Bit. Trip Fate review: A trip to bullet hell

Bit. Trip Runner, the last game in Gaijin Games' six-part WiiWare series, appeared to be about freedom, with blue skies and open spaces abounding -- but there was literally only one correct path through any level, and the game dictated with exacting detail the timing of your movements on that path. In contrast, Bit. Trip Fate is all gloomy, subterranean worlds, with Commander Video trapped both inside a glowing sphere and held to an explicit path -- but the player has both more freedom of movement and more freedom to make mistakes.

I don't really have a point to make here; I just wanted to start my review with something other than "Bit. Trip Fate is so hard."%Gallery-105917%

Bit. Trip Fate is a side-scrolling "bullet hell" shooter, in which Commander Video destroys waves of robots while dodging the curtain-like streams of Beats (big pixels) those robots shoot. In a weird way, this makes Fate the easiest game in the series for a small percentage of the population -- unlike the other four games, which stand totally alone in their genres, people well-versed in shmups will find themselves able to transfer their skills into Fate. So it's easy ... for people really good at super-hard games.

Of course, there's a twist, and it's that Commander Video is literally on rails -- specifically, one winding rail that traces an undulating path across the screen. You must at all times manage the constant dispatching of enemies (with shots aimed via the pointer when using the Wiimote and Nunchuk, or with the right analog stick when using the Classic or GameCube controller) and maneuvering around shots within your limited room to move.

Unlike most shmups, there's a bit of margin for error. Every item collected from a downed enemy settles on the rail for easy pickup, and collecting a bunch of them without getting hit increments your health. That changes the occasional collision with a stray bullet (or homing bullet, in the case of the obnoxious pink Beats) from a tragedy to an annoyance. On the downside, it also makes it a lot easier to make it all the way through a several-minute-long level before being killed by a boss. Strategically placed weapon powerups in the form of other Bit. Trip characters -- and Meat Boy -- temporarily make it easier to get through rushes of robots.

Even though the stages are much, much, much longer than those in Runner, comparable to Beat's stages, restarting isn't as crushing as it could be. Shmups are all about pattern recognition, so another trip through the stage just helps reinforce your knowledge of what's ahead.

In addition, playing a stage again allows you to keep the dubstep music pumping into your ears. The music in Fate is dark, ominous, and really cool. It borrows a trick from Rez, delaying enemy explosions such that they all make noise on the beat, further pulling you into the rich soundtrack. As a result, Bit. Trip Fate does what pretty much all of the games do: torture you with difficulty, and then lull you into a trance state so that you keep trying over and over again, growing increasingly frustrated and, simultaneously, increasingly addicted.

This review is based on the Wii review code of Bit.Trip Fate provided by Aksys.