Beat Blasters III

Beat Blasters III bills itself as a rhythm-based action/platformer/shooter/puzzle game.  If you're like me, then you are probably intrigued as to how the game pulls this off.  How do you integrate rhythm and music into more traditional, 2D, shoot-em-up gameplay?  The answer that the game provides is actually a bit disappointing, but don’t let that deter you from playing the game.  While its genre-blending features don’t quite meet their potential, Beat Blasters III excels in other important ways.  Specifically, it has a lot of plain old good level design, and it cleverly combines three very simple game mechanics into a variety of challenges.   Beat Blasters III is a satisfying and unique experience that is easy on the eyes and well worth your time.

The premise of Beat Blasters III is simple, and so are its mechanics.  You are a hipster of some sort who has been transported to a magical fantasy world by the evil Butcher.  You, of course, are the only one who can rid the world of this terrible foe.  All sorts of challenges and obstacles have been placed in your way, and you get around those challenges by using three simple powers.  You have a gun for shooting, a shield, and rocket boots for jumping and flying.  The plot is extremely barebones and it doesn’t serve much purpose, other than to provide an excuse for you to move from one level to the next.  Each level is a little mini-story in which you help good guys defeat bad guys or protect something from the bad guys.

Using your powers depletes your energy, and that is where the rhythm portion of the game comes into play.  It is also where the game suffers its biggest letdown.  Recharging your energy simply involves pushing a button in rhythm with the beat until your battery is full.  The beat is visually represented by a ball that oscillates back and forth at the top of the screen, and it ends up being more useful than the audio for timing your button presses.  There isn’t any rhythm involved in the use of your powers – you simply hold down the appropriate button.  The rhythm portion of the gameplay exists almost as a separate entity.  Music is an important part of the experience, but that is more because of the game’s presentation, and not its gameplay.  It feels like a missed opportunity.

As mentioned above, your repertoire of powers is exceedingly simple – so simple, in fact, that the game is pretty underwhelming at first.  A blaster, a shield, and rocket boots – it seems unimaginative, but looks can be deceiving.  What really makes Beat Blasters III tick is the manner in which your powers deplete, and the way that the game forces you to juggle tasks in each of the levels.  Once the action in each level starts, there is rarely a second in which you are not pressing a button of some kind.  The game forces you to quickly prioritize threats, spin plates, and make split second decisions about what powers to use and when to recharge them.  You may deplete your energy defending an ally on one side of the screen, only two find that two more enemies have popped up on the other side that require your immediate attention.  Occasionally, you will run out of energy, and then watch helplessly as you try desperately to recharge your battery before you fail the level.

By today’s standards, Beat Blasters III is a fairly hard game – much moreso than its colorful, E-rated appearance and catchy beats would suggest.  Most levels have been design in a way that you have to experiment with them once or twice before figuring out which tactics will get you through them.  Even when you have figured out the best way to get through a level, it might make one or two tries to pull it off.  It is a satisfying form of difficulty though – the kind that makes you feel like you have overcome a challenge without it ever being unfair or cheap.  I can’t remember the last time that I played a game and I failed almost every challenge between one and four times.  Its gameplay finely tuned, Beat Blasters III shines mostly in its execution.  With that said, the game’s difficulty and frenetic button pushing make playing it for longer than 30 minutes difficult.

As mentioned above, the game’s music is unimportant to its gameplay, and more a part of its presentation.  And what a wonderful presentation it is.  Beat Blasters III is a very attractive game.  Its 2D backgrounds and characters are loaded with variety and style.  Your character struts and bobs his or her head to the music when idle, as if to say “Everything’s cool, bro” (if you played the Gamecube game P.N.03 then you have some idea about how this looks).   The only shortcoming with the graphics is that most of the other animations are simplistic and bland.  Although the music isn’t critical to the gameplay, it is an essential part of the game’s overall vibe.  It is pleasant, and every level has its own tune (either that, or there is so little repetition that I didn’t notice).  The music starts off quiet, but it gets more intense as you use your powers.  Like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, the game has appropriate sounds for success or failure as you recharge your energy.

Beat Blasters III boasts 16 levels that  range from "decent" to "really good".  Outside of upgrades to your blaster, the game introduces no new game mechanics after the tutorial.  That it can stay entertaining as long as it does with its three simple powers says volumes about how thoughtfully the game was designed.  It probably isn’t fair to classify Beat Blasters III as a “music game”, but rather a quality action game that thrives on music.  If this sounds like something that you would like to experience, then you owe it to yourself to give it a try.