It's not all monochrome, you know

Gaijin Games has really earned a place in many a retro-gaming fan's heart with their old, old-school Bit.Trip series on WiiWare. It's one of the shining examples of how good download games can really be: updated Atari 8-bit graphics with jazzed-up special effects and a soundtrack that's enhanced by the gameplay.

The appeal of these games is cross-border, which is aptly demonstrated by the premiere launch of the third entry, Bit.Trip VOID on the Japanese WiiWare service by Arc System Works. As with other Bit.Trip games the in-game text is all in English making it both retro and gaijin-friendly for importers who don't read much Japanese, though this game is a bit more oblique than previous entries in its basic controller requirements and menu navigation. You're never prompted to connect a Nunchuk - though the game does require it - and there's no feedback in the menus, so unless you know you need one you can sit there for a bit looking the doofus pressing buttons and such until you think to try connecting one and then you'll realise that this is the first Bit.Trip game which uses the analogue stick. You move the titular VOID to select the stage to start, High Score table or Credits and you need to ensure you're covering the black dot next to the selection before pressing A to begin.

Lovely sine wave formation

Bit.Trip VOID plays very much like a non-violent version of Ikaruga: you control a black pixellated dot and try to absorb other black dots by moving into them, whilst avoiding the white dots. Dots move across the screen from various directions in a variety of patterns; it's important not to miss any black dots and not to hit any white ones, as both of these will result in your descent into the tuneless and colourless Nether region before ending the game (hitting white dots also loses you 1000 points a shot - ouch!) Complicating matters is the fact that the VOID keeps on growing as you collect more black dots, whilst hitting white dots shrinks it back down to its original size, though that's not a good thing. Thankfully you can shrink the Void yourself by pressing the A button, minus the penalties, which adds an additional strategic element to the gameplay.

Folk who found the previous two games punishingly difficult will find this one a refreshing attempt to broaden appeal, with VOID possessing not only three checkpoints per stage but also the option to continue from the last checkpoint in the event that you fail. That doesn't make the game any easier though: given the penalties for missing black dots and hitting white ones your game can end in a matter of seconds quite easily. On top of that your score will reset in the event you continue and given you need at least one million points to get your name on the board, making it a tough choice whether to continue or not.

Just about to die.

The special effects in the game are quite impressive: there are different types of black and white dots and they move in formations, making it clear this is NOT an 8-bit Atari 2600 game however much it may superficially appear to be. Periodically special events will be marked by on-screen text announcing REPULSION (for a limited time the VOID repels white dots) and VORTEX (for a limited time the VOID attracts black dots) which add spice to the proceedings.

The soundtrack is full of very pleasing chiptunes-style tracks, though the more free-form gameplay means that hitting the dots doesn't necessarily contribute as much to the music as in previous games. Gaijin has thoughtfully given the B button the ability to add notes to the song freestyle, so you can tap away and add to the music whilst moving your VOID about as you see fit. It's a fun addition that really makes VOID stand out from the previous two entries in the series and it's nice to see Gaijin Games still has that magic touch!