Review: Bit Boy!! (WiiWare)

Will you want to join Kubi on this totally crazy pixellated retro journey?

There has been a fair amount of hype surrounding the release of Bplus’ Bit Boy!! which is understandable as it taps into our love of retro gaming in much the same way as Mega Man 9 and Bit.Trip Beat did. Bit Boy!! offers a puzzling experience not unlike Pac-Man and adds a great deal of originality to the formula by taking the game over six different generations of video gaming, offering different visual styles representative of these generations.

As soon as the player starts up the game it is immediately obvious as to the intended feel of the game and indeed the intended audience – those with a special place in their hearts for retro gaming goodness. Bplus successfully achieves the feel of a retro classic with the simple 4-bit title screen and pleasant sounding background music. Each “gaming era” has a different feeling and successive eras are unlocked upon completion of the proceeding era. The first iteration of Bit Boy!! is in the 4-bit era. The game describes the 4-bit generation as having only a handful of colours, a low frame rate, no background music and as utilizing joystick control. The joystick control works really quite well and it does feel like one is playing with a joystick, although at times it can be a bit hard to control Kubi, the in-game “character,” if the surface you are playing on isn’t completely flat or stable.

One thing immediately noticeable right from the very first level of the 4-bit era is the level of difficulty in the game. There's no gentle introductory level, and while this isn’t always a bad thing, Bit Boy!! really is quite a tough game, especially in the earlier levels, which may seem a bit strange. The 4-bit generation features no special attacks for Kubi to use and therefore avoiding enemies in these dead-end filled levels is pretty much impossible; sometimes there really is no way to get past an enemy and the player is forced to use lives and continues to progress to the next level.

Upon completion of the 4-bit era the 8-bit era is unlocked which features the actual colour palette used for the NES, a pretty cool piece of gaming history. Other than that this is pretty much the same as the 4-bit era on a slightly larger scale. One thing of note about this second stage is that it seems a lot less frustrating than the first game: still overly difficult, but not quite as hair-pullingly so. You now get a limited number of special attacks which can help you out of one of the many tight spots. Perhaps it was the intended aim of the developers as it certainly does feel like playing an improved version of the older game. Using the Wii Remote as a NES-style controller, akin to the Virtual Console, also works well here and there are no complaints to be made about the in-game controls.

When the player unlocks the 32-bit era the visual style markedly shifts to a low budget-looking 3D iteration of Bit Boy!! The game notes that the 32-bit generation has “long CD loading times” and therefore the developers have inserted pretty lengthy loading screens between each level in Bit Boy!! 3D. It’s understandable as to why the developers have done this and at first it’s pretty amusing to have to sit through these screens, reminiscent of games on the original PlayStation. However, after the first few levels of these long loading screens it gets more than a little tedious and one can’t help but feel that these screens are perhaps unnecessary in every level. As one is likely to experience several Game Overs in Bit Boy!! it seems a bit odd that the Game Over screen doesn’t change for each generation and rather the 128-bit game and the 4-bit game share exactly the same screen. This is only a minor niggle though.

From the 32-bit era onwards the player is able to change the camera perspective with the minus button. This offers a slightly different gaming experience and makes the player feel a little more immersed in the game world. However the ability to change camera angle is perhaps more than a little superfluous as it really is quite hard to play the game from any angle other than an overhead one due to the sheer volume of enemies and the number of dead ends featured in the later levels.

Other than the introduction of special attacks and the motion controlled jumps there is little to no change in the gameplay of each successive version of Bit Boy!! on offer. While graphics do indeed change and improve with each video gaming generation it seems odd that Bplus would ignore the other changes that took place, and sadly the gameplay of Bit Boy!! quickly becomes pretty stale with no variation between levels or generations. Of course the core game should remain as it is, but some changes other than the aesthetic would have been nice to see in each generation – power ups, extra lives?

Unfortunately, Bit Boy!! quickly loses its charm and with the unlocking of the final video game generation, Bit Boy!! Wii, the player is left feeling perhaps a little bit bored and also perhaps slightly nauseous due to the vomit-inducing environments of the final generation. In a press release for the game it was stated that Bit Boy!! would feature 4-bit dungeons, 8-bit caves, 16-bit strongholds, 32-bit mazes, 64-bit arenas and 128-bit worlds. This is, in a word, untrue: each of the generations feature exactly the same kind of gameplay and while the earlier games do indeed feature smaller levels, the latter games are pretty much spiced-up versions of their predecessors.

Upon completion of each gaming era a “Warp Mode” is unlocked which is in essence a sort of “Score Attack” mode. The player must collect orb-like objects around all of the previously explored levels of that generation; if Kubi is hit by an enemy the player is transported to the next level and must collect as many orbs as possible in order to achieve a high score. If a second Wii Remote is activated the player can play alongside a friend in order to achieve the highest possible score, with two-player co-operative mode is available for both the main game and Warp Mode. One of the main goals of Bit Boy!! is for the player to top the already-set high scores and indeed go back and top their own scores. Fruit can be collected throughout the levels which increases the player's score and not dying keeps one's score pretty high: not dying is, however, quite an achievement.

Upon finishing Bit Boy!! in under an hour it was foolish to expect some sort of unlockable extra, perhaps another mode of play that combines aspects from all gaming generations, but alas upon completion of the game the player is offered an endless version of the game that gives the player 999 lives and 999 attacks. While this was a good way to take out all of the accumulated rage on the game’s enemies one couldn’t help feeling that something was missing: one last “treat” so to speak.

Conclusion

Summing it up Bit Boy!! is a great concept for a game and it was interesting to see the interpretation of each gaming generation. The core gameplay in Bit Boy!! isn't terrible, but features serious flaws in the sheer volume of enemies on screen at one time and also the amount of life-sapping dead ends – a hallmark of poor game design. A game that uses a maze set up like that of Pac-Man should have levels which ensure that the player has a chance to avoid being unfairly wiped out, unfortunately Bit Boy!! does not manage to achieve this.

The game is also very short-lived too: with six different gaming generations one would think that there would be plenty of room for a pretty lengthy game, but unfortunately you can see everything that Bit Boy!! has to offer after just one hour's play. On the whole Bit Boy!! is a somewhat frustrating experience that we cannot wholeheartedly recommend.

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