Game Review Special: Gameboy Advance – Bit Generations

Heard of bit generations? Possibly not. You’re missing out on a big piece of classic gaming that never made it outside of Japan. And best of all, no Japanese language skills needed.

The games are a nice set of 7. For the sake of completeness, first I will list them:

1) Boundish
2) Coloris
3) Dialhex
4) Dotstream
5) Digidrive
6) Orbital

Let me set the record straight first of all. These aren’t just games. They are art. I know occasionally the world has a “debate” about whether games can be art, but proof beyond all reasonable doubt lies in these titles. Here’s why…

The Box

Each game comes in a really smart “nice” presentation box. Not your average plastic DS case, not a cardboard GBA case, but a shiny presentation box, just the size of the palm of your hand. To hold, and to open this box feels special.

Each box has a logo which clearly has been “themed” to integrate into the range. Each logo clearly identifies the game inside, yet contains neither text nor screenshots. They’ve captured the essence of the game in a simple, neat and clever and very very nice looking logo.

As a result – even the box is art.

The Series

Reading this far, you’re probably itching to know what “bit generations” is all about. Well, that’s the really special part, and this is where it ties in with a “retro blog”. Firstly, although the games were released after the Nintendo DS had established the handheld market, the platform of choice was the GBA. Of course, the rules for platform obsolescence in Japan are not as clear as in the UK, as any Dreamcast fan will confirm. But, still, an odd choice for Nintendo – to decide that the games should be released on the GBA and not the DS.

Perhaps the reasons were twofold. Perhaps because the DS was in fact compatible with GBA games, Nintendo knew that they would be able to entice two audiences in one. And, perhaps Nintendo wanted to use the GBA for the “retro” feel to the games.

Or a third option. Perhaps it took so long to develop the games, that they entered the market very late.

…but, that’s just the thing. The games all have a classic feel to them that goes deep, deep into the retro past of gaming. Each game is so simple in its gameplay, so well thought out and yet plain and yet colourful and neat in its graphics, that you are instantly taken to that same mental state you had when you first saw asteroids in an arcade. The games are truly simple, and truly captivating.

Now, I am torn, because while I realise you expect a review of each title in the series, I don’t want to show you the games. This is because I want you to buy them, and discover for yourselves the magic of sitting in a dimmed room with each title, one by one, on your GBA SP (yes, GBA SP, not a DS!). Nonetheless, I must show you enough to persuade you that this is what you must do. So, read on…

Boundish

Boundish is a nudge of appreciation, perhaps even a tribute, to pong. It’s a 2 player game, or one player vs the computer. It plays best in 2 player mode, I am told. Which I suppose is lucky, because out of the series, it was the weakest. They could probably have left this one out, to be honest.

Dialhex

An infuriating, and infuriating, furthermore an infuriating hexagonal falling tile game, which takes nothing from tetris, yet has all the addictive qualities of tetris. I suppose it’s slightly closer to columns, but the hexagonal nature of the tile rotation and matching takes a completely new way of thinking to master. You must play it, then you will understand.

dotstream

The lack of capitalisation of the title, is fully intentional. Just like the rewind logo, in fact :)

dotstream is perhaps my favourite of all the bit generation titles. It has the best ambience, the best gameplay, and it’s the one that keeps you coming back again and again for more.

The game itself is best described as a 1d version of f-zero. Everything that makes F-Zero great has been captured into one single line, and put in a game. It’s a full adrenaline pumping race, but all you have, is a line. Snake has nothing on this. Perhaps, too, it’s a little like tron light cycles, but it seems a whole lot more classy to me.

I’ve got a video of this game below, because I feel it demonstrates both the music, and the general feel of the game. The game is much deeper than you see here, but I really don’t want to give much away, just a very small window into how great this game looks.

there is a fantastic play mode aswell as the campaign/grand prix mode in this game, which is the “formation” mode. This allows you to collect formation “moves” and use them to build up your formation of lines, which you control simultaneously using your “moves”.

Coloris

Another puzzle game. This one you may recognise, if you have a wii and frequent the marketplace, as the game has been rereleased. ┬áThe game is weird, as you would expect from the bit generations series. Not entirely unlike tetris, but based on a “colour next to” principle. I personally still haven’t got to grips with this game. The colours seem to change with rules that I don’t fully understand.

But, I must say, the game is very pleasing to the eye.

Orbital

Now, this is a good one. Well worthy of a video. Here we go:

The game is all about gravity, with a hint of “Katamari”, meaning you have to suck up objects that are the right “size”, and not too big. As you grow, you can tackle larger objects yourself.
Side note: If you haven’t played a katamari game, then get to it. You must!

Soundvoyager

Yes, all one word. This game is an odd sausage. I can’t get my head round the thinking here. If you put it into a GBA and play off the internal speaker you won’t be able to get the game. Why? Because it needs stereo sound. The game is entirely (or almost entirely while it trains you!) sound based, and you learn to locate yourself using just the sound through a stereo source. I’ll be honest here – this game works best on the DS. It works best with earphones too. And lets not forget, the GBA SP needs a special adaptor to use earphones!

Nintendo – what were you thinking?

This aside, it’s inventive, fun, and later levels get very challenging. This could easily have been a good chunk of the recent DS release “rhythm paradise”, if they had so wished. I like, but it’s not my favourite in the series.

Digidrive

Have we saved the best for last? Well, I listed the games in the order they were released, so if that’s so, it’s coincidence.

Digidrive is, at its most basic level, a shape sorting game. Once you figure out how it works, you can play it. But, to master it, you must work out the intricacies of the gameplay. Fundamentally, you’re sorting shaped “cars” into groups, which gives you power, which raises your “puck” thing away from the “plunger” thing which, if the plunger touches the puck, it’s game over. But, that’s just the beginning. Note in my video demo below, there’s even an “autobahn” mode, where everything goes crazy. What triggers this? Can you work it out? And how do the power meters work? Yes, I know. But I’m not telling you, the fun is in the discovery.

Summary

So, I’ve shown you a small taste of each game in the series, and hopefully achieved my aim – to make you want to buy the games. As a little extra tip, I will tell you my prediction. Given past history, I predict that these games will soon increase exponentially in value. Why?

- Late release. Games which are released late in a product cycle are always sold in smaller quantities. These are ideal candidates for rarity.

- Limited release. Japan only. Know any other rare games that had Japan only releases? ;)

- Specialist audience. The games were FAR from mainstream

- Retro focus. They’re classics now.

- Presentation. They just scream “collect me”. Who wouldn’t want the whole set in their collection? Exactly.

- Availability. This is dropping fast as the last few get hoovered up.

Are you persuaded yet? Go on, get the set.

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