[Review] BIT.TRIP FLUX – Kaleidoscopic Ping Pong
Before playing BIT. TRIP FLUX, I didn’t know if there was some narrative history behind the dark rectangular shape as the silent level cut scenes suggest, so when I booted up the game to play a simple rhythm game, I was surprised to find a significant effort in creating a multi-sensory experience that challenges the player in unique ways. The specific things that get challenged most rigorously seem to be the wrists and the eyes, which for players of reflex and other visual rhythm games makes this game probably pretty easy. For me, however, it was three days of harrowing light-juggling exercises and sore wrists. This was only a minor and temporary grievance, as the game provides clever ways for the player to get better.
The game plays like single-sided Pong. Your “paddle,” a small rectangle on the right side of the screen, is controlled by the tilt of your wiimote. Victory is obtained by maneuvering the paddle into the trajectory of all the little squares such that they bounce back to the left side of the screen from whence they came. Failure is gradually obtained by failing the victory objective, but the game provides checkpoints from which the player restarts the level after achieving a certain threshold of failure. There are no GAME OVER screens to speak of. Except one, but that is a potential spoiler.
Framing each level is a short skit played by a soiree of shapes. What is going on? What are those shapes doing? Why am I watching this? These are questions I asked before beginning an exercise of imagination where those shapes became entities embroiled in a deeply significant drama, of companionship and loneliness in the white void. That is strictly an exercise of my own interest, however, as the scenes can be skipped with virtually no loss of game experience. It set the mood, however, for a person interested in the meaning behind things, however virtually inscrutable. I “scruted” around with my “scruting utensil,” and found a lot of neat things that no one cares about. This mysterious and illusive narrative adds an interest in the game beyond the rhythm exercise, though it is probably interesting for those who want to engage in some high-minded philosophical experience. For the rest, just skip it and get into the game, because the game is fun and interesting too.
The music part of the game, the crux of the rhythm experience, is very serene in the sense that the music in and of itself did not inspire feelings of aggression or excitement that I would get from, say, a HORSE the Band album. This is not a bad thing, and is probably not a very significant observation, except that in the context of frantic shape-bouncing, it really did something for me: it served as a reminder that instead of tensing up, I should relax. A game like this shouldn’t make you tense or agitated, you can’t juggle anything when your arms and wrists are locked up so tight that the rhythm can’t come in. The music and sounds in the game are an invitation for relaxation, and it is during those moments of hypnotic musical trance that I played my best, bouncing the most shapes, scoring the most points and getting the highest scores.
Visually, there is a lot to see, way more things to see than is possible to pay attention to. Sometimes the amount of visual information entering my eye holes taxes the seeing part of my brain such that I forget to play well, and the game sends me to the “NETHER” mode, a visual mode designed specifically for people who can’t handle looking at a lot of things at a time. This is a brilliant design of the game to help players become accustomed to the visual culture of the game, letting the player enter states of play that train the player to handle the rhythms and tricks each level has to give before escalating the shine and glitter on some higher tier of visual obfuscation. There are about five or six modes above NETHER, each with a distinct and exciting way to sear your eyes, though I only got to explore most of the middle tiers because I am not very good. As the player improves his rhythm and shape-bouncing acumen, the higher modes become rewarding rather than frustrating. The addition of complex color designs on the higher visual tiers satisfy part of the equation of a pleasant music experience, perhaps the “TRIP” part of the BIT.TRIP equation. All I will say about that is that some people will play this game to compete for high scores, and some people will play this game just to see all the colors.
I had a lot of fun with this game. It felt like a short mix of thoroughly enjoyable electronic music that I listened to while participating in a light show. There are more BIT.TRIP games to play, and I feel compelled to explore them, having been satisfied in specific ways by this one.