I'm worried for the safety of my iPhone. I've started shaking it when I die in Bitless [$0.99], which might progress to throttling it if this keeps up. I'm not the sort to break my toys in anger, but this game is teaching me to get there.

It's not like this is the first time I've played a precision platformer. Normally I'm pretty cool with them. So why do I let this game get to me? Maybe it's the minimalistic art—it's hard to hate on something cute and cuddly, but squares? Yeah, I can rage at squares. Or maybe it's the way one particular square gloats every time I die. That might have something to do with it. I'm starting to think it's option three, though: I'm mad at myself. I know these jumps. I've lived and breathed these jumps. So why the hell can't I make these jumps?

To be fair to myself, Bitless is pretty unforgiving. The square that you control autoruns along at a fast clip, and will happily fall off an edge, run into an evil eye, or smash into a wall and turn around the moment you blink. The only thing you control is when to jump, and for how long. A quick tap will flip you forward, and a long press will make you take a flying leap. The trick is to find the exact point in that spectrum that will let you make a given jump without dying—either there, or some time in the future when that one little mistake gets you killed.

The way Bitless's levels are structured means that each move you make compounds with the others. If you mess up one of the three quick flips here, then you won't land in the right position to make the wall jump there, and you're toast. So every single jump counts, and you can't make a single mistake—kind of a pain when the levels get longer, taller and more confusing. The goal each time is simply to make it to the portal without dying, but it doesn't take long before that's far more easily said than done.

And throughout, the eyes are watching you. Watching you, then getting in your way. Then, eventually, chasing you and murdering you. Touch one and you die, so they become the obstacles, the boundaries, and the enemies you're helpless to fight. Remember, all you can do is run and jump.

It may be that they eventually get even more vindictive, though I can't imagine how. Still, I can't say with authority that they don't. You see, Bitless has four worlds. You need to defeat ten of thirteen levels and a boss in each to move on to the next, and I'm sitting slightly under that mark in the third world. Every time I start one of the relentlessly cheery, colorful levels I make the same jumps, then the same mistakes, and end up with the same deaths. And that awful, evil, black-eyed square tallies up another death on the worldwide deaths board.

Maybe that's what makes me so frustrated when I fail: the knowledge that each failure is making things worse. Not only does the enemy claim to grow more powerful from my deaths, not only am I making a global counter tick ever-upwards with my failures, but each death also adds to a total I'll be presented with if I ever manage to finish the level. Every time I die I know my score will be worse for it. Thank goodness for small favours—the leaderboard isn't on Game Center yet, so none of my friends get to see my shame. After the next update I may need to go into hiding.

But the chiptunes drive me on, and the insanely quick loading times keep me going. I'm glad for that, because Bitless is a good game. In a less generous moment I might call it evil, vindictive or cruel, but that's just the anger talking. This is a precision platformer perfectly tuned for its platform—it can't help that I'm not tuned for it. You'll either need to be very skilled, up for a good challenge or a bit of a masochist to enjoy this game, but hey, that covers a lot of people. If you're one of them, you should definitely check it out. Then you can commiserate with your fellow gluttons for punishment in our discussion thread.

TouchArcade Rating

  • himanshu modi

    haha... sounds fun. This can't be as tough as that 747 deaths (or some other number) by Square Enix. Now THAT was a friggin unforgiving game.

    • ducksFANjason

      Agreed! I finally gave up on that game for fear of destroying my iPhone... Fun but SOOO frustrating.

  • http://twitter.com/JasnoWa JasnoWa

    The leaderboards show people who have died over 2000 times. Crazyness.

  • GSJ1977

    Why are so many gamers masochists? This sort of game is a "challenge" in the same way that trying not to scream while being tortured to death is a "challenge".

    • ducksFANjason

      While I would hardly call myself a gaming masochist, I definitely see the appeal to a challenge. Studies have shown that video games activate the "rewarding" portion of our brains (moreso in men than women) and that only happens if there's some sense of challenge to the game. If a video game consisted of simply pressing the "A" button once resulting in a "YOU WIN!" screen (and then repeating) there would be no rewarding feeling. It's simply too boring and you're brain would probably riddicule you for getting excited over something so trivial if you did.

      There's something to be said for the satisfaction gained from finally completing a challenge. The harder fought for, the more rewarding the sensation afterward. The truth is, we all (even yourself) like a challenge, the only difference is the degree of difficulty we all prefer. Some people prefer just enough challenge to make it "feel" like it requires some skill when it really doesn't take much. Others, the ones you call masochists, prefer a challenge that takes hours to master. To each his own I guess, right?

      • GSJ1977

        Maybe it's just me, but your comment makes me think that such gamers are not getting that challenge/reward brain thing from RL.

  • pocketmego

    You totally nailed this review. This game is Satan. But, hey, at least you made it to world 3. I'm still stuck chillin' somewhere on the middle of world 2.

  • aeranth

    Nice review, Nissa. Well written; a quick summation, worthy of the fast-paced nature of the game itself.

  • witedahlia

    Great review. I like it when a person can admit "it's not the game's fault." xD It's a great review because it tells people what the game is, who might like it, and the reviewer's personal experiences with it. As for me, I might finally be at the top of a leaderboard ... for deaths for this game.

  • TheFrost

    Nissa, you nailed it 🙂

  • speeed

    4.5 stars for a niche game that makes one angry??

  • DecafTable

    Life is difficult enough without this game to drive me to hell, I'll pass

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000373333991 Krystian Gałaj

    This is some kind of a joke? There's exactly zero chance of not dying in third presented level, R2, unless some other gameplay mechanic is introduced after the long jump. But there's no commentary between R1 and R2. The eye starts on a plain line, encounters a pipe-like corridor heading up, bounces from its wall, heads back to where it started the level and dies there, no matter how or where I jump.

    • Luoyi Wu

      You can jump on the wall to go upwards..~

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000373333991 Krystian Gałaj

        Thank you. The ability to jump out of thin air when falling in adjacent position to a wall was the mechanic I sought. It's quite unintuitive to me - I guess most people understood it should be used after watching the gameplay video I omitted.

  • thomin

    Love the game, hate the music. 

Bitless Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4.5