Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians Review (PC)

This sounds like a police sitcom

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Beatbuddy is a partnership of music and gameplay without devolving into a simple rhythm game. While the music is all important and indeed you’d struggle to complete the game without being able to at least hear the beat, it’s nothing like Guitar Hero. The closest parallel that could be drawn is probably Ecco the Dolphin or Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, but neither of those are quite right either, it’s something unique. You control the titular little Beatbuddy as he swims through the environment fighting enemies, solving puzzles and helping out other creatures, all while being enveloped in a world that has music at its heart. It’s more than a little bit odd.

Beatbuddy only has one mode, and that’s a six-level single-player campaign. There’s no multiplayer, no sandbox, no branching paths or leaderboards, simply the joy of finishing the game and a few collectables to unlock extras. Each level takes between 30 and 45 minutes, so you’re looking at a game that lasts around 3 or 4 hours. This isn’t that unusual for a £12 game (currently less than £11 on Steam) and once you play the game you might realise why.

Each level has a specific theme and a music style to go along with it, the first level for instance is set around swing and the sea. You swim around giant caverns filled with crystals and unusual beasties that all contribute their own little bit to the soundtrack of the world. One creature might be tapping out a hi-hat, another is a bass drum, an action you do might be the snare. There’s no requirement to fit in with the beat really until much later when certain enemies need it, but if you do things right on time you’ll move a little bit faster or avoid a little bit of damage. The game isn’t really set up to be challenging, it’s there for you to enjoy; the puzzles that usually revolve around turning bounce pads or moving items past obstacles rarely put up much of a fight after your second or third attempt and checkpoints are regular and forgiving. Instead the game is about exploration and discovery, even though it’s almost entirely linear. A quiet moment where only the bass drum pervades the space might start opening up with a hint of a melody, once you turn a corner you’ll be hit with a full rendition of an upbeat dancehall song, carrying you with it as everything in the environment seems to come alive with a different part of the music.

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While originally generally only the bass drum is really paid attention to, later on you find enemies timed to attack along with the lead guitar, or some vocals and having a little bit of an ear for music can really help you time your dashes across dangers without hurting yourself. That being said there are very few different types of enemy in the game so once you learn the tricks to avoiding certain attacks you’ll find it easy to avoid that particular foe again and again. It’s a missed opportunity that the enemies don’t change with the levels, indeed the lack of variety is probably Beatbuddy’s biggest downfall. While each level has its own distinctive music style (many composed by some truly amazing game composers such as Austin Wintory) they’re never all that different. You go from Swing to Funk, rather than from Folk to Death Metal. Each level might look and sound slightly different, but there’s a coherence that’s quite overbearing and makes playing in one extended session quite tedious. The magic of new music discovery is lost when everything starts to blend into a bland kind of background music, rather than something memorable.

The puzzles too, tend to repeat themselves throughout the game. There’s a few nice little brainteasers including one with rotating pipes that took us a while to work out, but by and large you’re simply solving the same arrangement puzzle over and over with minor variations or occasionally some kind of time pressure such as a closing door or an exploding item to carry through. The combat is never really developed, even when you unlock new abilities later in the game that speed everything up.

There is a story taking you through and it’s been edited (if not written) by Rhianna Pratchett who worked on the newest Tomb Raider reboot. It’s more interesting than the average platformer’s plot but it’s nothing to write home about, seeming twee without any real bite or depth. It’s all about someone wanting to control music and achieving that by kidnapping beings who are essential to the music that appears to sustain the world.

In general the controls are fine, but all too often you’ll find yourself caught on a piece of geometry or bouncing off something unexpected, breaking the flow. There’s sections in each level where you pilot a submersible and it jerks along to the beat but never feels quite right. You can boost a little if you press ‘A’ (I strongly recommend you use a gamepad for this game, keyboard controls are tough) but when you boost you often go to the very edge of the screen, leading to getting caught up in hazards that you couldn’t possibly have avoided.

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Graphically it can be beautiful, with numerous layers providing a sense of depth and some amazing hand-drawn art and camera tricks giving you an exciting sense of scale. You feel tiny in some sections of the game and that makes your adventure all the more exciting. The animation is basic but the way it intertwines with the music is something you rarely see in games.

Overall the game is definitely an interesting experience and a fantastic idea, I’m just not sure the execution allows it to live up to the expectations of a full-length game. You’ll find yourself amazed by the beauty of the first level, and then progressively more bored with every level after that. You quickly realise why the game is so short, it’s because any longer would have just just been filler.

I’m hoping Beatbuddy is a success, I’d like a sequel with a more varied world, with themed enemies and puzzles and more variation in the music. As it is Beatbuddy stands as an inexpensive little experiment that’s great fun to listen to if you’ve got a decent set of headphones and a gamepad.

Verdict 6

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