|System: Wii,||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Gaijin Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Aksys Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Dec. 4, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
It's a well known fact that most video game sequels do not make a big habit of straying too far from the creative boundaries established by their predecessors. Most of the time, in place of true innovation there's simply a refinement or improvement here, and a new feature or gameplay element there. After all, publishers like to play it safe with their hard-earned investments-particularly when they cost millions of dollars to make-and if something's already selling, why take a gamble on anything new?
This is exactly why the indie game scene has proven to be such a fertile ground for new, bold ideas. When not saddled by big budgets, the demands of publishing execs and the threat of looming deadlines in the face of ambitious projects, developers are free to experiment with exactly what a game can be, and how exactly they want to go about constructing it-one of the many perks that seems to come with not being locked into the same generic variation on a theme.
There is probably no other stage than that of independent game development that Gaijin Games' Bit.Trip series could successfully have been made and distributed on. Of the games made so far, each is an intimate exploration of one or more throwback genres, a simultaneous homage to gaming's rich past and a hybrid of old-school mechanics fused with modern-day design. What makes the Bit.Trip games really special, though, is the attention Gaijin pays not just to making each game its own experience, but how their design has followed an evolutionary path. Take the first two games in the series, Bit.Trip Beat and Core. On a base level, these took the genes of Pong and vintage arcade tube-shooters like Tempest, respectively, and combined them to one degree or another with rhythm game design to create two wholly unique games.
Bit.Trip Void expands even further on this idea, and thus represents the series' biggest evolutionary leap yet. Whereas Beat and Core were both bound by their design restraints-namely, being anchored to a paddle or a shooting from a stationary crosshair of sorts-Void is the first game in the series to incorporate a full, player-controlled range of movement. And with this newfound design maturity, the game takes on the by-comparison-advanced characteristics of a side-scrolling shooter in the vein of Gradius, albeit one whose mechanics have been flipped on their head.
Like other Bit.Trips before it, Void's gameplay is relatively simple. Essentially, players control the titular void, which looks more or less like a pixelated black hole. Levels consist of a long series of patterns made up of black and white dots. It's your job to avoid the white dots and pick up the black ones. Collecting multiple black dots initiates a combo chain, so the more black dots you collect, the higher your score. Black dots also expand the size of your void, which further increases your score, but at the cost of your movement. Basically, a void becomes increasingly sluggish as it fills more and more of the screen. You can evade the white dots as a bigger void, but not forever; eventually you will have to eject all your accumulated growth (bringing your void down to its small, default size) in order to, say, fit through a tight space between two white line patterns of white dots. At the same time, if you accidentally miss a black dot or hit something white, you'll lose your size and multiplier, and may even be knocked down a health tier, which the game measures through your collection and evasion accuracy.
Less immediately noticeable to the game's depth-of-field design is its musical element, a trademark of the series. If you've played a Bit.Trip game before, you already know the drill: at the game's start, every black dot you collect makes a tonal blip. As you increase your score and multiplier, the sounds 'evolve' from flat-sounding chiptune beeps to full-bodied melodic notes. The idea is to improve your score and accuracy to bring out the musical progression of each stage in Void's three levels. Indeed, the synchronicity of every void-to-dot interaction you make within the game has been designed around a rhythmic skeleton of a larger musical whole, so doing your best job is key to fully experiencing the game's aural design. Where Void differs is that it seems to put less of a focus on music than previous titles have, as the musical tracks, even when going at full tilt, still seem less subdued and harder to pick up on.