Published on July 18th, 2013 | by Adam Carter-Groves
Beatbuddy: And the Beat Goes On
I tend to keep abreast of indie development, but somehow Beatbuddy almost passed me by. The environmental puzzler by the Hamburg based startup Threaks has picked up awards left and right, so you’d think I’d have noticed its glorious rise. I must have been looking in the wrong direction, but I’m glad I turned around when I did.
Beatbuddy is beautiful. From the hand drawn aquatic sprites and environments to the gorgeous organic animations and catchy tunes, it’s a treat for the senses. Between the writing prowess of Rhianna Pratchett (Mirrors Edge, Tomb Raider), the musical charm of Grammy nominee Austin Wintory (Journey), and Parov Stelar and Sabrepulse (Chime), Threaks have put together some amazing talent.
The most interesting concept in Beatbuddy, and the heart of the game, is the unique way music is handled. Employing their own technology to precisely key the action to the beat, Threaks make each environmental element a part of the music. Bouncing around on bass drums and dashing through bullet streams in time keep it at the forefront of your mind. It’s not often I find myself tapping my feet along to an adventure game, but the score is woven throughout the experience so completely that I was helpless to resist.
Nipping around Symphonia, our titular hero is confronted by familiar flavours of puzzle — “Which lock does this keystone open?”, “How can I move these bumpers to destroy that wall?” and so on. Obstacles are rarely groundbreaking but never frustrating, and various sections were challenging enough to kick my brain into gear in search of a solution. It would have been easy to snarl Beatbuddy’s momentum in obtuse tasks, but to their credit the team have done a magnificent job of keeping its lifeblood pumping.
The elegant puzzle design is supported by delightful hand painted artwork – interactive elements are easily identifiable and animated in time with the music to give the whole thing a coherence that blends sound and visuals. Environments are tangible with clever use of layers lending the world a feeling of solidity. It’s a style that really suits the game, and the character animation does a wonderful job of conveying our protagonist’s personality despite him suffering from the terrible vocal cord infection that seems to stem from being controlled by a player.
Puzzles are augmented by the audio design which, as you’d expect from a game about sound, is top notch. Rhythm is an integral part of the often timing based puzzling, and tracks themselves are catchy little earworms that you’ll be humming for days, revealing verse and chorus as you progress without grating. No small feat with each level lasting upwards of ten minutes.
Narrative is light but intriguing, and you’ll grow familiar with some of the more eccentric personalities. There’s a playfulness to it which I couldn’t help but be charmed by, particularly the pair of inept guards as they attempt to explain their comedy capers to their superiors.
It’s not all good news though, the game does have its fair share of annoyances. Getting your timing wrong can send you ricocheting uncontrollably into obstacles you should probably be avoiding, and pitfalls swing from negligible to lethal with little in between. Normally you’ll survive four or five bullets and health pickups are plentiful, but bounce into a hi-hat crab and you’re unceremoniously impaled. Fortunately respawn points are frequent enough to prevent my percussive nemesis from spoiling the experience too much.
Based on the first few levels Beatbuddy has a great quality to it. The unique blend of sound and motion will have you bobbing along to the beat, particularly once you jump into a bubble buggy and tear around the tunnels at breakneck speeds with a full musical accompaniment.
Beatbuddy is released on August 6th on PC, Mac and Linux with the aim of releasing for consoles later on. If you’d like to know more click on these words here.