Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians Preview

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians has been generating a fair bit of buzz on the indie market and with only a couple of weeks left to go till launch, the team at THREAKS allowed me to sit down with a preview build of the first two levels of their award-winning game.

For those of you that haven’t been following its progress, the musical action-adventure promises to deliver an experience that redefines the way music and gameplay interact.  Having already won “Best Art” and “Best Sound” at Intel’s Level Up Awards and catching the eye of industry heavyweights Austin Wintory (Journey) and Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider) it’s defiantly something to be excited about.

As the game begins you are somehow awoken from an eternal slumber. It soon becomes clear that things are not right in the land of Symphonia.  The evil Prince Maestro is trying to gain control of the land and it’s up to Beat, the game’s protagonist, to stop him before music is lost forever.   Thus begins a quest that will take Beat across a series of amazing underwater worlds and force him to interact with a whole host of vibrant characters.  It can be tricky to find the right balance between throwaway and overbearing when it comes to the story in more casual titles but the events in the land of Symphonia weave an entertaining tale that is delivered with a charm and humour that made the world feel real. I came away wanting to know what happens next.

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Something tells me this isn’t going to be good…

But none of that counts if the game isn’t fun to play.  Thankfully, Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is an absolute joy to play.  As timing is important, it’s good to see support for all expected forms of input are present as you’re able to control Beat through use of the mouse, keyboard or Xbox 360 gamepad.  Though perfectly acceptable, the keyboard controls are a little stiff and you’re best off using a controller in order to get the precision needed to deal with some of the games’ puzzles.

Music plays a massive part in the game and as you move through the levels you’ll encounter a number of interactive elements in the environment that work in tandem with the tracks playing in the background.  You’ll come across bass drums that, as well as providing the beat acts, spring to send you crashing through obstructing walls.  Streams of bubbles will also block your path, requiring that you to dash through them in time with the beat to keep the music going or risk breaking the flow of the track should you fail, much like the “plink-plonk” of a missed note in Guitar Hero or Rock Band.

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Timing is everything, thankfully the beat is there to help.

These, and a whole host of other elements, don’t just serve to create a giant obstacle course for Beat to navigate, but blend together to form the world’s puzzles.  On your adventure you’ll find yourself aligning deflector plates that enable you to use the bass drum to bounce through walls blocking your path or disabling dangerous sea urchin spikes to temporarily clear a path to allow access to a door key.

None of the puzzles I came across were particularly mind-bending and felt a lot like the alignment or reaction time puzzles found inside the tombs of Lara Croft’s earlier adventures – of course I did only play the first two levels.  Still, even if this is as hard as it gets, it’s not a bad thing.  The games’ focus is on the music and how the player reacts with the beat. Halting the player in their tracks with a particularly difficult puzzle would break the flow of the game and most definitely be at odds with the tempo of the upbeat music.

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Anyone else getting Zelda flashbacks?

Outside of the rhythm puzzles, vehicle sections have you blasting through dangerous obstacle courses and fleeing from giant monsters, working to ramp the action up a bit and further emphasise the relationship between music and gameplay as you bounce along in the Bubblebuggy, boosting to the rhythm of the beat.  Thankfully, health packs are generously dished out to keep the action alive for when timing mistakes are made.

On my first playthrough it took me about 30-40 minutes to get through a level. Thankfully, the levels are broken up into various segments and the abundance of checkpoints means you’re never far from being able to take a break from the action if you want to.  It also makes it easier when coming back to collect any missed Beatpoints – gems littered throughout the level that are used to unlock the game’s extras.  Though the flow of the game is relatively linear, there are hidden areas and the odd branching path to extra points or hidden relics to encourage a bit of exploration.  Tie this in with recorded completion time and there’s more than enough reason for players to go back and enjoy previously completed levels.

All of these elements tie together to make a really enjoyable experience, delivered with excellent pacing.  The gameplay is continuously mixed up between action sequences and rhythm puzzles and you’re constantly picking up new abilities as you move through the world of Symphonia, ensuring that things always feel fresh.  The attention to detail and immersion is just as captivating as the music. Its mixed up as you move through the level to match your activity and subsequently dulls as you move away like it’s in another room.  It also doesn’t hurt that the game is absolutely gorgeous. Whether I was gliding amongst glowing crystals protruding from the rocks in the mine or fleeing frantically from a giant fish-monster in the jungle, the hand drawn art and superb animation really helped to bring the world of Symphonia to life.

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is shaping up to be a really enjoyable title and you can check out the video of my time with the game below.

Be sure to come back for our full thoughts on the game when it launches on Steam on August 6th for PC, Max and Linux.