Many years ago I lost my grip on video games, and it's been difficult to claw my way back. As a kid I had a subscription to Nintendo Power, and if you go far enough back into my childhood, that's all you really needed. You knew which games were coming, and when, and the fact that the magazine raving about these games was published by the same company who stood to profit from them never entered into our minds. Its words was gospel. Hell, it was better than gospel. It was video games, man. It was video games.
Then, I don't know...I guess I grew up or something. I started to take school more seriously. I discovered writing. I discovered music. I discovered the opposite sex. I learned to drive, I went to college, I got a job. Somewhere out there Mario was still scrounging for coins and Link was still stabbing Gannon through the head, but I was no longer helping them along.
In a way this was a blessing. I mean, look at all the great (and many of them are truly great) games that sprung up in the years I've been away. Coming home to video gaming again, as I recently have, it's not just a reintroduction to old friends; it's getting acquainted with a whole slew of remarkable new ones as well. It's Half-Life. It's Pikmin. It's Portal. It's Metroid Effing Prime. (And much more recently, it's the transcendently wonderful De Blob, or the glorious brilliance of World of Goo.) Somewhere along the way video games have undergone a renaissance.
And I have a theory about that, actually. It's the same theory of why modern cartoons are undergoing an overall surge of quality as well: it's because the children who grew up infatuated with yesterday's classics are now the ones making them. Technology in every home means more than convenience and amusement; it means the kids in those homes are becoming more familiar with it. They soak it in. They obsess about it as children do. They wallow. And over the years, they stew. And ideas form. And the talented ones (and the lucky ones) eventually have the chance to work in that medium themselves. They have a chance to create. They were raised with the best...and now they have the chance to make it better.
All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that I'm becoming a gamer again, and, maybe, finally catching up to the point that I'm right there, ready and eager, when some excellent game is produced by somebody in my peer group.
Bit.Trip: Beat is a very recent release (last week, actually), and if you own a Wii, there is no reason--I repeat, no reason--not to pick it up as soon as possible. Whereas most of the games I listed above have made great strides over the years in broadening the horizons of their respective genres, Bit.Trip: Beat takes an intentional step backward. It uses for its artistic model the Atari classics of old, but it doesn't seek to bring them forward in time. No...it's content, rather, to expand horizontally. (Movement along a single plane is built into the game, after all, so why not the mission statement?) And it finds a cache of perfection so effortlessly, you'll wonder why nobody's ventured found that particular cache sooner.
It's more than just a return to a classic style though. Mega Man 9 was basically just a time-warp title, great though it was. It was a chance to step back in time and discover a classic from the NES era that never really existed. It didn't aspire to anything more; it was just one more chance to reliver a particular type of greatness. Bit.Trip: Beat, on the other hand, warps you back in time, and then leads you away into the darkness, and you're only going to find your way out together.
Its core is basically a rhythm game combined with Pong, but that's misleading, and even slightly disrespectful. It's Pong in appearance only, and the rhythm aspect is just the lubrication which enables it to slip so easily into a vastly original world of its own. What Bit.Trip: Beat discovers is a wholy original plane of hypnotic appeal. It's frightening, it's creepy, it's lonesome, it's robotic, it's hopeless, it's catchy. It's a game you'll conquer by memorizing patterns, sure, but you'll work through it that much more quickly if you can learn to dissect them, and predict the next ones. It's a game of success by repeated failure, but it's a game that almost won't let you put it down.
Is it flawed? Oh sure, it's flawed. (Amusingly, though, no two reviews seem to agree on what the flaws are. Somebody, somewhere, is going to view your least favorite aspect of the game as one of its strengths...) But it's only flawed as a game. As an experience it's transcendent. You become a slave to your senses. You become a danger to your sleep cycle. You'll hear the music in your sleep. You'll decipher patterns while you eat dinner.
It's the kind of game that gets into you, and that's why it's a success. The designers got such remarkable mileage out of such a simple concept that I can't help but be envious of their achievement.
The best part is that the company is planning another five games in the series, and it seems as though each is going to be vastly different, and a step forward along the history of gaming. I can only imagine what they will come up with if this is their debut title.
So I felt the need to gush a bit. Oh well. This is the kind of thing that happens when you discover a little nugget of gold at the bottom of your cereal box when all you expected was a neat little toy.
If you have a Wii, hook it up to the internet and download this game. At $6 it's positively idiotic to miss.