“What if there were rhythm games for the Atari 2600?” If there were, they would probably play an awful lot like Bit.Trip Core, a new game available for download on WiiWare. Bit.Trip Core looks a lot like a shooter, but it plays exactly like a rhythm game filtered through the lens of an Atari 2600.
So how does Bit.Trip Core work? You only need make use of the D-pad and the 1 and 2 buttons. The D-pad aims your beam in a direction, and the 2 button fires it. The 1 button releases a screen-clearing bomb. You have to fire your beam at the little squares that come across the screen at the right time in order to destroy them. Sometimes the little squares will move fast or slow, come at you diagonally or stop and go in a different direction.
The little squares will always move in time to the backing track, a techno song that vibrates your Wiimote to the beat, and when you destroy the dots it plays a note that adds another layer to the backing track. In other words, it’s a shooter that asks you to destroy things in time with the beat. This idea has been used before in games like Rez and Bit.Trip.Core’s prequel, Bit.Trip.Beat, just for a frame of reference, and it’s no less effective here.
The extra draw is the foreground graphics, which look straight out of your Colecovision. There are no bump-mapped surfaces or even any curved lines in them. Even the written words look straight out of the 2600, which is a special nostalgia trip for those who grew up in the old school. The background graphics are all in whooshing 3-D, as cubes and rectangles go flying by. There are times when the background will briefly be the same color as the foreground dots, which is annoying. Other than that, it looks very sterile and sharp, which is exactly what they were shooting for.
Another wrinkle is that as you string together successful attacks, you gain more points and the music gets richer. If you start missing notes, the music weakens until you’re in a Danger Zone in plain black and white that reminds me of playing a Magnavox Odyssey on an old TV. Keep missing notes and you’ll fail and be dropped back to the main menu. You can string together notes to bring yourself back into the normal mode. It all looks really cool, and it adds an extra dose of entertainment.
With a rhythm game, the music better be darn good. Fortunately, the tracks in Core are all pretty good. There are only three of them, but I found myself tapping my feet to the beat, and the vibrating remote helps you keep up as well. It also makes great use of the Wiimote speaker, especially in the Danger Zone. The weak beeps that the Wiimote makes during that period add and extra layer to the tension. My wife usually looked over at me bobbing my head to the music and thought I looked silly, but the game really helps you lock in and focus.
You’re going to need that focus, since Core doesn’t really give you much in the way of explanation. In that way, it manages to be a throwback to the old school, basically saying, “Here is the game. Play it or fail.” In today’s too-easy mandatory walkthrough environment, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air. The mechanics aren’t horribly complicated anyway, and you’ll probably pick it up fairly quickly.
The controls handle themselves pretty well, since you don’t have a whole lot of complicated control schemes to worry about. Sometimes, Core will throw you for a loop and put you in a special challenge area where the remote needs to be rotated 90 degrees. They warn you beforehand, and it’s a neat way to change up the controls. Sometimes, as with any twitch game, you’ll swear you hit something at the right time and the game insists that you didn’t. However, these moments are few and far between, and it’s mostly pretty forgiving.
I liked my time with Core, but that’s not to say there aren’t problems. For instance, the game is over all too quickly. You can finish the whole thing in about 2-4 hours. As mentioned before, there are only three tracks in the game, and you’ll be doing the same thing throughout: pressing buttons in time to the beat. Still, for 600 Wii Points, you could do a lot worse, and anyone who’s played a game in the last 20 years will be able to pick it up quickly and understand what’s going on.
All in all, with Bit.Trip Core you’re getting a good game for a good price that simultaneously looks backward into gaming’s brief but storied past and forward to a genre that’s finding itself more and more popular. If you have a Wii and six bucks, you should at least give Bit.Trip Core a try. It’s fun, and isn’t that the point?