When it comes to games with a strong emphasis on music and sound, I feel like I’ve basically played them all. Rock Band, Beatmania, Elite Beat Agents and countless others have the player driving the pace of the music, actually playing the notes themselves as the main component to its game play.
Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians steps away from proven and frankly, tired grounds to come up with something that feels entirely new by melding the sound and music to the very levels of the game with fantastic results.
The track is set as the world of Symphonia comes to peril thanks to one, “Prince Maestro” who wants to take control of all the music- the life force of the world. The protectors of Symphonia; Melody, Harmony and Beat awaken from their eternal slumber to stop Maestro’s dastardly plan.
The “how?” or “why?” are wasted questions indeed as such things are almost as unnecessary as auto-tune is. While the characters are designed well and charming in their own way (they all talk by beat boxing!), it’s not what makes this title stand out from the crowd.
To get to the meat of the title, the game play is something similar to Ecco the Dolphin (Sega Genesis!) in part as Beat is able to “swim” to navigate the levels with great speed and finesse. Also like Ecco, he is able to dash and attack enemies with quick strikes.
Even though he has the ability to attack, it’s generally saved for very specific moments when enemies have left themselves vulnerable after some tricky maneuvering. Instead of just monsters barring Beat’s path, the levels themselves are composed of many little puzzles where he must either find way to open a door by carrying a “key” of sorts or break down a wall of snail shells.
New mechanics are introduced as the game progresses, like a volatile core that must be transferred from place to place in a limited time or a vehicle equipped with a rapid firing machine gun. The stages are often accentuated by chase or escape events where the screen will auto-scroll, which serves as a great change of pace.
As I mentioned before, there is a great emphasis on how the sound and music are assimilated into the levels.
Almost everything on a given stage is either generating a sound or is going along with the beat of the song. This means every enemy; every little seemingly innocent interactive prop is a part of the soundtrack. When enemies fire bullets they are always doing so to the beat of the music and the various environmental dangers whether they are lightning waves or giant parasites will activate/move on a particular beat.
After only about ten minutes, I found myself bobbing my head to the beat of the music and using it to my advantage as I dashed through menacing environmental dangers and weaved around countless bullets aimed at my stylish headphones. Knee deep in the groove, I felt as though I was a part of the soundtrack without even having to generate all the notes myself.
I think the term, “unique” is thrown around quite liberally these days but I can’t quite think of a more appropriate term to describe what playing Beatbuddy is like. Even though the platforming elements have all been explored before to some degree, thanks to the exquisite interaction between level and sound design, it puts a fresh and interesting spin on the whole ordeal.
Each level has a tune of its own and while it always starts out with simple beats, as more of the level is explored, new tracks are added to the song until it hits a fever pitch and it’s blasting on all cylind… well, all speakers.
Unfortunately, even though Beatbuddy has a lot going for it, there are some flaws that keep it from true greatness.
First of all, given its nature as a puzzle game, I found myself stuck during a level and assumed it to be my own inability to figure out the solution. After over thirty minutes of trying increasingly more elaborate solutions to no avail, I contacted the developer who told me that it was actually a bug. It turns out that by dying during a certain point, a piece of rubble blocked my only exit out from the area. The only way to progress at this point was to go back to the main menu and reload from a previous chapter, losing a good 10-20 minutes of progress.
This happened again when a bunch of switches wouldn’t allow me to punch them to the beat of the music to activate the reflectors that they were sitting on. Also, I often ran into instances where layers of the stage would completely disappear, making continuing the stage nearly impossible.
It’s quite unfortunate that such game breaking bugs hampered down what were otherwise well paced levels. At the time of writing this review, there was a patch that was released that was promised to solve most of the problems I mentioned, but it’s up in the air whether they were all completely ironed out.
Outside of the bugs, Beatbuddy has a handful of puzzle based mechanics along with its Frogger-inspired vehicle sections. Even though they are well designed and enjoyable I felt they wore out their welcome near the end as I was unimpressed by their attempts to increase the difficulty. Instead of making things feel more challenging by twisting known mechanics to be used in new and interesting ways, their solution was to just throw more of the same and add more enemies/hazards in between them.
A few more puzzle mechanics or requiring “outside-the-box” thinking from players to solve the latter stages would’ve marked the perfect end but that’s unfortunately not the case here.
While it only took me around seven hours to complete the main campaign, there were still many beat points scattered throughout each level that unlocked extras. From images showing the humbled origins of the developers of Beatbuddy to many interesting concept designs, it’s well worth scouring the levels to unlock them all.
Even with its notable flaws, my time with Beatbuddy was mostly positive. When I was in the groove, bobbing my head and solving puzzles the time seemed to fade away… to the beat of the music.
Fun Tidbit– Not to be mistaken for “Beat Buddy” the pocket law APP for Police Officers on the beat.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.