A good break from the holiday deluge with an indie title from time to time reminds me that small teams can put out some surprising gems in the flooded console and PC market. I'm talking about those titles that fill up the lower end of the Steam Sales, and they show up as coupons that you get but you wonder what the game is, and whether or not you should commit to it despite the lower cost of entry. Beatbuddy is one such example of those games. It's not perfect, and could use a little more polish, but it's a solid idea for a first outing by the team at Threaks.
Beatbuddy stars it's titular character who has awoken from slumber and must save his friends from the nefarious prince of Symphonia. It's not a terribly deep story, but it does give you the sense of purpose necessary to proceed through the game. It's a bit of a short adventure, clocking it at just under six hours to get through your first time. Whether you'll go back or not depends on the amount of collectibles you found during your experience and how much you care to see the inner workings of Beatbuddy's development. The extras that are unlocked are a lot of storyboards telling about how Beatbuddy came in to being, and how Threaks has spent the past four years trying to get this game off the ground. Let it be known that game development is never an easy task.
The biggest star of Beatbuddy though is its excellent soundtrack that contains some choice tunes from Austin Wintory, Europa Deep, Parov Stelar, Sabrepulse, Curtis Newton, and La Rochelle Band. Each stage features a song by these artists and serves as the backbone to the experience of Beatbuddy, and it's interesting to see how the guys at Threaks managed to break down elements of each song and make them part of the gameplay. The only negative here is that the stages tend to be thirty to forty minutes long, and while the tracks themselves are good and are broken up really well, there is still that same sense of music droning on, and if you happen to get stuck during a particular puzzle, it starts to get a little grating.
At its core, Beatbuddy is a puzzle-adventure game with musical elements that make timing on some puzzles a much bigger factor than you'd normally expect. The rather gentle tutorial stage gets you in the swing of things, showing you how each stage's musical elements come in to play. Like snare crabs that when knocked out cause the surrounding slugs to retract, opening a path forward. But the hook here is how the creatures and puzzle elements all move in time with the music, and knocking out the crabs will cut that part of the musical track out, but you'll be given audio cues along with visual ones to let you know that they're about to come back and potentially impede your progress once again. Once the tutorial is complete, more puzzle elements come in to play that require you to deftly maneuver Beatbuddy through some tight situations and eventually some light combat comes in to play. It never gets to the point of being overly challenging, although there are a few times where some of the ricochet puzzles seem to be a bit too clever for their own good and require a little too much precision from the player, making them seem overly difficult.
This game also has a fair share of bugs that can wipe out the progress you've made on a particular level. I ran in to one instance where I died against some enemies and when I respawned and defeated them, the puzzle elements that they blocked did not become available. And since this was tied to the auto-save, I had to restart the entire level. This wouldn't be a problem if the levels weren't so long. These aren't rampant bugs, but it pays to be very careful when playing through, and thankfully Threaks has been issuing updates to address some of these, so it's quite possible that this may be resolved by the time you're reading this review.
This game is certainly pleasant to look at, thanks to its wonderfully colorful aesthetic. The animation of Beatbuddy and his friends is also rather impressive, even though they don't move around a whole lot, their idle animations show a lot of love went into making each of them feel unique. And hearing their speaking as beatboxing to the music is also a clever addition. The hand-drawn backgrounds have an element of Rayman to them, though they can get a little repetitive if you stop and stare for too long.
I don't really talk about controls much, but I have to say, play this game with a gamepad, or even a keyboard, because the mouse controls make a lot of the timing puzzles difficult to deal with. I spent a majority of my time playing with a mouse, and found it to be a bit detrimental to the experience, especially after I switched to a gamepad. The keyboard option is there as well, though the devs don't recommend using it.
The music is a big draw for the game, and while the levels could have benefited from a bit of fat trimming, they complement the music nicely. For a first effort, the guys at Threaks have certainly gotten off on the right foot. Hopefully they'll have more titles in the future that combine their excellent audio work with their well-crafted visuals.
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