BIT.TRIP FATE review
The BIT.TRIP series conjures memories of one-button joysticks and colorful squares masquerading as people. While each of the four previous games drew inspiration from games of the Atari age, BIT.TRIP FATE's sources are a little harder to pin down. FATE is one part shmup and one part rail-shooter, and yet, it is unlike any game I've ever played.
I call FATE a "rail-shooter," because our cyclopean hero, Commander Video, is forever tethered to a beam of color that runs the length of each staging. The beam never moves, even as the stage continuously scrolls along, but Commander Video is free to move left and right in an effort to dodge and fire upon his enemies. Obviously, the lack of mobility can make for some very precarious situations.
The enemies come from all sides and it isn't long before the trickle of neon pellets rallies into a downpour of lasers, homing-shots, and screen-drenching salvos. Commander Video is far from helpless though, and can return fire anywhere on the screen. He can even get a boost in firepower from temporary sidekicks, including Meat Boy. Additionally, tokens collected from fallen enemies build energy toward higher levels of weaponry, to a maximum of four streams. Get hit once, and you move down a full level until you have nothing left to give. Then it's back to the beginning of the stage.
Each BIT.TRIP is tied to music in some way, but FATE is the least obvious of all. Although Minusbaby contributes tunes for the opening and the credits, the main soundtrack hovers between ambient and dubstep, but it isn't affected by gameplay. Instead, the explosions of downed enemies are momentarily delayed to sync with the music. It's a touch with good intentions, but can leave you firing at an enemy that is already dead, but hasn't yet blown apart.
FATE rejects the frantic pace of shmups like Deathsmiles and Espgaluda, but specializes in its own brand of tension. The combination of the subdued soundtrack, the slow scrolling of the screen, and Commander Video's restricted movement are akin to the buildup in a suspenseful film. The expected climax, the moment when the game kicks into high gear and turns anxiety into excitement, sadly never comes to fruition. Even amid a hailstorm of bullets, FATE is almost always somber.
BIT.TRIP games are notoriously difficult and FATE is no cakewalk, but it lacks the kinetic punch I had expected after RUNNER. The hardest part about FATE is memorizing the patterns of boss-battles and incoming enemies. Do that, and dodging becomes a breezy matter of routine, as opposed to reflex. Most people will get an afternoon out of FATE, but experienced shmup players will likely beat FATE's six stages in two hours or less. Most disappointing is the lack of bonus levels or harder difficulties that would have provided more incentive to return.
FATE is a wonderful example of game mechanics, visuals, and level design orchestrated into a cohesive experience. Regrettably, that experience is also very short and anticlimactic. BIT.TRIP FATE isn't my favorite entry in the series, but it is an incredibly unique shooter that is enjoyable while it lasts.