A portable retro throwback finally comes to Android.
In 2009, writer/director Ti West released a film called House of the Devil, a horror flick set, in a completely unspoken way, in the early 1980s. While the specific year is never given, the movie does a solid job of creating the feel of the era with few heavy-handed 80’s clichés. And yet it also feels strangely modern, like it could just as easily be set in the 21st century. It feels simultaneously retro and current.
Perhaps that’s because 1980s/1990s nostalgia is back in a big way, and not just in the world of hipster fashion. Super Bit Dash is just the latest in a long line of retro-modern mobile titles, and it recreates both the good and not-so-good elements of the 8 bit era.
Like most classic (and mobile) games, the goal is simple. You traverse an auto-scrolling course filled with pits, spikes and other hazards. You’re armed with only a few simple tools: the ability to jump, slow down and execute gravity-defying dashes either straight up or forward. Each dash uses up one coin; hit zero and no more dashing for you – a death sentence in Super Bit Dash. Fortunately, you’ll gobble up coins throughout the course in true Sonic the Hedgehog style. Coins also count as currency which you can use to buy power-ups and alternate characters. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
As a game built around a straightforward concept, Super Bit Dash works nicely. There are typically a couple of different ways around an obstacle, so you’re constantly asked to figure out which path will set you up better for the next challenge, and keeping the currency-fueled dash ability charged adds an extra wrinkle of complexity. There are both “Easy Way” and “Hard Way” settings to the main game, but the challenge of Easy Way is great enough that few players will even attempt Hard Way – they should have been named “Hard Way” and “Barely Possible Way.”
There’s both an abundance and scarcity of content in Super Bit Dash. Each course is randomly generated, so technically it’s new every time you pick it up. But, the courses are generated from a relatively small tileset of rooms, so while the order of challenges may change, the content of challenges remains the same. There’s also an endless mode which removes multiple lives and power-ups, making an already tough game even tougher. And due to slightly laggy swipe-based controls, Super Bit Dash lacks precision and features a fairly high “that wasn’t my fault!” factor.
The control issues may frustrate some players, but to my mind Super Bit Dash’s biggest turnoff is its currency system. All the worthwhile power-ups (additional coin slots, coin-attracting magnets) are priced in the thousands, and completing a course will only net you a couple hundred coins at best. But, in true 2012 game fashion, you can purchase extra coins with real money, or earn “free” coins by buying specific apps or completing offers like free credit checks. Super Bit Dash is free, but it’s charging hard for your money. It’s really a shame. There is some great bonus content to unlock, such as hilarious alternate playable characters, but earning enough cash for all of them would take days. All the more incentive to simply lay down some cash.
If this naked greed wasn’t around to muck up Super Bit Dash, it would be the ideal retro-modern game. It’s straightforward and easy to understand, yet difficult to master. It’s got a nice nostalgic look and feel and an authentic level of frustration. But I definitely don’t remember any Atari game ever asking me to apply for a Discover card.
Jeremy M. Zoss writes for community newspaper The Journal in downtown Minneapolis. He’s also written for a bunch of other outlets, including gaming blog Village Voice Media. He thinks about writing fiction more often than he actually does it.