by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Innovation from Indie developers
Indie developers can afford to be a little more innovative when designing their games. Of course they want their games to sell well, but they do not have the same financial constraints as the big publishers who rely on a product to sell great numbers before they even break even. One such Indie developer is Current Circus. When we heard about their new game, we were curious. Beat Booster sounds like a Guitar Hero clone or a sequel to Dance Dance Revolution. Instead, it is a racing game along the lines of Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing or Mario Kart. Doesnít sound very innovative at all does it?
Well, that is until you find out that it uses your webcam as the controller. Yes, thatís right...your webcam. You see, the webcam functions similarly to the Kinect on an Xbox, picking up your movements to control your vehicle.
You are the controller
Currently only available on Windows 8.1, Beat Booster plays out like the aforementioned Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing or any number of kart racing titles. Players ride vehicles akin to the Pod Racers from Star Wars...ahem...Episode 1, across aerial racetracks that require gamers to navigate the course using movements of their bodies. Tilting from side to side moves your vehicle in that direction Ė the further you lean, the sharper the turn. Leaning forward gives you a speed boost, although doing so eats up your power meter. Power can be regained though by moving through the power circles, a sort of ringed tunnel. There are turbo sections as well that give a quick burst of speed much like driving over the turbo boost pads on Mario Kart or its Sonic equivalents. The boost power can also be used to unleash attacks on opposition racers by waving your arms in their direction. Moving both your arms up will have your racer increasing altitude.
After the initial calibration (more on that later), Beat Booster puts you through a simple tutorial that runs through the basics of how to control your vehicle Ė as described above. After completing the tutorial section, you then move onto the actual racing. There are 15 racing circuits over six settings across the tropical region known as Bafo, each being unlocked once you have earned a placing in the previous race. The tracks and the opponents gradually get a bit tougher, but are never overly difficult, making it easier for younger gamers.
Beast Booster is clear and vibrant and has a cartoon quality about it. The race locations are primarily set on the lost archipelago world of Bafo, a tropical paradise full of lush green valleys, palm trees and rocky volcanic outcrops. The settings seem reasonably similar for each of the six areas, although you spend most of your time zooming over the land and into the clear blue skies, you donít get to fully observe the landscape until someone else has a turn. The three playable characters each have their own distinctive look and qualities too, so there is something for everyone.
The music fits the game perfectly. It has a Saturday morning cartoon feel about it with synthesised tunes mixed with various instruments. Current Circus, an Australian developer, has even added an Aussie touch with some didgeridoo playing thrown in to the mix.
Once into the game, a lot of family fun can be had. Unfortunately, getting to the game can be troublesome at present. The calibration works reasonably well, but depending on the size of the person requires a fair amount of playing distance. Iím not overly tall, but I had to stand a metre and a half back from my laptop to fit in the calibration zone. My kids on the other hand were able to stand much closer to the screen. The game also requires a fair amount of natural light or a contrasting background to play, meaning that late night gaming sessions are almost out of the question. Also, please make sure that your area is free of low hanging chandeliers or light fittings Ė when attempting to increase altitude I almost broke one of the glass fittings. My wife would not have been happy with me at all.
There is also the issue of people moving in the background causing the game to pause and require re-calibration. With young children who canít sit still, this can be troublesome. It can also take some effort to make selections on the menu screens at first, but as you became familiar with the nuances of the movement controls, it becomes easier.
Despite some of the calibration issues, once you are in game, Beat Booster is a whole lot of fun to play. And one that the whole family can enjoy Ė my two year old had as much fun as her two older siblings. The cartoon-style visuals lend itself to kid-friendliness with their bright vibrant colours. The innovative gameplay works quite well and is strangely intuitive. The fact that the game is currently only available on the Windows 8.1 platform will cause some concern for prospective players, but if you have a family and donít own one of the motion sensing consoles (Kinect for Xbox, Move for Playstation), then Beat Booster is definitely a game for some family fun during the upcoming holiday season.
Innovative controls for a PC game. Fun for all ages.
Calibration can be troublesome. Only available on Windows 8.1 at present.