To the rhythm of the boogie the beat – Beatbuddy:Tale of the Guardians
A catchy soundtrack can make a great game truly excellent. Do you remember rolling down the streets in GTA on your Faggio? How about flipping gravity up and down in VVVVVV? If you do, chances are you also recall some of the memorable music that accompanied those moments. Imagine if you will a game that promotes its soundtrack to more than a mere accompaniment to the core game mechanics, where sea creatures come alive to the slam of the base drum and the environments contort around you. That game is Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians by Threaks.
The game’s action takes place in the land of Symphonia, with the player taking control of Beatbuddy and guiding him on his mission to rescue his sisters – and Symphonia – from the evil Prince Maestro. On his journey Beatbuddy enlists the help of his mechanic friend, Clef – who happens to be besotted with Beat’s sister, by the way. The pair travels through six unique environments interacting with strange and dangerous life forms, manipulating the soundtrack and occasionally shooting everything that moves from the comfort of their submarine.
At first glance Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is reminiscent of a number of other games. There is an unmistakable Ecco the Dolphin quality to some of the environments.. The crustaceous life forms Beatbuddy encounters are heavily reminiscent of enemies in Rayman Origins, both in physical design and behaviour. Even the pinball table bumpers from Sonic the Hedgehog make an appearance, thrusting you through the levels at speed. The game chooses its influences wisely and to great effect, but the way its soundtrack intertwines with all other aspects of the game makes it distinctly Beatbuddy.
To create Beatbuddy’s eclectic electro-jazz-dance soundtrack Threaks hired some of the best known composers in the industry. The game features music from the likes of Austin Wintory, Parov Stelar and Sabrepulse. Each level is introduced with the name of the track it features and its respective composer – a nice touch.
Level environments all pulse to the beat of the music. Crabs shuffle, snails fire lasers to match the tempo of the music, and bubble gates require precise timing in order to pass through them. Everything comes alive to the soundtrack.
Typically levels involve Beat trying to overcome an obstacle blocking his path. Proceeding usually means some light puzzle solving, often requiring locked gates to be opened. Simple stuff on paper but it can be tricky in the maze-like environments.
Sometimes the gameplay shifts from puzzle game to an R-Type-style shooter. Jumping in the submarine (is that what it is?) with clef allows Beat to rain bullets down on his enemies and break through blockades. A particular highlight of these sections is twisting and turning levels around to reach new areas.
Controls are intuitive and even involve keeping in time with the music. Beat can move around freely (albeit slowly for some timed puzzles) but if you tap the ‘A’ button in time with the music he will zoom off in your chosen direction. Some parts of the game involve outrunning enemies or environment elements so it is worthwhile paying close attention to the music and tapping along accordingly. The submarine controls similarly to Beat but moves much more rigidly; tapping along to the music also gives a speed boost which is a much-needed skill later in the game.
Threaks keep things fresh by giving Beat new abilities like being able to see hidden items and the ability to target enemies quickly; each ability has its moment to shine and never outstays its welcome.
The game is marketed as an interactive music/adventure game and it is, what I find disappointing is how little user interaction affects the music. True, interacting with the environment can mix the music up a little but it often just feels like one track playing over another. The music id great but it isn’t all that interactive.
A number of serious issues were encountered during play and relegate Beatbuddy from ‘Flawless’ to only ‘Near Flawless’. On level five (the one featuring Austin Wintory’s track) it is possible to become trapped. Clef sends you to go find a gooey substance to repair his ever-broken submarine and should you accidentally backtrack whilst doing so, you will become trapped behind a locked gate with no way to escape. The plant that is supposed to transport you out of the area simply spits Beat back out, trapping him. The only way to remedy the situation is to exit to the menu and start the area again. A similarly level-breaking bug rears its head in the final stage of the game (no spoilers). You are tasked with escorting another character through the level, preventing them from being attacked. Should you die during this process the game may choose to spawn Beat behind the person he is escorting – killing him instantly. This happened over and over again during our time with the game and required that section be restarted – losing all the crystals we had accumulated and resetting our time. Another issue we faced whilst playing was keys vanishing, making it impossible to continue (okay so they aren’t actually keys but I don’t know how to describe them). This only happened when we spawned at checkpoints after dying, and usually fixed itself if Beat died again.
Having faced some irritating bugs and been made to replay sections of the game multiple times – to our disdain – it is truly a testament to how fun Beatbuddy actually is that we still rate it so highly. Other games with similar issues have received no mercy, and their scores reflect that, but I just can’t bring myself to penalise Beatbuddy too harshly. Sure, the issues it has, did irritate me – once to the point of throwing my controller in frustration – but there is so much to like about the game that the occasional, somewhat serious bug doesn’t seem like a big deal when looking at the bigger picture.
Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is short and linear with some light puzzle –solving elements and a truly memorable soundtrack. There was no doubt in my mind that the stellar cast of composers commissioned to score the game were going to create wonderful soundscapes, but the developers at Threaks have taken them, contorted them and elevated them to another level. Interacting with the environment to create new musical effects is a joy to the ears and there is always something new to hear.
The overall design is eye-catching with a rustic hand drawn look; the land of Symphonia is immersive and pretty (eerily so in some areas). The inhabitants of Symphonia are cute, humorous and have bags of character. While there isn’t a lot of dialog in the game, what’s present is funny and helps drive the somewhat shallow story along.
The game is far from perfect, as detailed above it (currently) has some annoying bugs that can become frustrating if encountered often. Hopefully by the time this review goes live they will have been patched.
Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is a perfectly balanced concoction of adventure/puzzle/music gameplay complimented with a stellar soundtrack crafted by some of the industry’s biggest names. The experience is kept fresh with new and interesting abilities to use, at regular intervals. While interaction with the soundtrack is much more limited than the press releases may suggest, the game’s constantly changing sound will keep you hooked throughout the six or so hours of play time. As a debut title Beatbuddy hits all the right notes and comes highly recommended.