WiiWare | Gaijin Games / Aksys Games | 1-2 Players | Out Now | 800 Nintendo Points
The final game in the series keeps up with the tradition of the first three titles by having three levels to choose from. FLUX is divided up into three main parts: Epiphany, Perception, and Catharsis. Lasting longer than any other stage before it, each of them feature an eclectic track that incorporates attributes from songs appearing in past BIT.TRIP games to give FLUX a "looking back" effect that becomes a cause for reflection. BIT.TRIP FLUX represents the end to Commander Video's long six-game journey, and so it's quite fitting that Gaijin Games desired to keep gameplay more in line with the introductory moments seen in BIT.TRIP BEAT. Despite the similarities, FLUX still manages to capture our attention in a unique way as though BEAT was simply a foretaste of things to come.
Along the same line of thought, the controls seen here also manifest a similarity to what was seen five games ago. Players hold the Wii Remote on its side in a neutral position, tilting forward and back to move the on-screen paddle up and down the fixed vertical axis. Pressing anything else (e.g., D-Pad, 1 Button, 2 Button) will produce retro-sounding sound effects in the background -- the very same ones heard when a reflected beat reaches the left edge of the screen. The controls become second nature to a certain extent, but one should still expect to make calculated mistakes here and there. Even after the length of time that has passed since BIT.TRIP's inception, using the Wii Remote in this manner can be tricky, especially as more quick and precise movements are called for.
As far as layout of the screen, you simply have a direction swap where the paddle is now located on the right with incoming beats arriving from the left side of the screen. It's almost as if Commander Video has gone through his full course and is, in a sense, heading back to the start. In some respects, BIT.TRIP FLUX can be described as a "return to form", but not quite in the same way as how SEGA has handled Sonic's return to his early roots.
Gameplay elements from past BIT.TRIP titles make a second appearance here in some form or another, to really make it clear that FLUX's make-up is not only prodding Commander Video to reflect on his existentialist quest, but also the player as well. For instance, white circles require strict avoidance for fear of incurring a penalty in the always-present Nether bar. It's that same kind of avoidance principle that existed in BIT.TRIP VOID with the white pellets. CORE representation is a little more than just having beats with semi-thick lines running behind them. Instead, these beat types not only change the way other beats move with some travelling along a series of lines, but these also often create visual effects on-screen that are pleasurable to look at. And as far as BIT.TRIP RUNNER is concerned, you also have light beats with a reduced opacity that act almost like the gold bars, requiring very swift and sharp motions in between the regular flow of beats.
Not everything is a rehash from previous titles, however. FLUX also features some new beat types that push the challenge factor further. You have beats that go in a loop and behave much like automatic tennis-ball-launching machines, propelling other beats from behind towards your paddle. I found those to be fun additions. There are also blinking beats that become hidden as they get close to your paddle, challenging your dexterity. Some of my least favourite beat types appear yet again, but that's no surprise since the gameplay features all the different types we've seen over the entire series run.
With respect to paddle bonuses, once again you have the usual stuff, including Add, Subtract and Divide. But FLUX features two new paddle bonuses that may not be significant in what they do, but they still add some variety nonetheless. The first of these is the Series bonus. This turns your paddle from a solid entity into something more flowy, where a small trail will follow the path you take along the vertical plane. Then there's the Multiply bonus which causes your paddle to fill the entire vertical bar, touching both the top and bottom borders to prevent any beats from passing through. This is where those visual effects usually come in (mentioned earlier), giving you a chance to take a bit of a breather and just observe what's taking place on the screen without reacting to it.
Unlike the first game in the series, FLUX incorporates a checkpoint system to separate the different stretches of the song. The mode progression system is still the same as always, with GIGA mode being the most difficult (and most rewarding) to reach, while NETHER will threaten you with tamed visual and audio feedback. But instead of having your paddle disappear as the words "Game Over" appear on-screen, instead you'll simply undergo a reset and be instantly teleported back to the beginning of the last checkpoint. This system alone gives FLUX an advantage over BEAT in that it makes gameplay more balanced, encourages gamers to actually follow through on completing the game in a single sitting (as the developers want), and keeps any kind of disruption to the flow to an absolutely minimum.
After the eighth checkpoint in each stage, you'll engage in a boss encounter. Interestingly, none of the bosses this time around show creativity, taking things back to the simpler approach seen with the earlier bosses in the BIT.TRIP series. The first boss is more of a reference to block-breaker games, while the second will put up a big hedge between you and the flow of beats to block your sight (true to the stage name). The third and final encounter is a tad anti-climactic as it is the final boss in the entire series, but once again, in it's simplicity, it doesn't overshadow the core gameplay and even the principal messages you're supposed to focus on.
Anyone who has held Commander Video's hand from the very start will know that at the start of each level, you'll be treated to a cryptic cutscene. They're definitely more meaningful than the ones I've seen before, actually getting me to stop and think and give it some reflective thought. And when I did, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to get the sense of what was taking place and how it all related in the grand scheme of things. I could almost see Commander Video saying, "No, not you too!", in the introductory cutscene as the uncontrollable changes were taking place.
Moving onto presentation, I have to say the music this time around is incredibly well done. Each song is especially thought-provoking with the way musical elements from past BIT.TRIP games are used with a less vivid, and more distant impact. The Main Menu theme is also of note, with an upbeat, rather boisterous sound that's very suggestive of an impending altercation. It's easily my favourite menu theme in the entire series. Background visualizers are also great, with the illusion-based imagery towards the end being especially noteworthy. Nice colours and visual effects are seen during gameplay on a regular basis, with on-screen words appearing in a more subdued manner than before -- perhaps to reflect the gradual fading away of memories. All in all, great work.
Length-wise, BIT.TRIP FLUX took me about an hour to beat straight through, although it isn't out of the realm of possibility to beat it in even less time. This may sound like the game is a short-lived experience or even that the difficulty from past titles hasn't been spilled over, but rest-assured, you have nothing to worry about. The challenge factor is definitely still present even with the reset system in place, and the short length of the game itself is counteracted by the principles behind these and other decisions. Whereupon grasping the big picture, you'll realize that this is meant to be an all-in-one-shot type of experience, but at the same time, this is not one of those games you can speedily finish and just move on to something else. FLUX has a lasting effect on anyone who plays it, which leads nicely into my next point.
After successfully defeating the game's final boss, the last cutscene will play, showing Commander Video finding himself once more (in a more literal sense this time), and he/you will subsequently go back "home". At this point in the game, players will witness a powerful transition, a "bonus" section aptly-named as "Home" on the OST. The setup is that of a normal level, with the paddle on the right of the screen, and beats coming towards you from the left. Only now, not only are beat sequences less tied to a rhythm, but the entire scope takes on greater meaning. Some of the beats that appear as Commander Video slowly moves through this transition phase are linked together with light lines, almost like constellations in the night sky. These often appear to be recognizable objects, like a kite or a scooter, appropriately continuing the game-wide theme of memories.
Silence is used as a vehicle to encourage self-reflection and to symbolize the feeling of emptiness that exists at this time. The light ambience you hear is hardly disruptive, with sounds mostly taking the form of gusts of wind, dinging wind chimes or even chirping birds. There's something eerie about the audio heard at this time, yet within the contexts of the game (and really, the series at large), it's a very powerful mechanism. As Commander Video comes face-to-face with the "final frontier", as it were, he must face personal insecurities. But this final section ends up driving home (pun unintended) a lesson that the serious-minded may be able to piece together.
As the transition phase comes to a close, players are forced to accept an uncomfortable truth and can't help but feel like they're giving up on a friend. An incredibly weird feeling came over me as I witnessed the ending and the bond I had formed with Commander Video over the past five games finally reached its climax. The resulting outcome leaves a whisper of a thought in player's minds that transcends both the game and the entire BIT.TRIP series, touching on life itself. The BIT.TRIP will mean different things to different people. Interpretations abound, but I believe it's through the sharing of those personal perceptions that effectively demonstrate how much this series has affected people on a personal level -- which is more than you can say for the lot of games released on the market nowadays.
If you've had any sort of exposure to the BIT.TRIP franchise, I strongly admonish you to pick up all the other games you shamefully missed. Then, and only then, should you play FLUX, because without the full spectrum of the series progression fixed clearly in mind, FLUX will only seem like a minor expansion to the original game. Those who have tasted all the other games, however, will easily see FLUX as much more than that. I can assure you that the emotional impact this entire series will have on you will be nothing short of long-lasting, and after seeing FLUX through to the end, engaged gamers will not only see why that's a true statement. They will feel it too.
28/30 - Excellent
Gameplay 9/10 - Expansions to the BEAT formula are substantial, new bonuses and beats, controls still tricky, great checkpoint/reset system, simple bosses
Presentation 10/10 - Music is incredibly well done, great visualizers with illusion-based imagery, the final section features eerie yet moving audio
Enjoyment 5/5 - Powerful messages to be construed, still retains the challenge seen in past games, reaching higher modes is very rewarding
Extra Content 4/5 - Can be cleared in one sitting, an hour's worth of playtime but the experience will stick with you, will want to replay to see higher modes
Equivalent to a score of 93% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System