by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Remix the background music
Rezzed is a gaming event that showcases the best of indie and PC gaming. I saw plenty of great games at the show earlier this year, but as both a gamer and musician, one I was highly looking forward to playing again was Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians. Developed by Threaks, an eight man team based in Germany, it’s a puzzle/ adventure game taking place in an underwater world where your every action will remix the background music.
Members of the band
Each of the game’s six levels features a song from a different composer. Most notably, Austin Wintory, a man who is quickly becoming the John Williams of video games, wrote a swinging song for the fifth level. The songs are performed by the flora and fauna of the world of Symphonia, all of which are interactive in some way. For example the plant which acts as a bass drum pulses and bounces you around if you get too close. Odd gelatinous sea snails play the synth sounds by firing off projectiles which are to be avoided. The snare is performed by creating bubbles which only let you past if you attempt to do so on the beat.
You will either have to use these members of the band to your advantage, or skirt the more dangerous areas. Spiky sea creatures act as the hi-hats, but if you give their conductor a quick bash, they will retreat into their shells for a short time, allowing you to pass. Not only this, but the song playing in the background will continue without the cymbals while they are hidden. The way the music changes as you interact with the environment is subtle, yet incredibly effective. Each of the six songs is distinctive, and although the levels are long, ranging from twenty to forty-five minutes, the music doesn’t become boring thanks to the clever remixing happening as you play. New gameplay mechanics are introduced throughout the game. For example at various points you will be controlling a submersible vehicle. This will eventually be equipped with a gun to blast through obstacles and fight off annoying creatures. New ways to interact with existing gameplay elements are introduced too, like mirrors you will have to rotate so you can bounce off the bass drum around corners.
A cute little mystical creature, Beatbuddy, is on a quest to save Symphonia. Although the story is polished by acclaimed writer Rhianna Pratchett, I didn’t find it to be all that engaging. It is probably more a testament to the strong gameplay and soundtrack that I was more interested in playing through the levels than paying much attention to the narrative. It could have almost been a successful abstract puzzle game, but it is nice to have that extra personal element in there. I liked the way that the inhabitants of Symphonia that you talk to all seem to communicate through some sort of beatboxing. The entire game is light hearted in this way, despite the plight of the world. This, on top of the delightful character models and colourful nature of the environments means Beatbuddy absolutely oozes charm.
It certainly seems that the player’s experience is more important to the developers than creating a challenge. You will face difficult obstacles, sure, but even if you die you will only lose a couple of minutes progress at the very worst. The levels are designed in such a way that you will generally be able to find out what you are supposed to be doing if you keep going forward. Only once or twice did I find myself unsure of what to do next. Most puzzles involve you finding and moving artefacts to designated locations to open doors. Later puzzles are larger in scale, requiring you to start and stop the music in the level, and rotate large sections of the environment to open up new paths. There aren’t too many ways to go wrong though, so if you’re looking for a hard challenge this might not be the game for you. That is not to say the gameplay is trivially easy though, in fact I thought it struck a very good balance, allowing me to enjoy the music and puzzles equally.
Short but sweet
One complaint I do have is the length of Beatbuddy. The ending, although cutesy in keeping with the rest of the game, was abrupt. I finished the game in around four hours, and was left wanting more. Saying “I wish I could play more of your game” may seem like a pretty light complaint, and indeed it is, but the game is short nonetheless. You might want to go back and replay levels to get a better time, or to collect all of the Beat Points scattered around the level. However when these collectibles only unlock concept art with a few captions detailing the design process of the game, I didn’t feel terribly inclined to. It would have been nice to have a gameplay related reason to collect these pink crystals.
Unique and interesting
Beatbuddy’s soundtrack is simply fantastic, and the way it changes as you play is unique and interesting to play around with. The levels are long enough that you quickly become accustomed to each song and start humming along as you solve the simple puzzles. The overall length of the game is somewhat lacking, but the time I did spend playing was very enjoyable. I probably looked very odd in my chair with headphones on, but I didn’t care as I was simply bopping along to the brilliant beat.
Wonderful soundtrack backed up by unique and interesting gameplay.
A short game with little replay value.