Bitlogic: A Cyberpunk Arcade Adventure Review

When it comes to game design, simplicity can often be a great asset. Whether it’s classic arcade games or modern indie titles, there are myriad of examples of one or two-button control schemes that help create challenging and rewarding experiences. While Bitlogic: A Cyberpunk Arcade Adventure is an attempt to mirror the potential success of this paradigm, it fails to benefit from the boons of simplicity. Instead, it offers an experience that is so basic and restrictive that it can be a chore to play.

Set in a crumbling futuristic landscape, you control a robot in a trench coat named Bit. From the beginning, there is a great deal of attention directed towards the fact that you are playing a game. Bit acknowledges that you are controlling him, and the introductory blurbs of text also address the fact that the proceedings are happening in a virtual world. While this ties into the ending, the plot isn't much of a factor here until the closing moments. Although the conclusion is an interesting attempt at commenting on the nature of games, there isn't enough time or nuance to fully dive into these ideas.

Instead, the focus is on navigating the landscape full of hostile robots and collecting data chips along the way to unlock doors that block your progress. Bitlogic: A Cyberpunk Arcade Adventure was originally made as an MSX game, which was then updated with a new look for the Switch and PC. Being modeled after arcade games, your score goes up as you defeat enemies, you have finite lives, and it only takes about an hour to reach the end. There are four basic actions Bit can perform; shooting, moving, climbing ladders, and falling. This basic control scheme is a very intentional design choice, a fact which is made quite apparent by the frequent references to the lack of a jump button. Although many chips are located above you, the lack of a jump button means you must reach higher vantage points and then drop down. Bit also can’t aim his weapon or duck, meaning that enemies that fly or crawl can be particularly problematic.

Because of the movement restrictions, Bitlogic is essentially about carefully maneuvering your character around hordes of metallic foes, so that you can clear out particularly dangerous robots, or fall onto chips. However, it becomes immediately obvious that these restrictions fail to set up for an enjoyable challenge, and instead, Bit's shortcomings make gameplay feel clunky and frustrating. The lack of a jump button means that you must constantly backtrack through areas when you don't fall directly on the chips you are hunting for. It’s a frequent occurrence to painstakingly navigate through an area, drop down into a new segment of the map, and then miss a chip because you weren't holding in the correct direction while falling. Since this was your first time coming through this new area, it was impossible for you to know that you should have been buffering your control stick to the right as you fell into this hole. And yet, you are still punished by being forced to trek all the way back to where you came from, once again clearing the screen of respawning enemies so that you can fall into this particular hole "correctly".

The inability to aim or duck means that killing flying or crawling enemies almost always requires some degree of waiting. If you're not careful, the malicious denizens of these decaying corridors will rip through your health bar, a concerning prospect considering that you have a limited number of lives to beat the entire game. While the proceedings aren’t terribly difficult as long as you play carefully, it also can be quite boring. Especially in the earlier areas, the key to killing all of the enemies in a room is often to hold down the shoot button without moving until all of the standing enemies are dead, and the aerial monsters have flown into your bullets. There is no challenge here, and by the umpteenth screen cleared in this fashion, it becomes clear that combat is quite shallow.

In the later regions of the game, the combination of flyers, crawlers, and rejuvenating monstrosities makes combat much more interesting. In these penultimate levels, you often can't afford to just stand in place to kill everything. Instead you must figure out the angles of flying enemies and precisely position yourself to eliminate your foes seconds before they reach you. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the experience leading up to this point isn't nearly as exciting, mostly consisting of standing still while shooting, or figuring out how to correctly fall down holes. And even worse, to trigger the ending, you have to collect five items scattered throughout the world that previously seemed as though they were optional challenges. While in my case I didn't have to backtrack too far to collect these, it’s possible that a player could reach the final room, only to realize that they had to go back through all of the tiresome early levels to get to the credits.

Bitlogic: A Cyberpunk Arcade Adventure captures the feel of games from a bygone time, but it does so in a fashion that is almost entirely detrimental. The restrictions on aiming and movement makes combat unpleasant, and traversal is usually a matter of trial and error. Although the MSX version of the game, included in the package, has a fairly striking look, the updated graphics don't look nearly as inspired, and smaller details, like the lack of death animations for enemies or the protagonist, make the visual overhaul rather unconvincing. The more interesting enemy setups in the last few areas tease at undercurrents of potential that is never fully reached. There are many titles out there that utilize the archetypes of classic gaming to create challenging and rewarding gameplay loops, but Bitlogic is not one of them.