The Bit.Trip series began nearly two years ago on Nintendo’s WiiWare service with a little title called Bit.Trip BEAT – a colourful and trippy take on Atari’s hit classic Pong. Little did I know it, but that title that I so hesitantly purchased would soon introduce me to one of my favourite series of all time.
In the twilight hours of my time with the series it became apparent to me that this epic finale has been a long time in the planning.
On my first day of college, the dean stood in front of the freshman class and told us to “begin with the end in mind”. Rather than heed that sage advice, I decided to “find myself” over the course of the next four years. Conversely, Gaijin Games CEO Alex Neuse appears to be the man with the plan.
At a first glance you could pass Bit.Trip FLUX off as Bit.Trip BEAT in reverse. Much like BEAT, FLUX is a Pong-inspired rhythm game, except this time in reverse – balls fly from the left towards a paddle on the right and you’ll have to try your best to hit them back. While that may not sound revolutionary, upon deeper examination FLUX is far more intricate and beautiful than you could possibly first imagine.
Sure, on the surface it seems like a direct sequel BEAT. As far as gameplay goes, that sentiment is more or less correct. It plays very much the same. The better a pong player you are, the prettier the game will be and the better the music will sound. However, if you look (and listen) closer you’ll find fingerprints from the rest of the series all over this game.
The Bit.Trip series is a concept piece following Commander Video and his journey through life. Now while none of this is explicitly explained, Gaijin Games lays on the narrative for those who will listen and lets everyone else enjoy the trippy graphics and fun gameplay. If you’re someone who’s been paying attention to the story and trying to piece it together for yourself you’ll absolutely love FLUX.
I apologize in advance for spoilers, or at least my over interpretation of a bunch of pixels. A brief summary for the series’ story would go something like this: Bit.Trip BEAT through Bit.Trip VOID deal with our protagonist’s conception through early childhood, Bit.Trip RUNNER sees his coming of age, and Bit.Trip FATE his final conflict and eventual demise.
I believe that FLUX is about the time between death and the afterlife, that moment just before you expire when you see your life flash before your eyes: all that you’ve ever done condensed into a matter of moments. In FLUX Gaijin Games, the players, and Commander Video all reflect on the journey that we’ve experienced over the past two years.
Now think about what FLUX appears to be at first glance: Bit.Trip BEAT in reverse. In Bit.Trip FATE Commander Video is tethered to a line, a line that eventually leads him to his end. Now he looks back on everything that has happened, everything he’s experienced, everything we have perceived in the Bit.Trip series.
When you put the magnifying glass up to FLUX you see the whole series thrown into a blender. If you played VOID, you’ll see the bullet-hell-esque “avoid the white dots” gameplay make a return and stand right alongside BEAT’s Pong-like gameplay. The soundtrack largely consists of remixed and blended versions of the series’ most memorable songs. This type of self referential fan service is absolutely fantastic and really made me reflect on six of my favourite games of this generation.
One of the most interesting mashups from previous games in the series is in the game’s death system. If you have played RUNNER you’ll know that there wasn’t really a Game Over screen. If you died you just started again from the beginning of the level. FLUX takes that formula and pairs it with mid-level checkpoints, as seen in VOID. After hearing that you’d probably think this was the easiest Bit.Trip game yet, but you’d only be half right.
The more forgiving nature of the game’s design allows Alex Neuse to throw absolutely brutal beat patterns at the player. So while it’s easier in some aspects, it is absolutely infuriatingly difficult in others. Bit.Trip BEAT was difficult because if you screwed up it was all over and you would have to start again at the beginning of a fifteen minute long level. I really enjoyed that about BEAT because I could play it in short bursts, get my fix and move on with my day.
I found FLUX totally different in that respect. While there are checkpoints, the game doesn’t save when you get to them: turn your console off, and you’ll be starting right back at the beginning of the level. FLUX became so difficult at times that I found myself lucky to have progressed. I wouldn’t let myself walk away from my Wii until victory was mine, and at one point that compulsion led me to play for more about four hours straight.
If you can get around that minor (major?) annoyance without sacrificing too much of your sanity on FLUX’s final boss you’ll find a really solid, challenging and absolutely beautiful game. The visuals, sound and retro charm that has made the rest of series so enjoyable remains intact. Meanwhile, Gaijin lays on the beautifully reflective narrative and self referential fan service that hardcore enthusiasts will absolutely eat up. Any Wii owner who is even mildly interested would do well to pick this one up.
FLUX is beautiful, both its narrative and visuals.
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The gameplay is still as great as it was back in 2009 with Bit.Trip BEAT. It's been tweaked and modified a bit, the difficulty ramped up considerably, but at the end of the day it's still great.
FLUX highlights the series' best tracks and brings them back in a whole new way.
This really depends on skill and enthusiasm. Your mileage will vary but there are at least several hours of gameplay in store for your first playthrough.
Any Wii owner who is even mildly interested would do well to pick Bit.Trip FLUX up.