Posted by Sean Aaron
A little bit here and a little bit there...
With as many puzzle games as there are in Nintendo's WiiWare shop it's impressive that companies are still developing more. Even more impressive is how many of them are fun and original, and Unconditional's bittos+ is definitely one to add to the "good" pile.
At first glance you might think it's just a garden-variety Tetris clone, largely because the shapes (referred to as "Blocks") featured are exactly the same as the tetraminos from Tetris and composed of squares called "Bits." Despite this superficial similarity the gameplay mechanics of bittos+ are completely different from Tetris: Blocks don't fall onto the grid playfield and you're not trying to clear lines. Instead the object is to create "Boxes" by manually placing Blocks on the grid in contact with each other. Boxes matching the current "target size" listed in the corner (2x2, 2x3 or 3x3 depending on the level) become "Bittos" which "solidify" and then explode for points. Adding more Blocks to existing Boxes will create Bittos chains resulting in chain reactions of explosions and showers of bonus points.
This might not sound too difficult, but Bits are often left over in the course of forming Boxes. It's not long before they freeze in place at which point they can only be destroyed by nearby exploding Bittos or special "diamond" Blocks that come into play as a reward for creating loads of Bittos and make even bigger explosions. The biggest problem with the lone Bits isn't that they're difficult to clear, but that they multiply if they're left on the grid long enough. If you're unable to keep them in check they'll multiply exponentially until you're unable to place any new Blocks on the grid; thus ending your game.
For such a simple game it has a lot of control options: Wii Remote vertically oriented (only available in the "Mellow" play difficulty), Wii Remote on its side, Remote + Nunchuk and Classic Controller. The most immediately accessible control option is Remote on its side: you use to move Blocks about the grid, press to rotate them and then to place them. When playing the Mellow game you can use the pointer to move Blocks about, to rotate them and to place them (controller orientation is automatically detected so you can switch back-and-forth). Using the Nunchuk or Classic Controller gives you the option of moving Blocks around the grid with the , however analogue control is a bit loose for a game which demands a level of precision such as this, so you're better off using the . Both of the latter control options also add the ability to rotate Blocks clockwise as well as anti-clockwise, but the action ramps up so quickly in the more challenging "Wired" difficulty you won't have time to mess about with the extra buttons, so it's best to stick with good old NES-style controls.
Visually bittos+ has a very clean, appealing look with a black translucent grid against various colourful backgrounds of plants and flowers. Once Blocks are placed on the grid they have a cool "Wii blue" tone; when they form Bittos they take on a shiny look and little lines trace around them with glittering effects before they go pale and explode into shards. When you form chains of Bittos the Boxes change colour to indicate the multiplier level before individual Bittos start exploding. Solo Bits "freeze" into red "bad" Bits accompanied by a nice crackling sound like crunching ice underfoot - though red isn't normally a colour you'd associate with freezing. Once the game really gets moving you'll experience an audio collage of crackling and tinkling sounds punctuated with the odd explosion and triumphant fanfare to accompany the action whilst an unobtrusive electronic "easy listening" soundtrack loops in the background along with the odd bird chirping.
You'll notice a few problems with the colour scheme once the action ramps up. Before being placed on the grid Blocks are translucent and their component Bits have crosses through them, but translucent grey shapes are hard to see when moving over shiny blue Bittos or solo Bits on the grid - even with a big "X" through each square. As a result you'll probably be relying upon a buzzing tone indicating a bad Block placement on crowded grids until you suss out its shape. Each stage is divided into ten levels and, like Tetris, the level progression doesn't result in any kind of reset of the playfield, though you do get a brief pause in the action as bonus points are tallied and solo Bits on the verge of freezing temporarily reset to their normal state. You might think that the two Blocks indicated to the right of the grid would indicate your current Block and the next one, but they're actually the next two, and if your grid is crowded with existing Boxes and solo Bits it can be hard to tell what your current Block is at the start of the new level.
Despite the minor colour confusion issues bittos+ still plays very well, with a tight control scheme and simple, fast-paced gameplay which characterises the hardcore Wired difficulty. If you're looking to chill out a bit you can play with Mellow difficulty, though progress in Mellow games doesn't count towards unlocking stages for play in Wired mode or gaining access to the optional Timed and Survival play modes. The only available play mode to begin with is "Adventure Mode" which offers play through an increasingly challenging eight stages of ten levels each. Timed Mode plays the same, but gives you a time limit of 60, 120 or 300 seconds for some quick bittos+ action. Survival Mode is endless with no stages and adds more challenge by having solo Bits crowd in from the outer edges of the grid periodically. There are additional difficulty levels to unlock for the two bonus game modes in the form of larger Bittos target sizes, but you'll need to become a Bittos Master at Wired difficulty in order to experience them. All three modes record scores on local leaderboards against the currently selected profile, though disappointingly the profiles only have generic names and no Mii association, so you'll simply need to remember which profile is yours for bragging rights.
Please welcome bittos+ to the growing ranks of quality puzzle games on the Wii. Beneath the "yet another Tetris" façade lies a fast-paced, original puzzler that offers plenty of arcade action with nary a lull in sight. Despite the fact that you'll occasionally find it hard to see what you're doing the gameplay is very tight and addictive; though it would have been nice to have initials or Miis rather than generic names against high scores. If you're at all a fan of the genre you should definitely give it a go!