It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.
What is it? BeatBlasters III takes the form of a 2D side-scrolling platformer, with an infusion of rhythm-based superpowers used for attacking enemies and defending AI friendlies.
Who made it and where can you get it? Chainsawesome Games, a small studio in Quebec with possibly the coolest name in video game development, has released BeatBlasters III on Steam starting today for $9.99. As far as I know, there has never been a BeatBlasters I or BeatBlasters II. I’m assuming the ‘III’ in the title has something to do with the dev team consisting of three people.
How much did we play? I blasted beats for around two hours on the way to completing 15 levels and earning 40 of 96 stars on the normal difficulty setting. (Each level rewards up to three stars based on performance.)
Any technical concerns or hardware requirements you should know about? You better believe me when I tell you that you are going to want a gamepad to play this game–the entire interface is designed around Xbox 360 button icons. Trying to perform all the different actions that are required using a keyboard is a test of hand agility in and of itself. I have also encountered a strange bug during one boss (the Cutalot robot) where every time I hit the pause button the game immediately freezes up, forcing me to manually crash the game from task manager and restart. It happened by accident the first time, and then a second time when I was about to die and intended to pause and hit the retry option to restart the battle. After that I tested the level a few more times and the glitch happened every single time. It is important to keep in mind, though, that I was playing from a pre-release code so perhaps the build was not 100% final.
Why should you play it?
• Musical Defense Platforming: This is one of those games that takes a lot of little ideas and melds them together into sort of a multi-genre mix tape of fun. BeatBlasters III is at its core a platformer, but not in the traditional sense of hopping a character from start to finish through a level while butt-stumping enemies and gathering up coins, gems or some other common collectible icon. Each stage is like its own self-contained song on a soundtrack, with varying gameplay themes and rhythms. Much of the game consists of a back and forth struggle between offense and defense, where you utilize musical superpowers to simultaneously attack enemies and defend allies from projectiles. At your disposal are three abilities, including a bubble shield, a pair of rocket-propelled jet boots, and a beat blaster which fires bullets of groovy musical energy in a variety of unlockable shot patterns (twin shot, spread shot, catapult, etc). The shield acts as a protective barrier for deflecting projectiles, as well as a force field for pushing obstacles out of the way. The jet boots allow you to move quickly across the screen and reach high places that the basic (and seemingly useless) jump move cannot. And the eponymous beat blaster is your offensive firepower for destroying enemies and hazards. The twist here is that all of these powers have a limited energy supply, and to recharge you have to hold down on the right bumper (I think it’s left shift on keyboard) and then tap the corresponding face button for the power that needs extra juice in rhythm with a metronome-like tempo meter at the top of the screen. Like any rhythm game, tapping with appropriate timing for long note streaks provides larger boosts of energy. The real trick is learning to use powers as judiciously as possible to complete the objective while at the same time finding breaks in the action to stop and recharge. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds. And speaking of sound, each action adds a different beat or instrumental note to the upbeat techno soundtrack, effectively remixing the background music on the fly as powers are switched. Gameplay isn’t altered in any meaningful way, but it’s a nice touch that unifies what’s visually happening on screen with what is heard thumping out of the speakers.
• Pirates, and Apes, and Butchers! Oh, My: Playing as one of two characters–a boy named Joey or a girl named Gina, each with varying soundtracks and a unique special ability–your main mission is to overthrow the tyrannical rule of an evil butcher who has forbidden music in the town of Accapella. Achieving this ultimate goal requires helping citizens of the city complete little chores and errands amidst the terror of the butcher’s minions. The oddity and randomness of these objectives, combined with the sky-high cute factor of the vivid 2D artwork and character designs, give the game a great deal of charm. The game starts off in a mission which tasks you with blasting through waves of flying elephants to prevent them from stealing peanuts safely stashed away inside the home of a distinguished family of insects. After that it’s off to a jungle to escort King Banana as he drives his cart along a track, with apes tossing banana bombs and paratrooper monkeys armed with suicide vests doing their best to keep their former leader from reaching the escape chopper at the end of the line. The variety of activities only grows from there: one stage will have you protecting rows of trees from the saw blades of a robotic wood chopper (and stopping to pelt it with beat blasts when its guard is down); the next will have you restoring power to a yeti’s ice cave by quickly traversing a sequence of platforms while clearing the way for a flowing current of energy to reach its target; and the next will have you using the shield bubble to help push a large quantity of penguins into a transformation device at the other end of map, avoiding hulking mutant penguins and a pit in the middle of the level along the way. Even though the same three powers are used the same way all the time, each stage manages to feel distinct compared to the one before it. You’ll want to keep playing just to see what wacky situation Joey or Gina will find themselves stuck in the middle of next.
Parting Thoughts: A potential stumbling block for some players might be the sheer sensory overload of trying to juggle so many different actions while simultaneously keeping pace with whatever object or character you are supposed to be guarding, as well as watching for projectiles flying across the screen. The learning curve eases you along at a gradual incline, but as the objectives get more complicated the controls become more challenging to master. That’s a good thing if you ask me, but it might prove too daunting to certain players entering the game with an expectation of a purely casual experience based on the whimsical aesthetics. The best thing BeatBlasters III has going for it, is that there isn’t any other game out there quite like it. At least none that I have played–and I play a lot of games. Bits and pieces of familiarity exist, but the assembled collection of parts form a unique and wholesomely entertaining experience that is as refreshingly fun to look at and listen to as it is to play.