Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians [Review]

Beautiful to see and hear, Beatbuddy more than makes up for its simple gameplay.

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians got harder and more musically complex than it did during my preview, I’ll grant it that. The game is still an excellent one to relax with, coaxing you to play along with the music through its gameplay while soaking in the incredible layered visuals. Just the same, the game seemed to (Sorta) find its teeth after the third level, bringing up some challenging spots for those who like a little danger with their puzzles. Mixing all of this together made for a game that was a solid way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Beatbuddy‘s ability to weave sound and music into the gameplay only gets stronger as the game progresses. Everything in this game factors into the music in some way – if you see a hermit crab enter your screen, his tapping will add to the beat of the music. If you come across a snail, expect it to start firing lasers that add guitar notes. All of the enemies and devices in the game add to the background track of each level, making it feel like you’re discovering and creating the music along with the developers instead of passively listening to it. It’s a beautiful experience.

A downer in that regard is that the early stages don’t have all that many enemies in them, so some of the music is a little plain at times. On top of that, sometimes you can spend a lot of time going down empty tunnels, leaving you with very little to listen to in those moments. There is still a subtle beat playing in the background no matter how empty the area is, and those tunes are actually quite nice on their own, though. While it’s a drag to be left out of the game’s coolest musical hook at those times, it only adds to the joy you feel when you hear a new sound getting added to the beat; even though you know that sound means you’re going to have to dodge or fight an enemy.

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians

There’s not much your little swimming green guy can do to fight the enemies. You have a little swipe you can do with your arm, and that’s more than enough to deal with hermit crab conductors or enemies who chase after you. Beyond that, most of your job is just avoiding the dangerous creatures that roam the sea floor, so don’t expect combat to add too much to the gameplay. You do learn a more complex attack ability that lets you bounce from enemy to enemy later on in the game when you start running into more of the enemies you can actually fight, but overall you won’t want to be playing this game if you’re looking for combat.

That swipe attack is more commonly used to activate switches. At its heart, Beatbuddy is a puzzle game — one where you’ll spend most of your time hitting switches and bouncing off of platforms. One drag about the game is that most of the puzzle solving is fairly linear. Odds are good that if you just follow the path you’re on and try to manipulate everything on it, you’ll naturally solve the puzzle. This makes the puzzles all seem fairly easy to solve, although it mercilessly cuts out all the backtracking that switch puzzles tend to revolve around. For that, I was pretty thankful. Still, because of that the puzzles never seemed all that challenging beyond one or two where you had to constantly keep manipulating the orientation of pipes in a room in order to get through.

The game’s main challenge comes from a couple of times when you have to drive around in a little submarine, but I doubt most players will mind. The only time when all of the various parts of the level’s music play all at once is when you are in the submarine, so if you’ve been dying to hear the whole track playing, that’s when you’ll be rewarded with it. It’s nice to hear a lot of this music steadily come together as more enemies and objects fill the area while you’re wandering alone, but the sub sequences are when you can truly enjoy the full effect of the music. There are some great songs playing during the game’s six stages, and it is a treat to hear them playing at their full potential.

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians

That’s good, because these sequences can get a little rough. In these moments you’re given a machine gun you can shoot to the right of your sub, and can now damage a lot of enemies that you couldn’t do anything to before. Because of this, the game will throw more difficult passages to get through, often placing you in the direct path of constantly respawning enemies. Most sub areas have you blasting small paths between enemies for yourself, then sneaking into those gaps and moving along with the same timing as the enemies to get away from them. Some of these gaps can be pretty small, many not much larger than your sub itself, and in later sequences you’ll have to slip through groups of enemies moving in opposite directions; forcing you to bob and weave while desperately trying to get through. The game is fairly generous with its checkpoints so it never gets all that hard, but you’ll probably still die a whole lot in these times.

It might not sound difficult, but the sub itself moves along with the beat of the music, bobbing along more than giving you direct control. You can guide the direction in which the sub hops, but the sub only moves along with the beat itself. That means you have to shoot your pathway open while guiding your sub into the gap, then possibly shoot through another set of enemies while only having partial control of where your sub is going. Only being able to guide it while it bobs through the water makes a lot of things more challenging than they normally would be, and gave me something new to worry about in a game that might otherwise be pretty easy.

The folks at Threaks gave the player a dash ability to use in the sub to compensate, but you can only use that dash along with the beat as well. It helps, but if you’re already having trouble getting its movement down, it won’t exactly give you an edge to get through. You still need to learn how to feel the beat and listen for it in this game, especially when you have to rush through passages while avoiding falling rocks. There are some times when this can get pretty annoying if you have trouble really feeling the music, but I found that if I just took a few more seconds to really listen rather than giving in to the panicked need to rush, I was fine. It was hard for a while, but I have to admit it was a unique handicap that made me appreciate the music even more.

For a game that’s about music, the visuals were given a lot of attention. The game goes well beyond the layers that most side-scrollers use, placing four or five different layers of art all moving at different rates. This was a trick that early 2D games used to create a feeling of depth, but none of them ever pushed it this much. With so many layers of objects all moving along, it feels more like you’re looking in on this beautiful undersea kingdom, giving it a feeling of depth and presence. It’s almost like you’re snorkeling and are just cresting through some coral, finding yourself looking in on this tiny world through a crack and watching what goes on there.

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians

All these various layers are gorgeous as well. There are dozens of truly staggering vistas in every level, so many that I can’t even begin to pick a favorite (and if I had any knowledge of sea life I’d have an easier time telling you what I was looking at). Everything pops with huge, detailed drawings that just shine with brilliant color. On top of the sea life, there are also little nods to the other creatures that live down there with Beatbuddy, along with all the houses and gatherings they’ve created. Having all of this art moving along in different layers creates a look that is entirely unique to Beatbuddy, and is something you need to see if you have any appreciation for video game visuals. These guys are right up there with the designers at Vanillaware, creating a game that is as much a pleasure to look at as it is to play.

It does have a few bizarre issues that crop up here and there. One of the more aggravating ones was that the environment isn’t entirely made of flat surfaces. That might not sound like a problem, but sometimes larger enemies can hit you and bounce you into small crevices you can’t get out of; hitting you over and over until you’re dead. The game is fairly generous with giving you health and checkpoints the rest of the time, but I found that most of my deaths came from getting stuck in these spots and being unable to get away.

The other odd problem was that the game sometimes forgets to load some of the layers of animation, resulting in you finding yourself in an empty area, unsure on where to go. It happened three times during my playthrough, although it only required me to do a quick reload to move on. It’s a nuisance when it happens, but knowing how to fix it makes it not too bad. It also only ever seemed to happen when I reloaded a checkpoint, so it’s not like I was losing any progress.

It can be a little too easy at times and the puzzles are a bit too straightforward, but Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is more a game you come to so that you can experience the world and its music. If you come to it looking to be challenged you might find some entertainment, but for the most part it’s something you just enjoy, looking at the gorgeous environments while letting the various parts of the music flow over you. It’s the perfect package for unwinding, and worth picking up just to see how all of your actions come together to create music.

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is available on Steam for $14.99.

Joel Couture
Joel Couture
Joel Couture

MASH Veteran

A horror-obsessed gamer, Joel is still spending his days looking for something to scare himself as much as Fatal Frame. Even so, he has ridiculous action games and obscure gems to keep him happy in the meantime. A self-proclaimed aficionado of terrible retro games, he's always looking for a rotten game he hasn't played yet, and may be willing to exchange information for candy.

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