Innovation is often confused with invention. Invention is about creating new gameplay, whereas innovation is about rendering something fresh and fun.
To be innovative, a game doesn't have to be completely new - in other words, it doesn't have to invent new gameplay from scratch. It just has to take a gameplay idea and make it accessible and enjoyable, so that you can't imagine going back to the time before the game was released.
Bit.Trip Beat transforms a simple concept into a dazzling rhythmic game. It's not inventive - Pong laid the groundwork - but it achieves innovation by dressing that core idea in bright colours, challenging level-based gameplay, and electronic music.
Unfortunately, its difficulty and length make it an imperfect innovation.Extreme makeover
At its simplest, Bit.Trip Beat is Pong in colour. The object of the game is to deflect tiny squares called beats using a paddle moved using a finger or by tilting your device.
As beats fly across the screen from right to left, you must hurriedly position the paddle on the far-left side of the screen to catch them. Allow too many beats to fall off the screen and it's Game Over.
By virtue of its simple and recognisable inspiration, Bit.Trip Beat is immediately accessible. That isn't to say it's an easy game - on the contrary, tricky levels make for a vigorous challenge.
There are three reasons for the strict difficulty, the first related to the beat patterns themselves. In delivering variety, Bit.Trip Beat throws out all kinds of unusual beats: slow-moving ones, speedy ones that zip across the screen, beats that dart all over the screen, and even ones that stop and start as they travel from right to left.
You never know what you're going to get, and this keeps you on your toes.Can you see the beat?
Secondly, the spunky presentation enhances the difficulty. Busy backgrounds are meant to distract you from the action, although they succeed more in restricting the visibility of the paddle and beats.
When an orange satellite pans across the screen, pinpointing where your orange paddle is can be tough.
Purple beats often blend into the dark background, making it hard to see them coming. Throw in beat strands that cover the screen with snake-like lines and things get confusing quickly.
Lastly, power-downs stiffen the difficulty significantly. Having your paddle shrunk, for example, obviously makes things much harder. It's frustrating, although avoiding these optional scenarios is possible by steering clear of the power-downs.
Long levels highlight the game's difficulty by requiring intense concentration for extended periods. Levels would be better chopped into smaller, bite-sized portions than as three mammoth stages.
This would also have the effect of improving perception of the game's value (six stages sounds better than three), though the price and amount of content offered is fair, even when accounting for in-app purchases required to play new levels.Co-op confusion
Played solo, Bit.Trip Beat is a surmountable challenge: played with others locally or online, the game becomes a confusing endeavour. Up to three other players can play with you cooperatively, a maximum of four paddles placed on the screen.
Coordinating four people in a fast-paced arcade game like this is quite the task and online games prove troublesome due to the lack of voice communication. Local play allows you to coordinate with your friends in person, though playing alone is still preferable.
Despite its shortcomings, Bit.Trip Beat is an appealing twist on the paddle play of Pong. There's ample room for improvement and restructuring, but on the whole it's entertaining enough to warrant putting up with its quirks.