When I played Rush Bros a couple of months ago, I was pretty excited at the idea of a game that incorporated music into the gameplay itself. I’m not talking something like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, but something more abstract where music infused a game that wasn’t necessarily about playing the right notes in the right order. The ball that Rush Bros dropped was confidently picked up by Threaks and woven into nearly every moment of their game: Beatbuddy. In the hour or so that I played of a preview of the first two levels, I’ve already seen what can happen when you tie music into every aspect of your game.
Beatbuddy started off quietly, letting me take in its gorgeous underwater environments. The main thing that struck me early on was the use of multiple layers of foreground and background moving across the screen as you floated along. I’m used to seeing a single layer thrown over the game at any one time, but Beatbuddy often had several different layered images moving over the screen. The result is this amazing effect that you’re really peeking in on someone else’s actions; that you’re looking in on some foreign world. It’s a striking effect, one that had me stunned within minutes of starting the game.
Seeing these layers of seaweed, rocks, and ship wreckage should have gotten annoying from a gameplay stance, shouldn’t it? I mean, you’ve got three or four layers of crap all over top of you while you’re trying to play the game, blocking where you’re supposed to go. I’ll admit, I took a few wrong turns while navigating around all these backgrounds scrolling at different rates, but it didn’t happen all that often, and never happened when something dangerous was around or if I had a puzzle to solve. It’s a great visual effect, but the developers also knew it might get annoying if it showed up at the wrong time.
As the foreground layers pull away and let you get a good look at your proceedings, you’ll pick up on a subtle beat playing in the background. It seemed awfully simple and plain for a game about music, and I was a little disappointed until I ran into a couple of enemies. There was this hermit crab-like creature that would pop out of his shell, adding a high hat beat to the music. It added this cool layer to the song, one that I would have been more impressed with if it hadn’t made spikes shoot out of several other enemies that were lurking in my way. He was just the first of a barrage of enemies that added to the music every time they were on the screen; steadily adding more to the songs with each appearance.
It wasn’t just the creatures in the environment that added to the song, but my own actions would as well. There were lots of objects I needed to bounce off of in order to keep moving forward, and each of those would add a note to the beat as I ricocheted off. I thought that adding a sound from something I could control would throw off the beat of the music, but the game manages to somehow seamlessly incorporate my own actions. As strange as it sounds, my own timing with each puzzle and interaction seemed to fit in with the beat of the song, making it feel like my every action contributed to the music no matter when I chose to make it. It really felt like I was inhabiting the music as I moved along.
It got pretty complex in a hurry, too. As more enemies appeared and more actions became necessary to move on, it all flowed together into this almost-hypnotic beat that carried me along with the gameplay. I wasn’t just solving some puzzles while dodging enemy attacks, but also witnessing the music growing in complexity as I added to it through the gameplay. It just felt like I was playing a game on several different levels at once; creating my own version of a song while also enjoying a game. It was like I’d been brought into and guided through a composition that was specific to my actions and play style, and it was quite an experience.
That being said, the game can be a little musically dull when you’re playing through some of the easier areas. When there’s not many enemies or puzzles around, the beat is pretty boring, and the small additions to the soundtrack from the occasional creature leave you with some plain audio. It’s nice how complex the music can get when things get harder, but for most of the first level I found myself wishing that things were more complicated more often. It was necessary while teaching the player the mechanics of the game and is likely why the first level is so visually striking, but it still means that the music is a bit weak at points. This is one game where you will find yourself craving lots of trouble, if only to keep up the game’s great music.
I most enjoyed the game’s music when I hopped into this weird submarine contraption a couple of times in each level. When you’re in the sub, the music plays all of its various parts as the sub hops along to the beat. At these points, your job isn’t to create the music so much as to flow along with it, guiding your movements as your vehicle sways back and forth. I really liked hearing the full songs in these sections, but given my lack of rhythm these sections could be a little challenging. You can shoot your sub forward by hitting a charge button in proper time to the beat, and about half the time you’ll want to be moving in a hurry. The subs were equipped with guns to shoot in one direction to make things a little easier for tone-deaf people like me, but you’ll still probably die a few deaths while trying to get the sub to move with the beat.
It still wasn’t all that difficult, even if I did die a lot in some sections. Teaching yourself to listen for cues in the beat to know when to move forward helps a lot, but the game is hardly trying to crush its players with its difficulty (at least not in the first two stages). Most of the enemy layouts didn’t require much precision to avoid, but rather a little patience. Puzzles typically just boiled down to turning a couple of reflecting items so that you would bounce off a sea creature until you slammed into whatever it was you needed to knock out of the way. Then again, the game’s focus isn’t on setting a series of challenges in your way, as far as I can tell. Instead, its focus is just on getting you moving along with the music, filling the screen with enemies that suit the song and the beat, letting your actions guide you through them.
In this vein, it’s more of a relaxing game, the sort of thing you would play to unwind while creating a song for yourself through your actions. I’m sure there are points later in the game that will be quite difficult, but for now it just felt like a game you explore just to see and hear what it has to offer. On top of everything else, the game captures this feeling of deep sea diving; of looking in on some strange place and just experiencing what is there. It’s not something you do because you’re looking for some sort of rush, but rather to savor some sights and sounds while letting your cares drift away. I found it to be extremely soothing to play despite being filled with creatures who are more than willing to kill the player.
As it stands right now, players looking for challenge or devious puzzle design might want to move along, but if you’re the type who enjoys a game that’s built to slow things down and relax you, Beatbuddy will do it. More importantly, Beatbuddy will let you play along with and create your own music in some interesting ways, and I would like to see what sort of additional enemies will enter the game later. I’m curious just how intricate some of these songs could get as the game moves on, and how the game will incorporate new notes and instruments. I have the feeling I only got a little taste of what the developers at Threaks were capable of during the hour I spent with Beatbuddy, and it has made me very curious to see how the rest of the game turns out.
Beatbuddy will be available August 6, 2013. To know more, check out the developer’s site.