The third release (of six) in Gaijin Games' BIT.TRIP series has quite a bit in common with its predecessors. And that is a good thing. Even better, though, is just how much VOID manages to stand apart from its popular older brothers. Rather than striving to recapture their specific glories, VOID charts territory of its own. And while the theme and mood of the game might feel familiar, there is no doubting that VOID is a distinct entity all to itself.
In VOID, the control mechanism changes once again. This time you are required to use a control stick (your choice of Nunchuk or Classic Controller) to manoeuvre a circular black puck (the "void") around the screen, scooping up black beats and avoiding the white ones. For each black beat you absorb, your void will increase in size and your scoring potential will swell as well...but your movement will also become gradually more sluggish, making it more difficult to get out of the way of those pesky white ones.
Because of this, you can press at any time to restore your void to its original size. You will also return to your original size if you collide with a white beat, but this latter method will strip you of your multiplier and kick you just a little closer to the dreaded Nether region.
This secondary aspect of the game to keep in mind — the governing of size — adds a surprising amount of strategy to the gameplay. In BEAT and CORE, there were really only two possibilities in any given situation: you either connected with the beat, or you missed it. In Void you will find that your size when connecting with beats can affect your score, along with either making it easier to connect with certain beats or impossible. It's a whole other element to consider as you play, and for such a simple mechanic, it sure turns out to be pretty engrossing.
Another interesting thing about this game is that you have much greater freedom regarding when (and how) you collect the beats. You are not confined in any way to one area of the screen; you can roam freely, grabbing beats in any sequence that you like. If you miss one, you can try to catch up to it again. You can discover more efficient patterns of collection that will increase your score, or you can locate a safe spot on the screen and wait until a particularly complex wave organizes itself into something more easily handled. It's your choice, and that's a welcome first for this series.
Void is also the first BIT.TRIP game to offer checkpoints throughout each of its levels. Each of the three songs that you play through is broken up into four segments. At each checkpoint, your score is adjusted based on how well you played (with a very generous bonus given for a perfect run) and how many credits you have remaining.
You begin each song with one credit, but can earn more with a high enough score. If you end up failing a level, you can cash in a credit to begin from the last checkpoint. (Prepare, however, to feel your heart sink as your score is siphoned away as well.) While these credits and checkpoints might threaten to make the game a little too easy, they don't; this might be the easiest BIT.TRIP game yet, but the challenge is still there, and it is still often brutal.
The checkpoints, however, are a bit of a mixed blessing. Yes, they might sometimes allow a struggling player to limp a little further through a level than he or she normally might, but they require a momentum-breaking pause in the action, a moment of dullness between barrages of complicated beat patterns while your score is adjusted. It interferes with experiencing the songs as continuous, fluid entities, and that's unfortunate. Also, the requirement for earning extra credits is so difficult to reach that if you are earning them, you're almost certainly playing so well that you don't need them.
Another mild complaint is that there is no clear visual indicator of how close you are to slipping into the Nether region...nor is there any indicator of how long it will take you to climb out. As such, the time spent in Nether feels more like an arbitrary punishment than a rational consequence. It's disheartening to spend so much time in Nether without realizing how close you are to escaping it...or even how close you are to failing the level completely.
But these complaints are minor and they are both understandable. (In the case of the former, fans have been clamouring for checkpoints since BEAT was released; in the case of the latter, it's a stylistic choice, allowing the screen to remain as open and uncluttered as possible.) Overall, one really does have to get picky in order to find fault with the game.
The three songs included are as pulsing and catchy as ever and a perfect inducement to replay previous levels even if you don't particularly care about getting better scores. What's more, the ability to hit beats at a pace of your own choosing can affect the sound and feel of the song, and, as you get better, you will find yourself deliberately holding back or chasing down certain beats as though you're actually directing the melody. (The percussive blast you get from shrinking with also makes for a satisfying addition to certain movements of the songs.)
In all, the very small issues we might have with the game are more than outweighed by the tightness of the controls, the gorgeous naturalness of the patterns, the unrivaled brilliance of the soundtrack, and the sheer obsessiveness that VOID is bound to inspire in its audience. VOID is a firm contender for best title in WiiWare's strongest original series, and that's a distinction worth holding.
Every few months a BIT.TRIP game is released, and it reminds us all of what's so great about WiiWare: It's original, it's inexpensive and it's fun. VOID is a perfect addition to the BIT.TRIP series and is, arguably, the best of the batch so far, retaining the addictive charms of the previous two titles while carving out a strong and unique identity of its own.
Instead of releasing the same game over with minor refinements and new songs, Gaijin Games has given each of the BIT.TRIP titles a strong, singular presence of its own. VOID is evidence that these boys know what they're doing, and it manages to raise an already high standard for titles to follow.