If we've learned anything from the BIT.TRIP series, it's that you don't need a lot of flashy visuals or complicated mechanics to make a great game. The unique combination of old school arcade elements blended together with a host of musical rhythm overtones have given the series a look and feel all its own and made the titles some of the best on WiiWare. Now with the release of their fifth instalment, BIT.TRIP FATE, they've pulled their rectangular protagonist out of his previous platforming adventure and shot him straight into a good old-fashioned arcade shoot 'em up.
For the most part, BIT.TRIP FATE plays out like a standard horizontal arcade shooter. Your goal is to navigate CommanderVideo through each of the levels, taking out enemies and collecting power-ups to ultimately defeat the boss at the end of each stage. And while you'll be able to fire off your cannon in any direction, you'll find yourself attached to a rail that limits your range of motion and forces you to plan out your movements a bit more carefully. You'll only be able to move him forward or backward along the rail by pressing left or right on the analogue stick. Much like a bullet hell shooter, he'll move faster when he's not currently firing his weapon, but will manoeuvre more slowly and deliberately when you're holding down the fire button. This slower movement can make weaving in and out of heavy sprays of curtain fire much easier and more precise.
There are several ways you can choose to control the action that include utilising the Wii Remote/ Nunchuk combination or the Classic Controller. Using the former scheme will place a targeting reticule on the screen that determines which direction CommanderVideo will fire his cannon; you'll then use the Nunchuk to move him along the rail. You can even pop the Remote into the Zapper accessory for a more authentic shooting experience. If you're looking for a more traditional method, you'll also be able to use the Classic Controller. This will allow you to move CommanderVideo along the rail using the left analogue stick and to control the direction of your cannon fire using the right analogue stick. Both methods have their own pros and cons, so it will mainly come down to personal preference as to which you'll prefer to use.
As you make your way through each level, you'll face an almost endless barrage of enemies and their bullets coming your way. You'll have to carefully balance your cannon fire with laying off the button to move along the rails more quickly and avoid the many enemies and bullets coming your way. For times when you find yourself getting a bit overwhelmed, the game will sometimes toss you a little help in the form of a character power-up. Each of the four of these offers a different type of powerful cannon fire upgrade that will last for a short period of time and can be rather helpful against some of the more menacing enemies you'll encounter.
The extremely long levels of the earlier BIT.TRIP releases make a return in FATE, and you'll soon find that you're going to have to keep your wits about you to make it through some of the later levels. The boss fights at the end of them can be rather challenging with their tricky patterns of curtain fire, especially considering your limited range of movements on the rail. And, to make matters worse, if you're not able to defeat the boss, you'll find yourself starting the entire level over again due to the game's lack of checkpoints. You'll certainly have to put in some serious time if you're going to have any hope of actually beating the game.
The controls themselves are plenty responsive, but given the occasional vertical movements of the rail, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to remember to press LEFT or RIGHT rather than UP or DOWN to move vertically. It doesn't take away from the experience, rather it just takes some getting used to as you become more familiar with the game. All the tools you need are there, you'll just have to put in the practise to figure out how to get the most out of them.
FATE doesn't stray too far from the BIT.TRIP visual formula, and it borrows heavily from past releases going back as far as the original BEAT. It's not nearly as visually flashy as RUNNER, but it shows some really subtle background elements that blend in beautifully with the spacious feel of which the game makes use. The enemies themselves remain quite simple in design, but you'll be treated to some rather enormous and oddly-constructed bosses to keep things interesting. As with earlier releases in the series, the quality of visual splash you'll see depends heavily on what level to which you're currently ramped up.
Since music and sound effects play such an integral role in the BIT.TRIP series, you can't help but have high expectations when it comes to the game's audio presentation, and FATE doesn't disappoint. There are some extremely catchy tracks, and while some of them are a bit more subtle than we've come to expect from the series, they're every bit as integral to the overall mood of the levels. The usual assortment of old-school sound effects abounds throughout the game and does its usual stand-up job of blending in perfectly with the various musical pieces playing in the background of each level.
There's absolutely no denying that BIT.TRIP FATE is a radical departure from the platforming romp of the previous release, BIT.TRIP RUNNER, but gamers who put in the time to come to grips with the slightly more in-depth controls will likely find it every bit as engaging. BIT.TRIP FATE is a perfect example of how Gaijin Games continues to find unique ways to inject new life into the series without losing that simple yet wildly playable charm for which the series has become so famous. It might not be quite as difficult to put down as RUNNER was, but it's close. Of course, it's also another step closer to the end of an absolutely outstanding series of games.