Review: BIT.TRIP FLUX (WiiWare)

FLUXing good

With the BIT.TRIP series, Gaijin Games has somehow been able to take gamers back to the early days of video gaming while at the same time combining this nostalgic experience with a whole host of challenging and engaging gameplay elements. BIT.TRIP FLUX marks the sixth and final release of the series, and while it might look like little more than a slightly enhanced version of their first release BIT.TRIP BEAT, there's actually a lot more going on underneath the surface for gamers who are willing to explore things a bit more in-depth.

Fans of BEAT should feel right at home with the gameplay setup in FLUX. Many of the same elements remain intact, although you will find your paddle on the right side of the screen this time around rather than the left. Your basic goal also remains the same: use your paddle to bounce back the intense barrage of beats being hurled your way without letting too many get past you. And while this might sound quite easy enough, you'll find that the frenzied pace and eye-crossing patterns will soon give you all that you can handle. And when you toss in the brand new Avoid Beats, which basically look like circular beats, but will do heavy damage to your paddle if you touch them, you'll find that you've got far more things to worry about than just bouncing beats back.

You control your paddle by holding the Wii Remote on its side and twisting it forwards and backwards. This will move your paddle up and down the left side of the screen much like the vintage Pong games. You can even bring in a second player to help you out with a paddle of their own. The barrage of beats will begin flying your way, gradually becoming more intricate in their movements and speed. Bouncing back consecutive beats will not only increase your scoring multiplier, but also increase your Mega Meter. Not only will this help you score much higher amounts of points, but it will also allow you to ramp up your current mode, even reaching the deadly Meta Mode if you're skilled enough. As you ramp up to loftier modes, you'll be treated to an increasingly higher quality audio and visual presentation.

Of course with the good comes the bad. The other gauge you'll have to keep an eye on is the Nether Gauge. This gauge will decrease as you miss beats. Each time you empty the gauge, you'll ramp down in mode which will reduce the audio and visual quality, even taking you all the way back to the black and white playing fields of the Pong games of old. Let the gauge run out of juice in Nether Mode and it's a quick reset back to the last checkpoint to begin again.

There are basically three worlds to conquer in FLUX, but this time you won't have to run through them in the same marathon fashion of BEAT. Gaijin Games have tried to make the worlds a bit more accessible this time around by including checkpoints. Now before you fly into a frenzy, please keep in mind that the game is still very challenging, even with the checkpoints, you just won't have to stare at the screen without blinking for 15 straight minutes at a time without a break anymore. After you've cleared the 8th checkpoint you'll get to face off in a boss fight, all of which are far more interesting in their design and execution this time around.

It's difficult to believe that such a simple control scheme can turn out to be so enjoyable, but Gaijin Games have once again squeezed every ounce of playability out of the old-school paddle control system. Not only is the response of the paddle absolutely dead-on, but the twisting motion allows the entire experience to become so intuitive that you can almost act completely on instinct in the later more hectic levels. Combine this flawless control system with a smooth, albeit fairly significant climb in difficulty, you've got a game that is extremely challenging without being frustrating.

Even as unique as BEAT was from a visual standpoint, nothing can prepare you for the flashy and absolutely mesmerizing background visuals FLUX has in store for you. Not only are the swirling and pulsating surroundings perfectly befitting the action taking place in the foreground, but at times they will even play tricks on your eyes if you're not careful. Even the beats themselves have become far more visually appealing this time around with smooth and colorful lines streaming from them as they swirl around the screen. If you thought your eyes were overloaded in BEAT, you haven't seen anything yet.

It would be impossible to talk about a BIT.TRIP title and not mention the amazing music the various titles have featured. If it's one aspect of game development that the folks at Gaijiin Games have a firm handle on, it's choosing the right musicians to score their games. Petrified Productions has managed to capture the exact tempo and mood for each section of the game and there's not a track in the entire game that won't thoroughly entrance you.

Conclusion

To say that BIT.TRIP FLUX is a fitting sequel to BEAT would be a gross understatement. While both games share many of the same gameplay elements, the sheer magnitude of improvements the developers have made to this final release is staggering. Not only have they improved virtually every single aspect of the game, but they've also managed to take it so far as to make the entire experience feel brand new all over again. BIT.TRIP FLUX is a great example of how old-school video gaming can be every bit as relevant today as it was 30 years ago and provides the perfect ending to one of the most unique and engaging video game series ever created.

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