Another worthy entry in the Bit.Trip saga
Unconventional is easily the best adjective to describe the Bit.Trip series' approach to gaming. From turning Pong into a rhythm game of sorts to blending an on-rails platformer with the element of rhythm, Bit.Trip is quickly proving itself as a leader in the realm of the unconventional. Its latest entry, Bit.Trip Fate, takes on the form of a bullet-hell shooter. It's not as intense as its brethren in the genre, but through its excellent usage of audio and visuals in combination with its gameplay, Bit.Trip Fate becomes a gleeful audiovisual display of endless entertainment.
Much like Runner from earlier in the year, Fate is an on-rails-type game, though only partially. CommanderVideo this time is attached to a line that's like a sound-wave in appearance which he may move forward or backward on, as well as ascend or descend whenever the line arcs up or down. The screen also slowly scrolls automatically, rounding out the on-rails foundation.
The thing about it in Fate, though, is that it's a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's an interesting take on the basic design premise of bullet-hell shooters. The limited range of movement presents an interesting challenge; you can't move to the back of the screen and weave through bullets like in other shooters, which means you're forced into risky situations constantly with few means of ensuring safe passage. It's especially chaotic when there's a variety of enemy types converging on you all at once, firing different types of bullets that make taking evasive maneuvers nigh impossible. It's quite exhilarating.
But on the other hand, it also results in a lot of controlled chaos. Where most shooters of this kind would be unrelenting with the barrage of bullets and enemies being thrown at you, Bit.Trip Fate doles them out in controlled bursts. Enemies come in small groups, usually, firing off shots in short bursts. Chaos still ensues of course, but with the exception of boss fights, who seldom let up with the flurries of pixels they send forth, the tempo of the action doesn't often reach its maximum unless you act too sluggishly, thus initiating a frantic series of movements and shots to regain some footing as enemies quickly overtake you. And that's all well and good, but the problem with this is that it considerably shortens the span of time where much of the challenge lasts, which is level memorization.
The crux of all bullet-hell shooters is that they all eventually become devoid of any sort of challenge in the realm of progression. Once you've learned when and where enemies will appear, as well as the general gist of where their pixelated firepower will fly, it all boils down to a simple matter of score hunting. There's nothing wrong with that, of course -- it's what makes this style of shooter so beloved -- but given that intense gantlets are primary focus of the series, the eased challenge undermines a bit of the core concept.
At the same time, however, it also places more emphasis on the strategic elements of Fate as a vehicle for entertainment. CommanderVideo has enlisted some help this time around, some of whom aren't native to Bit.Trip, such as Meat Boy of Super Meat Boy fame. These assistants may not directly support the Commander in battle, instead opting to modify his bullet-stream in various ways that, depending on the situation, may help or hinder your performance upon picking them up off the road. For example, Meat Boy changes the usual constant stream of pixels into a single beam with a slower rate of fire that eliminate any and all enemies with a single strike, whereas CommanderGirlVideo (the obligatory love interest, I assume) enables you to fire in two directions simultaneously. Those examples allude more to how they're useful, granted, but they can be quite detrimental in some cases.
Let's say you're faced with enemies approaching from the very top and bottom of the screen on the right-hand side simultaneously. While using Meat Boy may seem like a good idea to quickly dispatch them, the spread shot of CommanderGirlVideo would be the smarter choice, for she's enables you to eliminate both adversaries almost effortlessly. Choice of ally is important, as you only get a number of seconds to decide who you'll take along before the bubble containing them disappears. The touch of strategy the Commander's friends provide may not be largely significant, but it's presence most certainly welcome.
As is standard for the series, Bit.Trip Fate has an excellent convergence of audiovisual elements. Gameplay acts as the conduit for that convergence, with the music increasing in tempo and the visuals becoming more and more psychedelic as you vanquish foes and collect cores (that plus-shaped object from Bit.Trip Core) from fallen enemies and barriers. Each of the six levels in Fate begins in a simple state, with visual effects restrained to minimal usage and music being quiet and moody. As you progress, these two elements begin to climb until they explode in a marvelous crescendo of visual effects, color (mostly purple), and sound. It's an awe-inspiring sight.
The music, however, still keeps its low, moody atmosphere during such sequences. It's obvious that the developer wished to create a darker feel with Fate, as it permeates the experience with deep colors and the aforementioned tone of Fate's chiptune soundtrack. Any sort of meaning behind it is scarce, to the say the least, but its quality delivery is all that matters, frankly.
The same also applies to the game as a whole. Lasting challenge may not be something Bit.Trip Fate is able to provide, and the speed at which it moves may not be as intense as its predecessors, but the core experience -- the thrill of hunting for that elusive perfect score -- remains intact, despite the constant exclusion of leaderboards. The modicum of strategy sown in adds some extra fun to mix as well. It's certainly not at the top of its genre's pack, but Bit.Trip Fate still proves itself as another worthy entry in the Bit.Trip saga.