is looking for more reviewers to shed some light on their series.

In preparation for the review, I downloaded Bit.Trip Beat so I could be familiar with the start of the series and recognize what makes Bit.Trip tick. My conclusion?

Beat-focused pattern-recognition and reflex-testing with retro flair.

Each time I try my hand at Discovery (and hopefully get a little better), I toss out potential lines for my final review in my head:

Core takes what Beat started and adds four quadrants of depth, requiring more keen reflexes and more fast-paced memorization.

While Beat was a more passive rhythmic experience, Core puts the player in an active role, requiring him to literally blast out the beat with his blocky, orange laser beam.

I can’t help but notice how nearly every observation I make, like the ones above, deal with how Core stacks up as a sequel and how the Bit.Trip series stacks up as a rhythm game. That’s because I recently read some of flOw and Flower developer Jenova Chen’s thoughts on how reviewers should approach games.

Chen believes that game reviewers focus far too much on the specific technical elements of games like graphics and sound. It’s true that many reviewers follow rigid formats requiring them to touch on these elements, often in a specific order, for the games they review. I actually follow such a format at Game Positive.

Instead of focusing on how well games looks and sound, Chen thinks reviewers should focus on how a game makes us feel. The thought is admirable, but I think Chen is giving majority of modern games way too much credit. Most modern games don’t make me feel much of anything significant, but that’s because most don’t focus on trying to make players feel.

bold bit trip core screen

Having these thoughts bother me while I start planning my review of Bit.Trip Core might be uncalled for, but Chen’s ideas have me thinking about the smaller bits of content in my reviews. For example, I was planning on mentioning Core‘s inclusion of a meter that indicates how far along you are in each stage as an improvement over Beat, and, if it matched the final tone of my review, I may have even gone on to offer my idea for bettering the game by allowing players to continue from the sections indicated in the meter.

Is that even acceptable to do in a review of a game? Is it a reviewers job to offer constructive criticism?

On the one hand, it makes the game’s developer aware of what wasn’t liked but could be fixed. On the other hand, do reviewers know enough about game development to offer such a suggestion? And does the reviewer’s audience even care about his suggestions or do they just want to know what’s wrong (or right) with the game in question?

Looking at it now, I think mentioning the progression meter would be nothing more than a trivial detail, not even worth its own sentence in my review as it surely wouldn’t guarantee or ward off a purchase. As for my suggestion that players should be able to continue from the individual sections within each stage, who’s to say developer Gaijin Games didn’t try just that and decided against it because it made the game too easy. It is only three levels long.

bold bit_trip_core

Instead, I’ll focus on the core experience of Core, describing everything one needs to know in order to truly grasp the gameplay. I think in that way, I will be describing how the game makes the player feel. It doesn’t have to be something profound like love or sorrow; just a feeling like exhilaration or frustration, everyday video game feelings.

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2 Responses to “Bit.Trippin’: A Tale of Discovery & Exploration”

  1. Chris Osborn August 8, 2009 at 4:27 PM #

    What up! Chris from Gaijin here. Thanks for a sneak peak of what goes on behind the reviewers head and working to keep journalism real. Word.

    • chasmang August 8, 2009 at 7:45 PM #

      Thanks for the comment, Chris. I’m just trying to do good by you and the people in my future profession. Word. 😛

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