These days, Steam is awash with games intent on tapping in to Gen X “retro” nostalgia, and their over-abundance is enough to make anyone cynical about more rose-tinted 8-Bit platforming. Since it sells itself as “a modern-retro platformer that pays homage to video gaming from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s”, I approached BiT Evolution with a decent amount of trepidation. Game’s within this niche rarely do a great deal for me, since my nostalgia-gland (yeah that’s probably a thing) responds mainly to PS1/PS2/GameBoy Advance obscurities. How surprising, then, to discover that BiT Evolution is more than just a cynically designed, pretty-pixel-picture – it is a smart, lovingly designed pastiche of old ideas which is more than happy to play around with new ideas.
At the game’s outset, BiT Evolution does exactly what it says on the tin. It charts the growth and evolution of games throughout several decades, specifically paying homage to classics like Pong, Pitfall!, Super Mario Bros., and even Pokémon. The game quickly sets itself apart from other retro-homage games upon the player’s first death, wherein our circular protagonist, BiT, is transported to the Code World, a sort of Matrix-style nether world residing beneath each main level. Rather like FEZ, Giana Sisters or Time FCUK, the Code World acts as an alternate reality, one which remains structurally similar to the world above, but usually contains vastly different challenges to overcome.
By dying in the “real world”, BiT has a chance to surpass his progress in that world by completing the same area in the Code World. This adds an extra layer of lateral thinking and puzzle solving onto standard platforming gameplay – some areas even require poor BiT to commit suicide on a bed of spikes, so that he can traverse the next area in the Code World instead. The only catch? BiT can collect glowing pixels throughout each level – ten in the “real world”, and ten in the Code World – and only by completing every area can he collect all twenty.
Just like in The Matrix, if BiT dies in the Code World, he dies in real life, so it’s important for players to weigh up the risk/reward factor when embarking on a new area. Sometimes it’s not worth risking total failure for a few measly pixels.
Though BiT is still in Early Access, there are three levels currently available, and one genuinely satisfying puzzle-boss fight present at the tail end of the first level. Though platforming sections never reach the mind-boggling heights of FEZ or Escape Goat 2, BiT does a great job of keeping this grounded in a way that feels faithful to the genre’s minimalistic beginnings.
BiT Evolution presents itself with the expected amount of attention to detail and respect for its source material. Each level, soundtrack and enemy design feels like it was ripped straight from an Atari/NES/GameBoy cartridge, all of which strengthens the game’s ability to lightly poke fun at games of yore, whilst still acknowledging the power and influence those games still have.
Essentially, BiT Evolution‘s greatest strength is its ability to remind us of what’s past, without getting bogged down in some of the problems that come with archaic game design. Amidst all the bleeps and bloops of retro homage, BiT Evolution carves its own path, thanks in no small part to its fantastic dual world mechanic. Not only does BiT Evolution show heaps of promise, but it also managed to grow the Grinch Heart of this admittedly retro-cynical reviewer. How refreshing it is to find an Early Access game that not only plays well, but reaffirms your belief in an entire genre niche.