I had demoed Bit.Trip Runner at GDC this year and really enjoyed it. It was actually one of the few games where I didn't feel self conscious just picking it up and playing it (more on that below), and so I've been following news about the games. I read at IndieGames.com that there were free demos up for some of the games, so I thought it was a good opportunity to check more of them out. There are more games in the Bit.Trip series, but I only had the opportunity to play Core, Void and Runner.
Bit.Trip Core (2nd in series)
Time Played: ~5min
I'll start with Core since I liked it the least. Honestly, I'm not really sure if I actually figured out what I was supposed to be doing. You control a dark circle, which you can move around the screen as you wish, and white and black dots appear in from the side of the screen (I think they appear to the beat). You can absorb them by moving on top of them. I figured out through sound that absorbing dark spots was good (it made me bigger), and absorbing white was bad (it made a bad sound, and instantly made me small).
This game seemed to have the least to do with the music, and I didn't enjoy the music itself as much. There are points where absorbing a white spot is unavoidable...which I guess is just a standard part of progression (like, you finished this section), but I didn't get a lot of positive feedback, so I never really knew if I was doing it correctly.
Bit.Trip Void (3rd in series)
Time Played: ~10min
This game has a lot of similarity to something like Guitar Hero - there is a plus in the center of the screen, and you hold down a direction on the D pad and tap a button to 'strum' it. This causes a solid line to shoot out from that direction, which catches the pixels which are flying around the screen. As all the other games, this is a music game - you are catching the pixels to the ryhthm of the music.
I think I would have enjoyed Void a lot more if I had found the music to be more compelling. Also, it took me a little bit of time to figure out what to do. But yeah, mainly the music is what would have made this a great game.. as is usually the case with music/rhythm.
Bit.Trip Runner (4th in series)
Time Played 20-30min
Runner is definitely my favorite of the three games - it's also the most polished, and most recent of the 3. Your character runs automatically across a level which scrolls from right to left. You have 3 basic mechanics: jump, slide and kick, and you simply react to what is coming. To time your moves correctly, they all must be triggered in time with the music (funny: I was totally working on a Bollywood game which was the same idea. If I had finished it, it would have been a clone without my even realizing.)
You collect white orbs which bring the game 'to the next level' - the music kicks in another level, and your character eventually grows a rainbow trail. I did well in the first few levels, so it wasn't until the 4th or so that I figured out the game loops until you successfully collect enough of these orbs in succession (so, your goal is actually to reach a certain power level, as opposed to just surviving a linear level). If you hit a hazard, you jump backwards in the level, and your power level is back to one.
I really enjoy this game for a lot of reasons. Primarily, the music makes this game. It starts off pleasant enough, but when you reach the 3rd power level it really kicks in, and it sounds awesome and you feel like a badass. The visuals are simple and very neat. When I looked for images for this writeup I was excited to see that there are other themes to levels than what I saw in the first couple. The timing is unforgiving - you have a very narrow margin of error - but I think that it's just at that sweet spot between being challenging and fun.
As I mentioned above, this is a game that I felt very comfortable picking up and playing - it's extremely easy to figure out what to do. I think it is inviting - I'm not 100% sure if I could convince my mom to try it... but I was happy because I was not intimidated at all. (That being said, players that are rhythmically challenged might feel the exact opposite). The mechanics were introduced individually, one level at a time (although that made the ramp in difficulty seem a little off in the very beginning - the 3rd level was a lot easier than the 2nd level -- but I don't think it matters too much since the point was really just that you got the mechanic.)
This game actually has been calling to me since I played it on Sunday. :) I really want to pick it up again, simply because the mechanics are so fun. (I think the pull for me might be similar to Geometry Wars - which I also need to write about at some point).
***UPDATE** SO I just bought the full version of Bit.Trip Runner and I was completely wrong about progression. :) Apparently all you actually have to do is survive the level to progress to the next one. The gold and levels are all just bonuses. If you make a mistake, you get teleported back to the beginning of the level. After 45min of playing, I'm thinking the penalty is too high, and gets extremely frustrating during longer levels. I think I'll still keep playing it though.
I'm curious to play Fate & Flux, which came after Runner.