Music is often restricted to play just a bit part role in games: No matter how good the composer is, no matter how moving the score, this entire element of a game’s development can often be tuned out with little or no impact to gameplay. Not so with Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians. Here is a game where the music is as central to the experience as the character onscreen, where nodding your head to the beat can help you float through Beatbuddy’s mix of adventure and puzzle solving more easily. It is a strong and unusual concert, although the focus on following the music bears unexpected consequences for the longevity of the puzzle based gameplay.
Beatbuddy is not the first game to incorporate music so prominently in the design. Often such games are less concerned with gameplay and more on you following the music (think Amplitude or Rez). More recently, other games specifically designed around music allow players to simulate the playing, with accuracy being rewarded (think Guitar Hero or Rock Band). Beatbuddy takes a much more ambitious approach, everything, friend or foe, dances to the same tune.
It is the characters on screen that generate the music, rather than being affected by it. This means you will often find yourself going back to sections to enjoy a particularly catchy tune. There are sections that remind me of “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. I often found myself gladly sitting in one area for a few minutes at a time enjoying the various Jazz riffs the hermit crabs had to offer.
Almost all of the gameplay involves some sort of puzzle solving with the music, be it following the drum beats to pass through bubbles (that are only passable on each 2nd beat) or attacking a hermit crab to stop a jazz drum riff and pass before they come back out of their shell and the tune comes back. Because they are generating the music it is very easy to tell when the music will start again as it plays a constant beat.
There is a story, but it has as much impact on the game as an album cover does. You play as Beatbuddy, (Beat for short), one of a trinity of “Music Gods”, and your fellow musical spirit Harmony has you rescuing your sister Melody from the dastardly clutches of Prince Maestro. Maestro wants the world to dance to his beat alone, this is apparently a bad thing. Toss in a few quips from your buddy Clef (notice the music references) from time to time and you can probably figure how the story is going to pan out.
Fortunately, the narrative makes up in character for what it lacks in depth. When the characters speak they do so through beatboxing, though sometimes this is a bit much. A great little sign of attention to detail occurs when you put the controller down and Beat bobs his head to the music. All the elements of the world pulse with their own rhythms; for instance you will find sea anemones waving their tentacles like they were at a rave, and the aforementioned hermit crabs drumming on their shells creating a great jazz beat.
The game itself will give you about 6+ hours of musical enjoyment, depending on how well you handle the multitude of puzzles (or sit around enjoying the music). The world of Beatbuddy is an underwater one (hence the reminder of The Little Mermaid) andfor the first few hours of Beatbuddy you will jam your way through the game bouncing of shells, smashing down walls, bashing some hermits and dragging keys to activate snare drums to progress through to new areas. Much later areas mix things up and become a lot tougher. I won’t spoil it, just enjoy the music.
The beauty of Beatbuddy lies in how every element of the game ties itself to the musical experience. As a norm it is brilliant, occasionally it is breath-taking. It is truly a stunning achievement from the developers Threaks. I am a massive fan of interesting music in games and I feel the score of a game can be just as important as the graphical fidelity. For instance, the first level will have you floating past some bass thumpers (creating a great beat), later cymbal-tapping barriers are added, giving a whole new layer to the tune and so forth until the levels sound like a variety of musical amphitheatres from dance clubs to swinging sixties jazz halls. If you don’t find yourself tapping your feet or bobbing your head to the rhythm as you pass through the levels, this game is wasted on you.
You will often find yourself tapping or hitting yourself off different objects in different orders just to see what sort of beat you can create with the music, a game within a game itself. So if you love dissecting the nuances of a musical score, Beatbuddy will leave you giddy with glee.
And yet, with all this high praise, things can get tiresome. Beatbuddy’s reliance on the bass-bumping coral to drive the music and overcome obstacles means the same ones are scattered throughout every level, this prevents Threaks from spicing up the basic mechanics with anything different. This isn’t to say that they don’t exist, there is a Bubble Buggy; an armed vessel that blasts enemies and allows you to move quickly through cramped spaces. It is always moving to the music so you have to be aware of this. These sections often overstay their welcome however, and go on for far too long. I often found myself just jumping out of the vehicle and going through the level my own way.
Even the best albums in the world have their bad tracks and Beatbuddy is more enjoyable that annoying. On the whole, Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is a great treat and a fine example of how music can be used to shape a games playthrough. The music is unquestionably the highlight of the game. Even in Beatbuddy’s weakest moments, you will have a hard time not to tap your feet or nod your head to the rhythm that you are helping to shape. The lack of variety overall in creatures and obstacles that you encounter will put a small dampener on things, but such few games explore music in such an intriguing fashion.
Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians can be picked up HERE for a steal at £7.99
With the typical album from a shop or iTunes costing more than £7.99, Beatbuddy is an absolute bargain, not only do you get a great adventure game but you essentially get 6+ hours of music to enjoy along the way! You could easily sit there and listen to it without playing and it is easy to make your own music as you undertake your playthrough.