Trippy, Bitty goodness
In all of the areas that the Wii fell short in, WiiWare has to be the biggest letdown by far. In theory, it was supposed to allow small developers to create original downloadable games for WiiWare. In practice, however, stringent memory requirements, lack of advertising, a small online player base, a ridiculously small download size, ludicrous sales policies, not to mention under-powered hardware compared to its contemporaries all but scared away only the most dedicated developers from WiiWare. The number of honest-to-goodness success stories on WiiWare can be counted on two hands at best.
One of these successes can be attributed to Gaijin Games with their Bit.Trip series. Bit.Trip is a series of small but challenging rhythm games that takes gameplay and graphical inspiration from the earliest video games, but updates them with 3D visuals and dynamic soundtracks. Each game in the series is more polished and complete than the last, with entirely different playstyles, and you can really sense the progression of Gaijin Games as a developer as the games get more polished with each new installment. In 2011, Gaijin Games released Bit.Trip Complete, the first-ever retail compilation of WiiWare games on a disc, including all six games as well as numerous extras. I'll devote a paragraph to discussing each of the games' positive points below.
BEAT: The original Bit.Trip game. Think of it like Pong Pong Revolution: you twist the controller in your hands to more the paddle up and down the screen to bounce the balls in rhythm as they fly in from the right side of the screen. Though it looks simple, there are many different types of balls which will trip you up if you're not paying attention. If you maintain a long enough streak, you'll earn more points and the game will become more visually complex. Fail, and the game switches to a black-and-white mode reminiscent of early video games. Overall, a fun game, though the motion controls will take some getting used to.
CORE: This is pretty much Guitar Hero, but in 360 degrees. Similar to Guitar Hero, your goal is to press a direction on the d-pad, to target beats, then press the 1 button to "blast" the beats as they cross the target beam. Again, simple, but challenging. Almost too much so. It took me quite some time to finish even the first stage.
VOID: Probably my least favorite of the bunch, though many think that this is one of the more creative installments. I've certainly never played any other game like it before. You move a black hole around the screen with either the nunchuck or the classic controller. Your goal is to collect the black dots as they enter into the screen while avoiding the white dots. But there's a catch: for every black dot you collect, your hole gets bigger and moves slower, making it more susceptible to white dots. If you make your hole too big, you can press the 2 button to collapse the hole back down to its smallest size so you can fit between narrow passages of white dots.
RUNNER: Now we come to my absolute favorite installment. Runner combines rhythm games and platformers, making this, at least for me, the gaming equivalent of peanut butter and chocolate. You control Commander Video as he runs through each level. Your goal is to jump, slide, kick, spring and block at the correct times so that Commander Video is able to get through the level. Mess up even one time, and you'll have to go all the way back to the start of the stage, making this one of the more unforgiving games in the series. Optimally, you'll want to collect all of the gold in each level. Doing so unlocks a retro-styled bonus stage. Getting all of the gold in THAT stage allows you to get the highest possible score for the level. However, if you fail during the bonus, you cannot try it again without going through the main stage first, doubling the game's challenge for completionists. Not only is it my favorite WiiWare game, it's one of my favorite games on the system period. It was so good that it was later ported to PC, and is getting a sequel for WiiU later this year.
FATE: This is probably the least music driven of the installments, being more of a combination of a dual-stick shooter that's quite literally on-rails. You control Commander Video as he moves along a rail. You move the Commander left and right using the nunchuck and shoot by pressing the A button, aiming at the screen with the IR sensor. When shooting, the commander moves much more slowly, allowing the player to more precisely slip their way through the relentless barrage of enemy gunfire, but not allowing them to get away quickly if they need to. Various powerup characters can be caught by Commander Video offering him additional firepower, including Meat Boy, a character which sadly never saw the light of day on WiiWare. This is probably the darkest installment, with near-constant killing of pixellated monsters and a dubstep soundtrack, though its more of a light-rock version of dubstep rather than the heavy kind as popularized by artists like Skrillex. Depending on your taste in music, this could either be a very good or very bad thing.
FLUX: The 6th and final installment is nearly exactly the same as BEAT, but with a few new tricks up its sleeve. Now, you hit balls on the right side of the screen as they come in from the left, a reversal from BEAT. In addition, there are also partially invisible bonus beats that you can catch if you're observant and quick enough. Finally, you can never die. If you lose, you'll just keep continuing through the stage as if nothing ever happened. This is meant to be more of a relaxing game, as the player is meant to reflect on the challenges that he/she faced throughout the series. As such, it's probably best to play this one after you've played the others. Being the last game in the series, this is by far the most visually impressive and colorful, and easily one of the best-looking WiiWare games. The ending is pretty satisfying, though it is really slow and overlong.
My biggest complaint relates to VOID. The black dots can often times be ridiculously hard to see, since the game likes to pulsate between black and colored backgrounds all of the time. This can be very annoying, and is the reason why I'm not quite as fond of this game as the others.
For the entire series, the games can be fairly short. Most of them can be completed in 2-3 hours, and perfect (or near-perfect) runs will take even less time than that. Keep in mind that ll of these games were forced to fit under a very tiny download size, and as such are extremely short on their own. Of course, taken as a whole, the entire collection will take much more time to complete.
The Bottom Line
Bit.Trip Complete offers several advantages over its download counterpart, so much so that players who downloaded any (or even all) of the games could reasonably consider a double-dip. For starters, each game now has online leaderboards, so you can see how you compare to everyone else in the world, and to see if anyone's perfected any of the games. Next, there is bonus content available: the cutscenes and various other videos can be unlocked as you play, and there are letters from the developers about each game and other materials available for your perusal.
The biggest and most enticing new addition are the challenges. These are short but tough levels that the player has to perfect in order to complete. There are 20 challenges for each game, and completing them unlocks the aforementioned bonus materials. Finally, the game comes with a CD soundtrack for each of the stage songs from each game. You get a lot of bang for your buck with Bit.Trip Complete, and I'd personally like to see more retail releases of WiiWare games if they are to be of this level of quality and completeness.
As for the Bit.Trip series itself, it's easily one of WiiWare's lone shining stars, and something that has made XBLA and PSN fans jealous of the service, if only for a little bit. With it's unique audiovisual aesthetic and wildly varied gameplay, Bit.Trip offers hours of entertainment for retro enthusiasts, rhythm game fans, and just players looking for a challenge in general. The only qualm I have with recommending this package is that it is quite rare, having been released by a small specialty publisher rather than a big name like Nintendo. As such, you're more likely to come across a copy online instead of in the big retailers. Don't let that stop you from checking out one of Wii's best series.