Review: Alphabeats: Master Edition

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Break out your best dance shoes and a thick dictionary, boys and girls, because your vocabulary is about to have a serious groove busted on it.

Alphabeats is a word spelling action-puzzle game in the guise of familiar music games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Instead of matching colored note icons timed to a beat, letters scroll down the screen along a dozen note highways, running in parallel kind of like strings on a guitar or harp. The object is to drag a sliding tab along the bottom of the screen to catch the letters with a dot cursor, and form them into words of varying length. Control schemes are supported for seamless use of mouse, keyboard, or gamepad, and all three inputs perform about the same, so ultimately the choice comes down to personal preference. I am split between mouse and a controller but in the end prefer the mouse for the simplicity of left-clicking to drag the cursor and right-clicking to bank words.

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Each collected letter widens the reach of the selection cursor, so it takes some deft hand reflexes to weave a partially formed word between the cascading letters to avoid catching one that doesn’t fit and thus completely erases the spelling progress you had made. Words can be banked at any time, and naturally the longer the word, the more points are awarded, which means there is an interesting element of risk versus reward involved with pushing the limits of your lexicon and hand-eye coordination in order to post a high score your grade school English teacher would be proud of. Using rare letters also increases scoring output, so anyone with a deep knowledge of Q and Z words is bound to do very well.

When you hit a misspelling the game does provide feedback by momentarily flashing a word that could have been spelled from the lost letter sequence, which is a helpful touch for bolstering your vocabulary for future sessions. Additional aid comes via three special powers that can each be used a single time per song, allowing you to multiply the score of a word, shrink a long spelling into a single bubble to make it easier to avoid unwanted letters, or set off a bomb to clear the screen and earn nominal point value for each letter blown up. The game also includes three difficulty options, Words of the Day that reward bonus points if you’re able to spell them, a tiered letter grade ranking system, in-game reference to dictionary listings for spelled words, and online leaderboards that not only track high scores for each individual track, but also rank players on total words spelled, Words of the Day solved, and “raddest” words (meaning highest single-word scores).

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Originally a mobile game, Alphabeats has been enhanced for its PC/Mac/Linux release via Steam. This newly minted Master Edition‘s main new feature is the custom song functionality. Twenty songs come with the game, including a mix of electronic dubstep tunes from artists like Disasterpeace, ABXY, and Big Giant Circles. There are a few standout tracks, but I didn’t find the majority to be especially memorable, at least not enough to make me want to replay and listen to them repeatedly. Having the ability to import songs and flex your brain power while listening to your favorite tunes is where the true value of Alphabeats lies.

Unfortunately, there’s never really a feeling of a strong connection being made between the music and the gameplay. The changing beat and intensity of a song do alter the pace and tempo at which letters fall, but there isn’t a true sense of rhythm involved with actually forming the words. I enjoy a lot of what Alphabeats has to offer, and if you’re into word puzzle-type games I think you’ll find quite a bit to like about the game as well. I can’t quite put my finger directly on it, but it’s just missing that one special ingredient to elevate it from a temporary amusement to something more addictive that compels you to play time and again. Maybe part of it has to do with the presentation; the colors and backgrounds are kind of flat. Obviously if the visuals got too crazy they would become a distraction from trying to process the falling letters into properly spelled words, but I definitely think more could have been done to bring a distinguishable pop of personality to the aesthetic.

So on my final report card, Alphabeats gets an A+ for effort and ingenuity, but I struggle to grade higher than a C for overall execution and lasting appeal.

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Pros:
+ Fun, challenging test of vocabulary might and hand-eye coordination
+ Custom song importing
+ Extensive online leaderboard rankings

Cons:
– Thinly veiled connection between music and gameplay
– Most of the included tracks aren’t catchy enough to replay
– Presentation is a bit bland

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: Rad Dragon
Developer: Rad Dragon
Release Date: 3/7/2016
Genre: Music/Puzzle
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!