Recently, in the wake of downloadable and indie games, many companies have been going back to basics when it comes to game design and gameplay. We've seen a revival of sorts of 2D gaming; some have taken old genres such as side-scrolling platformers and given them modern twists while others have made strictly retro games (such as Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10). The Wiiware's Bit.Trip Beat is somewhere in between the two. It's a game that looks, sounds, and plays like Pong but with a modern twist in the form of rhythmic timing. Basically players control a Pong paddle and have to hit back pixels and all sorts of other crazy stuff to the rhythm of the music. I probably haven't explained the game very well at all, but trust me it's well worth playing.
The best way to describe Bit.Trip Beat's soundtrack is progressive chiptune music. Nintendo-style NES music this isn't, so don't buy this soundtrack expecting catchy 8-bit tunes in the vein of Super Mario Bros. In contrast, it features a very interesting soundscape, some fascinating effects, and some pretty cool grooves. However, it's just not substantial enough, especially given the price.
The first five tracks are the bulk of the soundtrack. There are the tracks from the three levels in the game, "Transition", "Decent", and "Growth", as well as the menu screen music ("Move to Intercept") and the end credits music ("The Information Chase"). Guest chiptune artist Bit Shifter created both "Move to Intercept" and "The Information Chase". These two tracks are probably the most interesting to listen to as standalone tracks. "Move to Intercept" is fast and gets listeners in the mood for the rest of the soundtrack, while the sounds used are like telephone noises (both a traditional phone ring and old mobile phone tones). This actually works surprisingly well and makes for a good opening track to the soundtrack. "The Information Chase" on the other hand sounds a bit like an 8-bit version of a rock song, but this is no bad thing; it's actually a very cool track, which nicely rounds out the first half of the soundtrack. I'd like to see a rock remix of "The Information Chase" on OverClocked Remix or something similar.
The three tracks in-between the two Bit Shifter tracks are the three tunes that play during the three stages of the game. All three of these tracks play out almost like minimalist pieces of music, where there are lots of repeated patterns and rhythms that gradually enter and drop out as the piece progresses. "Transition" is at a moderate tempo and features synth pad style chords. "Decent" is at a fast tempo and features mostly percussion noises. "Growth" is at a slow tempo and is the most progressive track of the three; it starts with just a quiet bass riff and bass drum sound, which eventually evolves into a fully-fledged electronic piece.
All three of these tracks are interesting but feel very underdeveloped. In the game, each level lasts about 15 minutes in total, on there own, these three tracks each last less than four minutes. As a result they feel too short, especially if you've played the game, and listeners don't get the sense of progression that they would if they were playing the game. Also two key features are missing from these tracks, one being the notes that you play in the game, and the other being the more developed versions of the tracks that you hear when you're doing well in the game. These tracks really could have benefited from more repetition, a slower progression into each section and generally being longer.
The last half of the album is five tracks that each last no longer than 35 seconds, which seems lame. These mini-tracks provide the intros and transitions to the three different levels on offer in the game. This makes sense in the game but as standalone tracks they just seem pointless. It works better if you re-order the tracks so that you put one of these tracks before each of the five longer tracks, which helps to put them in context. For example I like to put "Concept" before "Transition", "Trial" before "Decent", and "Tribulation" before "Growth".
Overall the Bit.Trip Beat soundtrack on it's own is a bit disappointing. The music is decent but the whole album feels a bit short and underdeveloped. Like Rhythm Paradise, the game and the music need to work together and one is required to enjoy the other. I think if you've played the game and really liked the music then it's worth a purchase, but get the game first. The music is much better when it's in the context of the game and the game only costs 600 points. In contrast, the soundtrack costs at least that much in the places I looked — in most cases the game is actually cheaper than the soundtrack, which is a rip off.