The gaming industry is currently going through a phase whereby it titles made by independent developers can be almost as successful as those created by established developers on huge budgets. They have grown in popularity thanks to the fact that they don’t have to be constrained by established mechanics and gameplay, instead they focus on trying out new ideas and experimenting. Nowhere is that more evident than with games like Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians, which blends together the platform genre with puzzle and rhythm elements like never before.
While many games over the past few years have tried to incorporate some type of rhythm section into them few have made it an integral part of the game. Beatbuddy does this in a rather unique way though, getting away from things like Guitar Hero and AudioSurf. You play as Beat, a water-based creature, which lives in a world that is seemingly powered by music. All is not well though, as Beat’s two sisters have been kidnapped and so begins a quest to track down both Melody and Harmony and bring them back to Symphonia so that music can once again fill the seas.
To carry out that task, Beat has to explore six rather large levels, solve puzzles that block his path and even fight some stubborn enemies. It is here that Beatbuddy mixes together elements from a variety of different genres. It does this pretty effectively though and it is easy to traverse through a level in search for collectibles and power-ups while you are still focused on completing the primary task of advancing through the story.
Unfortunately, none of these individual aspects are that exciting or imaginative. The combat mechanics work exactly as the developers intended but the enemies never really put up much of a struggle and fighting soon becomes more of a distraction than an actual challenge. In the same way, the puzzles that are scattered throughout the different levels are not the best that you will ever encounter. They largely consist of taking an object to another location or turning some items so that you can break a particular wall. It’s unlikely that anyone will have a hard time getting past any of them and doing so never feels like much of an accomplishment.
Combine this with the fact that the game largely asks the player to do the same thing for the entire story and things could easily have become very bland. Luckily, its other important gameplay mechanic and its beautiful presentation save Beatbuddy. Each level is made up of three basic musical instruments, the snare, hi-hat, and the bass drum that are represented by bubbles, crabs and anemones respectively. While more complex patterns are added with further instruments as the game progresses, it is these basic features that will occupy much of the audio and visual work displayed.
With those different instrument’s sounds coming from physical objects within the world, it gives a distinctive way of creating levels. The soundtrack is essentially also the level design and the world is built up around this concept. It also creates interesting gameplay ideas, such as matching your movement with the beat that the drum instruments are playing so you can move faster and get past obstacles. It is here that Beatbuddy really shines, although I can’t help but feel that more could have been done to focus on and expand this idea to fully reach its potential.
For a game that depends so much on music it is vital the soundtrack be able to stand up to hours of playing without becoming dull or repetitive. Each of the six levels have their own song that will play for the entire duration until the next level is reached, while the tune will change subtly as Beat moves to different locations with the instruments that are playing changing with what is shown on screen. The individual songs are all outstanding and lend themselves to the action on screen more intricately than many other titles thanks to the interweaved way the music works with the visuals – which are themselves very accomplished. The underwater caverns are all presented superbly well and the environments and characters are some of the best examples of artwork in any indie game currently available.
There are many things that make Beatbuddy a somewhat disappointing game. However, this is largely down to the fact that it seems as though more could have been done with the unique features and ideas on display. At its most basic form, everything is there for Beatbuddy to be a solid and well-designed game and yet it is difficult to recommend to everyone. Saying that though, if you love games with beautiful graphics, wonderful soundtracks and interesting ideas about how to play with music, then it could very well be the title you have been waiting for.
This review was based on a digital copy of the game that was provided by the developers for review purposes. The game is currently available on PC, Mac, and Xbox One and is priced at $14.99.