Threaks are bringing the beat back with Beatbuddy: Tales of the Guardians, a cute music-inspired underwater sidescroller that begged James Haresign to bring the noise.
Music and rhythm platformers seemed to be an upcoming ‘thing’ during the PSOne era, but before anything could really get going, games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band arrived, turning music games into peripherally-enhanced monstrosities where you were forced to pretend you were actually in a band. Any gameplay besides faking this act seemed to fall by the wayside. Recently, music and rhythm platformers have been making a comeback, and Beatbuddy is one of those games.
Beatbuddy sees you take control of Beatbuddy, a little blue guy who happens to be one the ‘Guardians’ tasked with keeping the music of Symphonia free from the Prince. The Prince thinks he has what it takes to make some wonderful music (but is as tone deaf as me), whilst gaining a lot of power at the same time. For you see, everything in Symphonia generates music.
Bass in the plaice
As you bomb around the underwater world there are bass drums thumping along the maze’s peripheral which you can use to launch yourself in the direction of their beat. There are streams of colour-changing orbs which create snare drums, and there are even hi-hat crabs that have all nearby creatures jiving along. If you want past, you have to silence the crabs so that everyone else calms down, but be warned: the crabs won’t stay silent for long.
These interactions are where Symphonia’s music comes from, and it works really well. The game is broken into arenas packed with little music makers, and each arena has a slightly different tune compared to its forerunner; but is still very much part of the same song.
Of course it helps that the music is really damn good. Of the two levels I played, even when Beatbuddy was just swimming between areas, I was bobbing my head, and it gets even better when you jump in the ‘bubblebuggy’. Because it’s here where the tunes really kick in. The bubblebuggy moves to the music beat and its ‘boost’ can only be used if you tap it in time to the beat. It feels exactly how Beatbuddy should feel, which unfortunately it doesn’t quite manage all of the time.
Previous games that have relied on music – like Rez – make the player the main driving force of the music. Every action you make adds to the symphony going on around you. In contrast, Beatbuddy is more reactionary than that, and there’s also a fair few places where it completely ignores the music.
Your average punch prompts generic sidescrolling sound effects, as does the collection of health. It seems like a missed trick not having it somehow play into the music, especially as that’s the entire point of the game. Later on you are introduced to enemies that need to be punched to the beat which feels more like it, but it still feels like your passing through the music rather than influencing it. If anything, Threaks need to let the player play with the music a bit more.
Although the focus of Beatbuddy is obviously the music, the game also has some incredibly luscious art. The underwater world of Symphonia looks just as good as it sounds. It’s beautifully lit with cute cartoony art, and large areas bop along to the catchy soundtrack. It’s sort of strange, then, that the one thing that stands out from all this is Beatbuddy himself. Unlike everthing else, Beatbuddy is 3D-generated, rather pixel art. Not that he’s designed badly – he looks awesome, even when he’s just swimming along the little guy looks like he’s got rhythm – but it’s the fact he’s 3D. He just stands out as he doesn’t match anything else.
But these are all minor details. Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is a fun adventure with a great concept, albeit a concept Threaks don’t stick to one hundred percent of the time. There’s still time for Threaks to fix such transgressions but, even if they don’t, Beatbuddy is still shaping up to be a nice little game.
Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians, by Threaks, is due out August 6 for PC.