Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians: Overview

A few weeks ago I got to check out a preview build of innovative musical action adventure, Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians.  It was an enjoyable experience that left me coming away wanting more and now that the game has launched I sat down with it over the weekend to see if the those positive first impressions were justified.

Publisher: Reverb Publishing
Developer: THREAKS
Release Date: Out Now
Format: PC (Steam)
Version Tested: PC (Steam)
Price: £11.99 (currently 10% off at £10.79)

For those that haven’t been following our coverage of the game over the last few months, Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is a 2D puzzle-action adventure game that aims to use music to redefine the way that audio and gameplay design can interact with one another.  Evolving from a student project into a full digital release over a four year period, the project attracted the attention of industry heavyweights Austin Wintory (Journey) and Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider), and even managed to pick up “Best Art” and “Best Sound” at Intel’s Level Up Awards along the way.  This journey is detailed in the games unlockable extras and is definitely worth a read, especially for those that have always dreamed about working in the industry.  It’s so well documented it’s actually one of the few games that have made me care about unlocking all the extras, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The game charts the actions of Beat, one of a trio of ethereal beings who dream the music that is the lifeblood of the land of Symphonia into existence.  Unfortunately, Beat and his siblings are awoken from their eternal slumber by the evil Prince Maestro who is trying to gain control of the music, and it’s up to him to stop the prince before it’s lost forever.  It’s a simple and charming storyline, told through interaction with vibrant beat-boxing characters, that gives Beat an excuse to travel across six beautifully hand drawn underwater worlds.

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That’d be why its called the Ruins…

On his journey, Beat faces a menagerie of music themed puzzles and obstacle courses that test your reaction times, analytical ability and special awareness.  You’ll come across a whole host of nautical creatures working in tandem with the background music to help or hinder your movement through the environment.  Timing is everything and the synergy between the environmental aspects and the beat of the music can be used to assist you if you’re having trouble.  Should you fail, however, you’ll be treated to a break in the flow of the track, similar to that of missed notes in games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band.

In a game about rhythm, it’s important that the gameplay isn’t broken and flows at a decent pace.  Thankfully though, the challenges do steadily increase in difficulty. I never came across anything particularly frustrating, although finding all of the beatpoints – collectable items strewn about the levels that unlock extras – later on in the game does take some skill, as they’re hidden quite well and sometimes require Ikaruga-like reaction skill to reach, but they’re not necessary for progression.  It also helps that the environment is littered with health packs to keep the action going if mistakes are made – don’t worry about it being too easy though as you can and still will die from time to time.

Whether you’re solving puzzles, navigating tricky hallways in the Bubblebuggy or fighting hordes of parasites, Beatbuddy manages to strike an excellent balance between enjoyable puzzles that aren’t patronising but still manage to test your abilities.   Despite being relatively linear, the game also manages to mix these elements up frequently enough to keep the game feeling fresh; making excellent use of the varied environment’s, different music styles and introducing new skills and abilities as you progress through the levels.  It’s a formula that works really well and could actually benefit from the addition of co-op further down the line in a sequel.

As I’ve said the gameplay is varied and the story unfolds at a decent pace with a satisfyingly humorous conclusion, but while I was playing I kept having the feeling that something was missing, namely boss battles.  The way the game makes use of the background music in its puzzles is excellent, and I couldn’t help but feel that merging the new elements introduced in each level into some form of final confrontation would have added to the challenge more so than the fade-to-black that awaits you at levels end.

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You first…

On a first play through, or at a leisurely pace, each level can take approximately 40-60 minutes to complete, giving the game an estimated 5 hour duration – although one of the achievements suggests it can be completed in under 3 hours.  This is extended slightly for completionists wanting to collect all the beat points or set records in the time trials for each level.  It’s not a bad length for a downloadable game, giving just enough time to cram in all the ideas the team had without the formula outstaying its welcome.

Being a software developer myself, I know how easy it can be for the smallest of issues to slip through the cracks, especially when you work so close to something, it becomes hard to see the wood for the trees, and as such I’m usually quite forgiving when it comes to these things. Unfortunately, there are still some technical issues with the game.  Periodically, I experienced slow down when transitioning between areas in levels and even experienced a game breaking bug that caused everything but the main character to become invisible.  The only way to fix this was to restart the level, which causes you to lose all progress in terms of collectables and completion time – quite punishing when the levels are so long.  It only happened to me once, but it’s not the sort of thing you expect to see in a final build.

That being said, don’t let those points put you off.  The team at THREAKS should be applauded for bringing something so unique and fresh to the market in a time of constant sequels and remakes.  It’s an excellent title that can be enjoyably played in one sitting or over a period of time and should appeal to a wide range of gamers of all skill levels.

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians is a charming, humorous and astonishingly beautiful game that is absolutely worth your time.

Pros

  • Excellent blend of varied music and challenging gameplay
  • Austin Wintory & Rhianna Pratchett
  • Absolutely gorgeous
  • Good use of humour

Cons

  • Some technical issues
  • Levels perhaps too long to be played in one sitting
  • No boss battles